Archive | August 2009

NATO and SSG Salmons

Sunday I leave for Mons, Belgium, for my stint at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. The original hope was for me to stay 90 days, which would have been awesome! My seminar docket this fall is pretty full, though, so I was only able to give our friends at NATO two weeks. Pretty stingy of me, eh? I really do wish I could have stayed longer. A lot of my peoples say how awesome Europe is. It will be my first time, so I’m pretty stoked.

Those familiar with the social media educational process (in case you’re lost, there isn’t one–flat joke) knows that you usually start with the basics (ok, maybe there is a quasi formula–start at the beginning and move forward…that works).

Admiral Stavridis, the supreme allied commander, needed someone to visit SHAPE to spin his staff up on as much social media goings on as possible. My friend Navy Captain Buclatin, the public affairs director for the U.S. European Command, floated my name to the admiral’s office. A little while later, wouldn’t you know it, Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Salmons was asked to take point.

Needless to say it is incredibly humbling and I am ecstatic to do my part. We have a few international students who attend DINFOS for the public affairs officer course. The few whom I have talked to are very surprised at how developed our social media program is in the military. Isn’t that nuts? For as much as we/I complain at the lack of progress, relatively speaking, we’re doing pretty good. I’ve even heard similar comments from the Open Government and Innovation conference a few weeks ago–that DoD and some government agencies are maturing their social media campaigns rapidly.

Bully for us, then! It definitely isn’t time to rest, but at least we aren’t as naked in the dark as I sometimes cynically rail about.

The idea will be to teach three groups of NATO staff five classes. Starting with measuring the dimensions of the huge social media beast (101 level), we’ll then move in to how to tackle it–at least how to initially get started. Then, we’ll delve in to how social media campaigns can amplify existing public affairs communications (external comms). Then there will be a class on the potential benefits of social media inside an organization. Finally, we’ll finish it off with a class on blogging–which was specifically requested by our NATO peoples.

That’s a lot of talking, on my part, but I hope to get some good discussions going. There will no doubt be the same range of objections and concerns that plauge us in the states. Where I feel vulnerable is in my total lack of experience in dealing with the NATO bureaucracy. The U.S. is spectacularly infuriating enough. I can at least speak to some of the measures our IT and legal people are taking. Maybe that’s enough–especially when showing case studies and real results. We’ll see.

I’m really not sure what to expect. I know some people have some honest doubts as to how/if PA should use social media–I constantly wonder about things too. Access, legal stipulations, international consequences, adoption rates for other countries, intellectual property, copyright, libel, slander…social media can be very messy. In the states, sometimes I feel like I’m riding a whale, hoping it doesn’t go under. This time, the footing will be even less assured. Fingers crossed!

AT&T wants $120 for international data roaming. Wow, no thanks. I’ll be on via normal means, but the tweets and posts might be a little sparse for the next few days.


Trends versus platforms

trends vs. platforms

trends vs. platforms

Ok. Today I will hash out the “trends versus platforms” speech. It’s something I speak to quite often. Hopefully we can increase awareness and keep ourselves from being wrapped around the axle on certain things.

I feel that too often we become tangled up in arguments of semantics. Those in the know and those sort of in the know tussle over wording and ideas, both usually with good intentions, over what I see as a misunderstanding of trends versus platforms.

Every time someone says, “We need a Twitter policy” or, “There’s no regulation allowing Facebook,” I feel the fear/caution/enthusiasm  is misplaced. This post will try to clear some things up.

So, platforms and trends. To begin, I would like to point everyone toward a picture I often use at seminars. The graphic at the beginning of this post is something I grabbed from the Web. It’s from 2008, so it’s slipping into being “dated” (which happens ever faster these days, dangnabbit).

There are two things described in this graphic: the petals and what’s in the petals. Each petal is a social media trend. New petals don’t crop up too often. New trends do emerge, but not everyday. What is inside each petal is a social media platform. Platforms change constantly. As one platform dies (MySpace) another or several take its place (Facebook, Ning, etc.).

It might seem trivial, but I believe this distinction is very important. It is critical to argue for policies and best practices centered around trends, not platforms. Trends should be understood to greater extents than should platforms, specifically. Instead of getting a “Twitter policy” out there, focus on what makes Twitter useful and include a policy on micro-blogging (the trend that Twitter represents) as a part of your larger body of policies on blogging and social media.

