A “golden age” for journalism?

David Plotz, editor of Slate Magazine, takes a look at the rise of digital journalism and tries to sort the gains from the losses:

Most handwringing about the state of journalism is done by journalists. They are worried about losing their jobs, so it’s not surprising that they tend to be fretful. But turn the issue upside down for a second, and think about the state of journalism from journalism’s audience. The real purpose of journalism, after all, is not to provide me a job, but to inform and entertain the public. And by that standard, it is clear we are living in a golden age. There has never been a better time to be a reader and watcher and listener of news. Never have you had so many choices, and so many that are excellent.

This seems a useful perspective to consider as military public communicators, too. Like civilian journalists, we are content providers. We all know our respective Service organizations have labored to adapt to the digital era, from the early rise of official military websites to the cacaphony of platforms that continue to proliferate within “Web 2.0.” Some adaptations have gone well; others remain uneven. No matter what the latest flashy tools offer, though, substance is still essential.  And there will always be the tension between the speed of the Web, and the legitimate need to protect certain categories of information.

Through all of this, we need to continue to keep in mind the view of the information consumer. How well are they being served both by the quality of the information provided, and the packaging in which it is transmitted? Within the Air Force, we’ve already seen a merging of specialization in print or photo journalism into a broader combined skillset.  Are we making full use of the multimedia potential of the web (still including well-written, hard-hitting text) to both show and tell our stories as a narrative easily accessible to a public that increasingly has little direct experience with military life?

Most importantly, given the many available choices Plotz points out are we doing our job well enough to be the “go-to” source for information about us when the menu of options is increasingly crowded?

If not, fretting about jobs may not be just for our civilian counterparts… and rightfully so.  In this age, it’s communicate–meaning connect with your audiences–or die.

Don’t confuse the tools with the plan

PACE teaches in a number of venues around Air University.  One common thing we’ve noted is that students often ask very early in the presentation “what about social media?”  It happened again today.

While that aspect of modern communication is a part of nearly everything we teach it is rarely, if ever, the first or main part of the discussion.  It’s easy to focus in detail on the ever-growing array of platforms available online, but that isn’t the most profitable use of time (always a limited commodity). 

Instead, we approach this from a couple of directions.  First, we acknowledge the nature of the modern information environment, with its insatiable demand for up-to-the-minute information.  Social media, of course, plays no small role in that.  But before jumping into the communication fray, whether online or on camera, the same mental process of preparation is vital, including consideration of what types of relevant information is priviledged and in need of protecting.

What are your communication objectives?

Who are the audiences you are trying to reach… and who are other audiences you many not be specifically addressing, but whose potential interpretation of the information needs to be anticipated and factored in?

Where do those audiences get their information?  This is where we clarify that social media is not a silver bullet to success, but merely one channel among many that have to be employed effectively.  The rise of the internet didn’t negate the need for audience analysis… if anything, it intensified it.

How can you cross-link communication channels so they reinforce each other?  For example, Twitter is a great alerting medium that also allows links to a variety of other types of products that provide information (text, imagery, videos, etc) far beyond 120 characters’ worth.  Note: Twitter did a short review of how the Navy used that platform in September 2013 during the shooting at the Washington Naval Yard.  It’s worth a look.

When will your audiences receive the information, based on the various means of delivery you are considering?  Is this regular communication, where a “pull” approach requiring active selection by the recipient is sufficient?  Or is this a situation where you need to “push” information in a way that gets attention even if they were not looking for or expecting it?

Only after sorting through the considerations above is it time to look at the appropriate mix of channels for engagement, whether various ‘legacy media’ and/or social media.  Reversing the process is like picking up a hammer and figuring if you use it enough, you’ll find the nail (i.e. meet the objective) eventually. 

Begin with the end in mind, and the right tools are more easily identified.

Preparing tomorrow’s communicators

“If you don’t get in front of the camera, you’re not getting the full effect of JLASS.”
– Navy Commander Mike Mineo, exercise participant

The 2014 Joint Land, Air, Sea Strategic Exercise concludes today, the capstone of months of classroom education and simulation of strategic planning by 140 students from all the Senior Service Schools in the Department of Defense. In addition to practicing detailed interagency coordination to prepare for and respond to various potential contingencies, students gain an appreciation for the need to prepare public communication efforts as an integral part of their operations.

