Military reaches out to wider audiences with expanded online presence
December 16, 2009
STUTTGART, Germany — Air Force Maj. Kristi Beckman spends much of her work day doing what others do for fun: perusing Facebook, Twitter and blogs. She is busy on them all as she works to inform her readers about the latest U.S. European Command activities and find out what others are saying about EUCOM.
Beckman’s job title: social media chief. And one month into the job, she represents the latest addition to a EUCOM staff that is pushing deeper into the social media universe and also changing ideas about what military Web sites can do.
“I think telling people what we’re doing out here and why we’re still here is very important,” said Beckman, of EUCOM’s mission to build an audience through social media.
At EUCOM headquarters in Stuttgart, the past year has brought significant changes in how the command communicates its message to the world.
In a short time, Eucom.mil has gone from a relatively stagnant site, to one that is updated throughout the day with stories and photos both command-produced and from leading domestic and international newspapers.
It also serves as a launching point to the command’s pages on Facebook and Twitter.
Now, under the command of Adm. James Stavridis — one of the Defense Department’s most vocal social media proponents — EUCOM officials say its online effort is part of an ever-evolving push to become more transparent and reach a broader audience.
This plunge into social media traces its roots to a strategy crafted by a Navy captain, who used an order from EUCOM’s former commander as an opportunity to put into action ideas about social media that he had on his mind for some time.
“In January, we were given an ultimatum from Gen. [John] Craddock. He said we need to update our Web site and we need to do it in two weeks,” said Navy Capt. Ed Buclatin, the mastermind behind EUCOM’s online efforts.
Since then, Eucom.mil has broken the mold for how traditional military Web sites function, Buclatin said.
Now, other military commands are also getting into social media as a way to broadcast their message, particularly in Afghanistan.
Around the time Craddock issued his order, Buclatin’s online playbook was passed along to Navy Lt. Adam Clampitt, who is part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force communications team in Afghanistan.
“We had a lot of inspiration from what EUCOM was doing,” said Clampitt, who combined some of EUCOM’s efforts with ideas of his own to revamp how ISAF talks about its mission.
“What we put together was a robust social media structure to reach people that don’t get news in traditional ways,” Clampitt said. “It was an attempt to reach right to that audience and give them an accurate picture of what is happening.”
For military commands, social media offers an avenue for getting information out in real time, an advantage in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where enemies are increasingly effective at using technology to blast their own messages.
At EUCOM, there aren’t insurgents to counter, but in a post-cold war world, much of what the command does goes unnoticed, Buclatin said.
“There are still a lot of folks unaware of what we do. Social media allows us to communicate in ways we never have before,” Buclatin said. “We’ve never been able establish a conversation and build a relationship.”
The value of social networking can be a tough sell at times.
“We still do have naysayers, who think it’s a bright shiny object, a fad. But not many,” Buclatin said. “Unless you say people aren’t going to be social anymore, social media isn’t going away.”
An outside opinionHow well has the military mastered using the Internet to get its message to the masses?
Stars and Stripes asked Kelly McBride, an expert on mass communication Web sites at The Poynter Institute, a leading education and training center for journalists and media leaders, to review a few sites:
Misawa Air Base (www.misawa.af.mil)
Like every other Air Force base worldwide, the Misawa page uses an Air Force template that allows for some wiggle room with the design.
Having a template and similarities with other bases’ sites isn’t necessarily a bad thing given how much Air Force servicemembers move around, McBride said. But one drawback with the site is its news features, McBride said.
“It doesn’t look that dynamic and exciting,” she said. “I don’t see anything about where to get information about things [on the base and about the area].”
Misawa spokesman 2nd Lt. Jeff Nagan said the base’s site gets 700 to 1,000 unique visitors a day and that number is going up. It reaches people around the world, but probably about 75 percent of the visitors are in the United States.
“This one looks much more like a news site,” McBride said. “I think it has a nice use of photos. They got that figured out.”
But “there is no way to comment on these stories, and I think that is a big mistake.”
Defenselink is primarily a news site, said Linda Kozaryn, who oversees defenselink’s operation. It isn’t designed to engage with the troops, that is one of the defense.gov site’s purposes, she said. The site gets about 350,000 unique visitors a month.
U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet (www.cpf.navy.mil)
McBride blasted the site as being “horrifically designed.”
“Of the five that you showed me, this is the worst,” McBride told Stripes. “The content is pretty pointless.”
Navy Pacific Fleet officials said via e-mail that the site was launched in November 1996 and it complies with the service’s regulations. The site’s purpose is to provide sailors, dependents and civilian employees with important information, and it accomplishes that, the Navy said.
According to the Navy, the Pacific Fleet’s site has gotten 70,000 unique visitors in 2009, as of mid-October.
- Mark Abramson, S&S