When policy makers and social media advocates push platforms and not trends, we tend to paint ourselves into corners. Weeks of time and effort are spent to push some sort of guidance through concerning platforms that might disappear–and verily I’ve heard this as a reason why social media has no place in government or business. Some say it is too fickle–it travels too fast. The original 2007 ban that started all of this seems silly. Even it doesn’t ban “social media,” but instead MySpace and YouTube (and 9 other sites, including Ok. Big deal, we’ve moved on to other sites (Vimeo, Facebook). This is a small example of when policy focuses on platforms vs. trends. They quickly become irrelevant.

And as to the assertion that social media is changing too quickly–well, yes, things are progressing at an astronomical rate. Watch the “Did you Know? 3.0” video if you need to see the exponential times we’re living in.

But this is where focusing on trends makes things manageable. Platforms do pop in and out like electrons buzzing around an atom, but the nucleus–the trend, gives us something we can plan for and adapt to.

The focus on trends shifts things back to a more big-picture perspective. Instead of bickering about how Twitter seems silly, we begin to focus on if it has value as a communication tool–if it can be used for us to more effectively accomplish our missions as dictated by the DoD Principles of Information, Joint Publication 3-61 and service-specific public affairs guidance.

Joint Pub 3-61, especially. LOTS of good stuff in there. Practice OPSEC at the source. Every DoD servicemember is responsible for protecting OPSEC. DoD should be dedicated to a free flow of information to the public and within itself…on and on. So much applies to the fears and concerns about using social media, in PA or otherwise.

Because it’s important to remember we are in the business of communication, not for arguing for social media per se. If the world moved beyond social media (which the world is doing), I would move with it, for the sake of being the best communicator I can be. If people all started using sign language and nothing else, to be a good PA professional, I’d shift my zeal for social media to sign language.

I lament the discussions on social media relevance that degrade into arguments of preference.

Twitter is silly! Facebook blurs personal/professional lines! Persistent cookies violate privacy!

Well, the above statements may or may not be true; but they focus around platforms–around specific methods of transmitting information; and not around the philosophy of communication.

Trends, friends, trends are what we can plan for. Horses to cars to airplanes. These are the evolution of trends. Saddles to wagons; seats to seat belts to air bags;  propellers to jets to autopilot. These are the evolution of platforms.

By focusing just on platforms, we become blind to new trends, when they occur. For the moment, the big ticket trend evolution is from legacy media (broadcast, print) to social media. Our policies and practices should focus on the trend changes, not platform specifics.

One last example. Let’s say we are roofers (God bless ’em. Did that for a family project one summer. Whew!). We lay shingles by tapping in nails ever so often. Well, after a while, we get pretty good at hitting in nails. We even get to the point where we Daniel-san that thing and slam it flush in one swing.

Well, along comes the nail gun and our company is given some. We all have to get some training. Nail guns can be dangerous if misused (hammers can too, but nail guns seem more ferocious, I suppose). Some of our fellow roofers start to bicker about whether we should use nail guns or not. After all, someone could disable the safeties and hurt someone else. Someone could hit a nail into the wrong part of the roof (as they could with hammers too, albeit not as easily). And, most importantly (it is argued), we’re really good at hitting in nails in one swing. All of our expertise at using a hammer wouldn’t be as necessary if we used the nail gun. ANYBODY could lay shingles if nail guns were used.

But are any of these objections debating the inherent value of the nail gun? Doesn’t it, with the proper training and guidelines, allow for more efficient work? More consistent roofing? Faster?

Sure, there are risks. Someone could maybe possibly one day do something bad. But does that fear keep us from moving forward. What happens when company A sticks with hammers because they’re so proud of their skills, and company B gets all the jobs because they can do the work far more quickly and with consistent results?

This is why we need to focus on trends and not platforms. It keeps us focused on what we are. We need to stop arguing Twitter and start discussing public affairs. We need to stop bickering about bandwidth and examine how the new tools we have can make us better at our mission. We are to become better roofers, so to speak, not defend our pride of using one tool over another. What is encouraging is a lot of our prior experience makes us better at the new tools, anyway.


