FORT MEADE, Md. – Commands and family support groups can use social media sites as force multipliers, experts said Oct. 23, and Family Members can stay connected while staying secure.
Social media experts joined garrison leaders, Family Members, family readiness group leaders and military support group representatives at an Association of the United States Army family forum in Washington to discuss the benefits of social media.
The forum covered all types of social media, from Facebook – which some of the experts said teenagers and young Soldiers aren't interested in using anymore – to Twitter and Instagram. Experts said find where the people they are trying to reach are spending their time and go there.
Their advice included the following:
wBe accurate and timely.
wVet any information you post.
wPost things people want, like pictures, video and infographics.
wShare consistent messaging across all platforms of information, including post newspapers.
"We can be, we should be, we have to be the most reliable source of accurate information available," said Col. Gary Rosenberg, Fort Drum garrison commander. "However, accuracy isn't enough. It also needs to be timely and be easily accessible and if we're not, we're going to be irrelevant. We have to be agile and adaptive.
"What it really comes down to is people," he continued. "It still takes well-trained people and caring people. Only they can take care of our Soldiers, our Families, our Civilians and our retirees. In the end, it really is all about people – communicating with them, enabling them, both with information and whatever resources they might need, and caring for them."
Rosenberg went on to explain that a new Soldier's worried mother recently reached out to their Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program on Facebook. Her son was lonely, she said, and he couldn't seem to make friends or find anything to do. That sort of isolation doesn't make for a very resilient Soldier, so the BOSS leader sent her a list of activities that were going on at Fort Drum. Now that Soldier is getting involved and making friends, and he is a more productive Soldier.
Former Capt. Megan Zemke, an Army spouse and a family readiness group leader at Fort Polk, La., pointed out now that her husband's unit is home from deployment and likely to stay home for a long period of time, Facebook and other social networks are the best ways to stay connected to spouses.
"The biggest challenge we have is that once your Soldier's home and he's not deployed, they don't really want to hang out with you," she said. "They want to hang out with their Soldiers. … That's where we kind of brought in our Facebook page to say 'We're doing these fun activities. We still want to have a family unit, togetherness and cohesion.'"
"If we try to have just your average meeting with some cookies or something, no one's going to come," Zemke. "But if we instead have a big quarterly meeting with a bounce house, we could get almost everybody there and that's where we can put out our information. That's what we use our social media for, to say we're going to have this activity next month and there's going to be these types of things for the kids to do and if you'd like to bring food that would be great or there's already going to be food there. We recently went through a deactivation and that was huge for us, just for rumor control."
Brittany Brown of the U.S. Army's Online and Social Media Division, said the Army wants people to share information from official sites like Army.mil and Defense.gov, patriotic messages and words of encouragement and support for their Soldiers. Even senior leaders like Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler are on social networks, so the Army does recognize the power of social media.
The Army, she continued, provides resources on www.slide-share.net/usarmysocialmedia
about what is OK to share and what types of information should never be posted due to operational and personal security, such as troop movements, specific locations, weapons systems and new equipment. Never, for example, post something like "I just found out my Soldier will be deploying to Afghanistan on Nov. 1."
"We train our Soldiers to deal with the most advanced weapons in the world," she said. "The same way we train them to use those weapons systems and we have the trust and confidence for them to go out and do great things on the battlefield, we can trust and train them to do the same thing on social media, to use those platforms, good ways to use them, being mindful of personal security, (operational security) and all those types of things, and also to share the lessons learned and to share those tips and best practices with their Family Members as well."