By Ms. Rachel V Goodspeed (USACE)March 10, 2010
WIESBADEN, Germany - Are you LinkedIn'
The world is talking to each other over MySpace and Facebook, sharing photos over Flickr, spreading opinions over blogs and watching their friends and co-workers over YouTube.
What better way to communicate with employees, stakeholders, customers and the public at large than via social media'
And now, up-to-date job announcements, news stories and more is only a click away as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District now has sites on Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Del.icio.us and CNN iReport.
Social media is not a replacement for traditional media outlets such as newspapers and TV news broadcasts - in fact, the sites often increase the district's outreach to such outlets, said Justin Ward, the district's public affairs chief.
"Social media is a powerful tool in terms of communicating with our employees, our customers and the general public," Ward said. "While our sites started off with targeted individuals, it quickly spread through their social and business networks to become a muddled disarray of anyone interested in having conversations with us. That's the nature of the business, and something we've come to embrace."
With projects that span across Europe, Africa and portions of the Middle East, the Europe District public affairs office utilizes its social media sites to communicate with U.S. Army garrisons, Air Force communities and even civilian communities near those sites.
"The short-term objective was to catch up to the information demands of the public, which have steadily increased in both scope and speed with the popularity of Internet applications," Ward said. "The long-term objective is to build trust and understanding through these informal interactions."
In a statement issued by President Barack Obama, "Departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public." But even more, "Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public."
"In other words, we don't just want to wait for feedback - we're asking for it via these sites," Ward said.
Although the sites were established with target audiences, they quickly spread throughout the users' networks.
"We started off with a locus of targeted individuals, but it quickly spread through their social and business networks to become a muddled disarray of anyone interested in having conversations with us," Ward said. "That's the nature of the business and that's something we've come to embrace."
But the emergence of social media in the district also means public affairs officials also have to be more aware of operational and information security issues, said Lionel Chattelle, a district security specialist and INFOSEC manager.
"We also have to keep in mind that the 'bad guys' are looking at our sites too," he said. "We have to continue to use our common sense and practice good judgment while freely sharing information across such a broad spectrum."
As social media rapidly spreads across defense agencies and federal departments, it's even more important now than ever that public affairs continues to balance the freedom of information with security, Chattelle said.
And as long as the information is properly coordinated and the information distributed through it properly vetted, it is a superb tool in ensuring the widest possible dissemination of the messages, Ward said.
"Social media is a powerful tool that allows us an easily accessible forum for two-way communication with the public," he said. "So while the capability is out there, we will capitalize on it so our office can continue to KickApps."