Leaving the room I’m not in anyway

Sometimes in the office, I have to leave the room. My boss-ish (I have three), and his boss often go back and forth about the evils and pitfalls of social media. I’m never invited to the conversation–big people talk and all of that, but I hear every word.

Before I get in to the convo that drove me from my roost this morning, a bit of context.

I’ve been chipping away at the DINFOS barnacles since January, trying to expose the hull so we can build from that. Most businesses do things out of tradition (it has worked before) or comfort (it is safe/easy) that may or may not be the best approach to a current problem. In the case of social media, most legacy approaches aren’t compatible (booooo email!). Social media requires a drastic change in workplace culture–not only because the tools are new, but the way people interact must also change.

Regardless, and social media trendiness aside, huge and small corporations alike discovered the social media concepts  attractive to the public have immense time- and cost-saving benefits for corporate processes. Typically dubbed “Enterprise 2.0“, the idea is that many social media trends (blogs, wikis, social networks, file sharing) are translatable to business practices.

Translatable, that is, once culture is revolutionized. Otherwise, leveraging social media is like selling a new printer to someone without a computer.

This is where things get very tricky. It’s a two-front war for social media in the workplace.

On the Western Front is social media training–what it is and how to use it; just like teaching someone the new copier or holding new quarterly training on the CEO’s new business philosophy. On the Eastern Front, however, is the quagmire of changing how people solve problems and interact. This can’t be overlooked. Social media is more than just getting people to log in to wikis, it’s a very different approach to interaction and work processes. Adoption rates of SM initiatives in the workplace often stall. Sometimes it’s because an initiative is poorly implemented, but often enough it’s the second front to the internal culture social media revolution–the work ethic and philosophy of the individual worker.

Whereas back in the day, I might think I should hold on to all of my knowledge. If my boss or coworkers wanted to know about my specialty, they’d have to come to me. My turf was my worth. My lane kept me employed. If someone else knew how to do what I did, I might get fired.

Not true, but information hoarding is usually how we work. Even with email, I must send out information to one set of recipients. It’s closed and temporary. Anyone else who wants to know the same info must be sent another message from someone in the know.

What companies are finding out is that when a fundamental change in workplace culture happens, contributors are not fired because they’ve given up their secrets, they are embraced by the emerging collaborative community. Although everyone might have my slide shows from past presentations, for example; I am still seen as the go-to person when people have questions. My job shifts from being a content creator to being a content manager. I, in my frequent contributions, empower others to grow and learn. I contribute to the health of the organization and give people a sense of ownership when they contribute to my projects, and likewise I gain when I contribute to theirs.

This is actually the area I’m the most interested in. There are untold thousands of social media advocates and snake oil salesmen touting the cure-all benefits of interfacing with the public through social media. Far fewer, it seems, are those who instead are focusing on the introspective approach to social media–how companies can harness the feelings of ownership and contribution amongst employees, while allowing managers far greater oversight and confidence in the day-to-day operations of a business.

This brings us to the present and the latest conversation by those who decide how much day-to-day sway I have. I am always elated to hear my boss(es) talking about work instead of golf or family visits or bands or church outings; so there was that going for them. Working in a quiet corner of the building makes tuning out the conversations that do transpire a bit trickier, but I normally rock out my headphones. Every once in awhile, my ears perk up when I hear key words like social media, collaboration, wikis, silly, security nightmare or young people. Remember, I’ve been beating the SM drums since January, so these guys have all heard my pitches about collaborative atmospheres, culture revolutions, wikis, blogs, standards of practice, unified Web presence–all of that.

In this particluar case, in the hour before most people show up for work, the boss(es) were discussing “working together on documents.” Bigger boss was talking to smaller boss about how they were having a hell of a time working together with other groups on document authoring. Apparently there are emails galore about certain documents. Different people have different versions. It’s hard to know what changes were made by what section and when. There’s no way of getting comments together in one spot to discuss possible changes…on and on.

WIKIS WIKIS! I screamed in my head, trying to punch through any barriers to thought projection I might have picked up during my six years of bureaucratic morass. Small boss must have picked up on my cues.

