Assuming…and other mistakes
The social media explosion is temporary—or at least I hope it is. As more people learn how to fish, there won’t be the need for people like me to toss halibut into the throng of open mouths—or at least I hope so.
Sometimes I do have pangs of doubt whether the current crop of policy makers and leaders will ever graduate beyond their current levels. Maybe the eventual evolution of the common body of knowledge will be due to the replacement of one generational talent pool for another. Maybe, eventually, I won’t have to explain Boolean search strategies to people, not because eventually people will understand the how-tos that people like me are putting out, but that they will be replaced by new blood or the programs themselves will evolve to make the Semantic Web a reality.
Maybe that’s always the way things work. Perhaps we all hit a certain wall when it comes to new ideas or approaches. While many can adapt and learn, maybe the majority of people reach some sort of innovation saturation? Could be. I know I hit a wall with math. Calculus. I gave up—went to philosophy and literature and never looked back. If the world was waiting for me to engineer a bridge somewhere, it was out of luck until they start putting a “build me a bridge” button on these graphic calculators.
Most of you are probably wondering what the hell I’m getting at. Fair enough.
Last week I got an email that highlights a type of email I routinely get. Now, before we continue, I am going to qualify all of this by removing any sense of elitism or a patronizing tone. If the points of this post are true, I too will fall victim to my own saturation of innovation where my mind will be unwilling or unable to further redefine its information-processing structures. So this isn’t a “old people don’t get it” post in the slightest.
Anyway, email. About a month ago I led a faculty bible study. It was on the passage of the Christian Scriptures where Jesus led his disciples to Caesarea Philippi and made the speech about “On this rock, I’ll build my church.” That whole thing. I opened up with a short side study, discussing how old the disciples probably were before moving on to the rest of things.
I talked about how I’d heard a bible teacher named Ray Van Der Laan give a pitch years ago, showing that the disciples were probably all teenagers. This was how old disciples usually were in the culture and time: teens. I meant it as a quick intro to the rest of the study, but people at the session were blown away.
“That makes sense!”
“I’ve always wondered about that.”
“I’ve never heard that before.”
“Where did you find that?”
“Where are your sources?”
“How can I read your information?”
I told them the Web. Google the teacher I’d mentioned. They went away astonished and paid little attention to the actual study….I guess I should have focused on the age thing.
About a week later, I was still getting emails, asking where to go and what Web site to look at. I had to tell them it wasn’t in one neat package, but the information was across several sites. Google was their friend. But that’s where I assumed people could find out information, and I started to think again on how some groups, no matter how many times you coach them through something, can’t figure things out.
Again, not an intelligence or age thing, but some people will never learn how to adapt to new technological environments. Some people just can’t get the concept of fishing.
This final email that set off this post arrived a few days ago.
“SSG Salmons, where did you get your information for that study last month? I’m giving a session and want to bring up the young disciple idea. Fascinating.”
I had to break it down. Google the teacher’s name “Ray Van Der Laan.” That would bring up every document he’s remotely associated with. By adding words after the name, you can further exclude irrelevant searches. Try adding the phrase “disciples were teenagers.” That should bring up the list of posts I had scanned through to refresh my sources.
A few minutes later…
“SSG Salmons, I don’t see anything.”
I typed in the search string. Then looked down the list. There they were, the articles I’d seen before. I picked out the first few, including the “teenage posse” one that had been the most helpful.
A few minutes later…
Our educational philosophy focuses on questions and answers. I think this has a tendency to lobotomize us to adaptation and innovation. We expect something to just work.
Car breaks? Someone fix it. “It won’t make a ‘vroooooooom!’ anymore!” Computer has an error? “My Yahoo! is broken!”
Classical education focuses on how to think. It’s not in the lists of facts that can be digested like a machine, but it’s about cultivating the character of a thinking person. In Rabbinic teaching, questions are answered by other questions.
“What is 6 + 4?” a teacher will ask.
“What is 5 x 2?” a student will respond. It shows that the student not only knows the answer, but can move the discussion further.
We don’t do that anymore, it’s all just quantifiable rote memorization and minimized thought. Ninety six percent? Great, “A+”. Ninety six credit hours? Great, bachelor’s degree.
So when a new paradigm like social media enters the fray and challenges us to redefine how we perceive and interact with social units, geographical and notional affiliations, or even data itself; many of us cannot figure it out. It’s me and Calculus. Ugh! My brain is teh hurts!
So, to help, guys like me who haven’t reached their innovation saturation levels, Google the term “social media training” and teach ourselves. A year later, I’m speaking at seminars, companies and governmental organizations throughout the world because I’m soooo knowledgable. If only people knew….
Granted, I know I can put on a good show, and I am genuinely flattered at the attention; but as we move forward, I do grow concerned that we’ll have to wait for many to retire or move on to get people in positions who haven’t become saturated.
And then, eventually (although “eventually” is happening faster and faster these days), I’ll hit my ceiling too. My processor won’t be able to handle the load. I’ll check out, and someone else will step in who can run two or three computers at once, type two letters simultaneously and watch seven movies concurrently with commenting on a quantum mechanics blog.
Meanwhile, I’m available to give training to you and your employees on how to effectively leverage social media trends in your workplace and on your external-facing communication initiatives to increase the effectiveness of your organization.
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
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 MTV.com). 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.
Hey there! I'm a former Army print journalist and DoD social media zealot. I spend my days in the public relations and marketing worlds, chatting about technology and working on fun side projects.
I write, dance and do most things.
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