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As the (simulated) world turns…

Today marks the start of the 2014 Joint Land, Air, Sea Strategic Exercise, a capstone event for months-long strategic planning programs of study at each of the Department of Defense’s senior service schools.  About 140 students, representing each of the services, will play out the potential diplomatic, economic and military aspects of global responses to fictional crises set ten years in the future.

PACE partners annually with Maxwell Video Productions and the LeMay Center for Doctrine Education to educate participants and emphasize consideration of public communication as an integral part of planning and operations. Over the next several days, students will need to ‘plan what they will say,’ as they ‘plan what they will do.’ Daily broadcasts by the fictional “Global News Network,” and simulated print news stories will provide participants the opportunity to see the relative effectiveness of their communication efforts.  JLASS-EX runs through April 17.

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Crisis communication and employee relations

Every week brings new headlines about manpower management programs, as the DoD works its way through tighter budgets and demands to reduce the size of the force. The uncertainty this continues to cause for both uniformed and civilian employees requires effective communication, just as it would for a company facing similar issues:

Imagine this: Your business has grown exponentially for several years, even as competitors have had to lay off staff. And then, one morning, you lose your largest client, wiping out almost one-third of your annual revenue before breakfast. Our Toronto business faced this reality and, one year later, we know that how you manage employee communication through a company crisis is critical to business recovery

Current military drawdowns are occuring in a larger context of increasing mistrust of leadership and management roles in our society. Active awareness of audience concerns, and sustained efforts to address these, are vital to maintaining both organizational and individual credibility.

What examples do you see within DoD of communication that reflects some of the principles and considerations in the linked articles? How might our community of practice continue to “up our game” in response to today’s challenges? The comments section is open!

Commanders and communication synchronization

Planning is at the heart of any successful endeavor. It’s also something the armed forces excel at… at least in the domains of physical action. Integrating public communication into that robust planning machinery, however, has been very much a trial-and-error process over the past decade-plus. Some commands developed processes that worked well. Others did not.

The resulting difference is whether communication was ‘baked into the cake itself,’ or merely sprinkled on top at the end of the drill. The community of practitioners has often been distracted by debates over terminology (i.e. the now-less-than-favored “strategic communication”). The reality is it doesn’t matter what you call it, so long as you have a process in place to plan for and effectively execute organizational communication.

Near the end of 2013, DoD issued Joint Doctrine Note 2-13 (Commander’s Communication Synchronization). This document is good insight into the evolution of doctrinal thinking in this area. It also provides some useful references for discussing this critical process with the leaders we work with and for!

What mechanisms have you seen at various commands–or even outside the armed forces–that ensure public communication is an integral consideration of organizational planning, rather than a hasty afterthought once all the ‘big decisions’ have already been made?

(Note to readers: The Air Force Public Affairs Center of Excellence maintains a link library on its official unit site to current DoD/AF pubs related to the practice of organizational communication.)

Measuring the megaphone

As we frequently tell students in our courses, measuring the effects of public communication bears little to no resemblence to other operational analytics methods they may have practiced.  Bomb damage assessment is a relatively straightforward exercise.   Congnitive effect analysis?  Not so much.

This often leaves military communicators at a loss to quantify the value of their capability sets — no small consideration in an era of ever-tightening resources.  Our practice will always contain as much art as science, but are we completely bereft of ways to define our impact?

This writing discusses the use of Google analytics as a “PR dashboard.”  Several possible uses for the data are discussed.

What tactics, tools and techniques have you found as a practitioner help your command understand the value of dedicating resources to such things as social media engagement? For our readers who are not Public Affairs practitioners, what analytical tools do you use that might be of value in measuring communication impact?  Let the crosstalk begin…

(Speaking of metrics, based on recent site traffic it’s apparent we need to do more posts about moustaches.  Duly noted!)