“What about a wiki? We could put some of these things on there,” small boss said.

“Maybe, but if we used a wiki, what would happen to the way we normal did things? Would we have to ask people to change their routines? Would they just go to the wiki instead of the shared drives and documents they normally went to?” big boss asked.

“Ah, good point.”

“See? Just saying ‘wiki’ is more than just saying ‘wiki.'”

“Ok, so what else can we do?”

“Well, I think we’ll schedule some meetings and try to get these emails under control.”

And so I left. Even when you lead a horse to water and even when you kick it in the knees and shove its head under, dumb bastard might still die of thirst.


Koobface returns! Quick, ban all social media!

Link to Mashable story.

So, looks like Koobface is back. They’ve added some twists to the virus that made headlines last month. Viruses are the most frequent reason policy makers cite when moving to ban social media in the military workplace. However, I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss viruses, social media,human nature (i.e. the predictability of stupidity) and why I believe blaming social media is ridiculous.

First, for the newer technology cats out there, computer viruses aren’t natural. They don’t “just happen.” They aren’t God-breathed. They are the willful, malicious invention of individuals.

A lot of times, viruses are just someone’s attempt at attention. A virus will exist to propagate itself and little else. Annoying, rude, inappropriate, but with little actual harm. Of the thousands of computer viruses created each month, however, two or three can do serious harm. These are the ones that stop people in their tracks. They shut down systems, erase data–all that fun stuff.

Viruses, regardless of what they do, pose a threat to network security. It is in techies’ 10 commandments to ferret out computer viruses wherever they exist and to establish network stability in all corners of the virtual workspace.

However, as any IT guy will tell you, the idea that viruses enter computer networks via ninja super hackers (or any incarnation of cyberpunk fantasy) is untrue. By and by, we infect ourselves. Viruses mainly spread by people clicking links.

You see, computer makers aren’t total morons. Machines are created to maintain basic information sovereignty. We aren’t in the age of the government having control over our machines just yet (though that’s coming). So, for an outsider to access your machine, you either have to leave it unprotected, or you have to choose to run a program on your machine that unlocks your protection.

Koobface operates like most computer viruses. Messages are sent out (in this case, tweets, Facebook or MySpace messages) to random people, asking them to click on a link. If you choose to click on that link, and then choose to run an “upgrade” to your video player, you infect yourself. Once infected, Koobface sends itself out now through your account.

It’s very much like an actual house. Leave the door unlocked, or open a ground floor window and put out a sign that you’ve done so, and you might get robbed. It’s also very much like catching a cold. Don’t wash your hands, or make out with sick people, and you might catch the cold.

What steams my trousers is when viruses are used as the reason to keep us out of the social-mediasphere. For leaders and IT managers, banning social media is “safer” (i.e. easier). And I agree, it is “safer” for networks to limit traffic, just like establishing curfews in war-torn regions is “safer.” Searching every vehicle that pulls up to an airport is “safer.”

But at what cost?

Social media is how I communicate. It is how the president wants me to communicate. It is how the secretary of defense wants me to communicate. It is how the chairman of the joint chiefs, the secretaries of the branches, the chiefs of staff and large swaths of commanders want me to communicate. It is the evolution of communication. Faster, fitter, more productive, free, easy and beneficial.

Policy makers who ban social media because of the threat of viruses make no sense to me. Are we still in the era of burning towns to stop the plague? Do we ban cars when a teenager drives drunk? Do we ban computers when someone writes a computer virus?

No. We continue the eternal better mousetrap/better mouse game. We improve hygiene; we pass laws and enact training; we improve our firewalls.

The reason we all get six dozen daily emails saying we’ve won tens of millions of dollars in Kenyan lotteries is because people keep answering the emails. The reason we keep getting mountains of junk mail is because people still respond. The reason chain letters from the 60s keep showing up as FWD: YOU MUST READ THIS!!!11!!” emails is because people keep forwarding them. The reason computer viruses are written to spread via user-initiated clicks is because people still voluntarily infect themselves.

But instead of chopping off my arm, how about we heal the wound, doc? Don’t cut me off from the social-mediasphere because jerks blindly click links from untrusted sources. Figure it out, policy makers. That’s why policy makers make mountains more money than I do. Hell, any of us  could have come up with the “shut down everything” solution and saved a lot of money.

