Brigadier Mick Ryan of the Australian Army is a vocal champion of the use of social media by military organizations. You can read his reasons why in a recent piece published at The Bridge here, and you can take a look at his brigade-level lessons learned here.
The social media success for Brigadier Ryan and his organization at the brigade level is not a fluke, and that same success is replicable at the company level.
What follows are examples of how company-grade leaders can employ sites like Facebook, Twitter, and others to improve communications and potentially enhance morale, using actual Facebook posts from my organization throughout my time in command.
Note: I debated hiding my organization throughout this post but decided only to mask individuals’ names. Besides the fact that you can figure out where I worked with enough Google-fu, unit social media pages are open source.
Leaders are the biggest and best advocates for their own organizations. Plenty of people are ready and willing to tell you what you did wrong, but you have to make it a personal mission to tell everyone what you and your team did right. Traditionally, training highlights during meetings and “story boards” served this purpose in part, but the networked nature of social media allows you to quickly and easily share photos and good news stories while tagging your higher headquarters. It’s a way to highlight your troops’ training and show the world (and your bosses) the great things they’re doing. Take advantage.
Practically everyone is on Facebook these days, and a post there highlighting a promotion, award, reenlistment, or other such event is a way to share the recognition of a soldier’s accomplishments with a greater audience. Nothing beats being recognized for excellence in front of your peers, but if your family and friends cannot be there, posts like this share the experience with a wider audience. Troops can also share the posts within their networks.
(Help in) Setting a Standard
At Fort Campbell, it’s no surprise that we emphasized Air Assault School attendance, and soldiers of all ranks (but especially leaders) were expected to train up, attend, and graduate. I made it a habit to post a photo and by-name recognition every single time one of my troops graduated (I missed a photo or two along the way, but always remembered the by-name post).
To be abundantly clear, social media is a tool to augment communications and morale boosting efforts. It does not replace anything. Did I increase graduation rates by doing this? Absolutely not. But what I did, in addition to sharing the recognition to a wider audience, was foster a culture of expectation and excellence. There was no doubt in my organization that earning the Air Assault Badge was the standard.
Families are a crucial part of the Army team, so communicating with them was a primary goal of my social media efforts. Besides the updates they’d get about soldiers’ training and recognition, I made sure to publish posts of our family events that included soldiers and family members alike. The goal was two-fold: 1) show the family members that didn’t attend FRG events that they were actually fun, potentially persuading them to attend in the future; and 2) build a stronger, more positive sense of identification between family members and the unit.
The obvious use of social media is to get the word out. I could put information out all I wanted at training meetings, leader huddles, and formation talks, but the info would oftentimes stop there, much to my frustration (with the exception of communicating post closures for inclement weather, not surprisingly). So I took to Facebook to announce FRG events, post-wide opportunities (like those from ACS or the USO), and general information I wanted to make sure got to all family members and soldiers of the unit.
Connecting with our Past
As a guy who got his undergraduate degree in history, I like to throw way back when I use the #TBT hashtag. When at the helm of a Facebook page, it’s a great chance to highlight the history of your organization and let your folks know that they belong to a deeply storied and rich heritage of excellence. I was blessed to be part of the most decorated Military Police Battalion in the Army, something I continue to be extremely proud of, and sharing that history is a chance to tie present with past and let soldiers know that they’re part of something powerful and honorable.
Side note: as you can tell by the comment on this post, social media also serves as a conduit through which former members of the organization—and especially veterans of past wars—can reconnect and enrich our appreciation of the legacy.
Capturing Memorable Moments
While we can use social media to remember our past, it’s also valuable to document our experiences—a sort of time capsule to capture the moments that are truly memorable. A deputy commander I worked for once said that you won’t remember the systems you created or the inspection you passed. You’ll remember the relationships, and you’ll remember a handful of moments. Capture those moments where you can.
Social media should never be a primary effort in any military mission, but it has value at every echelon, including the company level. I agree with the argument that the military’s youngest generation speaks in the language of social media. As leaders, making the effort to communicate to troops using their medium of choice is a worthy pursuit.
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