It reminds me of my time at college. I went to a bible college that had a lot of social rules–no drinking, no dancing, no secular music, no cursing, no public displays of affection, curfews, mandatory chapel service. You see, it’s far easier to shut something down because of the “threat” of something (don’t know where dancing might lead…better ban it outright; don’t know where hand-holding or kissing might lead, better ban it). But that’s no way to live. Sure it’s harder to teach someone to use something correctly–teach him or her to fish rather than just throwing one to them, but that’s not a permanent solution.

Social media is the new communication paradigm. We should stop running away from it at the first clap of thunder. Threats and risk shouldn’t lead us to catatonic inaction.

If the president left his travel agenda scheduling up to the Secret Service, he’d never leave the White House bunker (“Safer” is easier.). If an aircraft’s flight status was left up to the mechanic, it would never leave the hanger (Why risk the wear and tear? More work). Likewise, IT shouldn’t just say why we can’t do something, but should do more working with leadership to figure out how to balance risk and operation.


For the love of the game

Firstly, I love what I do.

I genuinely enjoy serving in the Army as an enlisted man. For all the gripes or beat downs that I might chronicle in this blog, I wanted to lead off with the sentiment that I’m very blessed. Critiques or venting done here are really to show the absurdity (in my opinion) of how we in the military often operate–one example being our schizophrenic relationship with social media. I don’t think lambasting a person’s character on a public blog is a good use of the space.

Back to the “personal heritage thing,” I’m fourth generation enlisted from both sides of my family. The Salmons’ and Langton’s have been in the U.S. military since the Spanish American War. So I’m proud to be a part of that lineage.

I also enjoy my job in the military. I’m a print journalist. Though it’s a bit different from the broadcasting/radio/film background I pursued in college, it’s still communication. And that’s where I’ve found my niche–in being a communicator. It’s what I put on my business card too, actually: communicator.  Vague enough to get a few follow-up questions, but also flexible enough to let me get in where I fit in.

Although I go home beat down and exhausted more than I’d like, I think we’re fighting the good fight. I’ve read a lot of letters of intent and public comments from our highest military leaders, urging us all to stick with this ongoing social media policy war; so I feel like the endless tide of nay-sayers and critics are just beatings to endure. They don’t change the resolve of the social media warriors in DOD.

So, with that, let’s get to work. Lots to discuss and check out. Every day has new news, strangely.


Spinning up

New job. New passion. New blog.

I’m still in the Army. I’m still at the Defense Information School. I’m still enlisted.

What’s different is what I do. Since January, I have been the school’s first emerging media coordinator. What is an emerging media coordinator, you ask? What do I do on a day-to-day basis? Good question.

Partly because I didn’t really know at first. I was the first one. I could have sat on my laurels and gone home early. That’s not me, though, and it’s not how I landed the job in the first place.

Since arriving at DINFOS, I’d become a pain in the ass. I saw that we weren’t teaching anything about social media in any of our courses. Here we were, the sole military training center for communication, and we weren’t plugged in to the conversation at all. It was embarrassing. It was inexcusable. And so I said as much. Routinely.

The nay-sayers sprouted up in their initial protests, which is usually enough to beat the enthusiast down. I didn’t buy it, though. I was a user. I believed in this stuff. I persisted.

And eventually, after a year and a half of being a regular Joe instructor, the very forward-thinking commandant at the time saw fit to bless me diving in to social media full time. Thus, the position was born. I was to figure out how DINFOS could more effectively use social media (referred often enough by DOD as “emerging media” to denote its independence from purely social constraints).

And, boy, what a hell of a few months it has been. I’ve been able to attend seminars, go to a bunch of meetings, and stave off the pessimists long enough to get some actual content put into the curriculum.

All of this not to toot my horn, but to give you some context on this little journey we’re about to embark on together. This blog is going to help me chronicle the smiles and cries of the social media struggle within DOD. I’m just an average schmo, pushing for new things in stodgy circles. Lord help me, there’s a lot of obstacles in the way. I hope this little corner of the Interwebz will hold some form of encouragement to any who might pass by.

Viva la revolución!


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