What Social Media Marketers Can Learn from the Army
By Mark Cameron
Social media has been mainstream for long enough now for “best practice” examples to be widely available. Many of these are focused on marketing [campaigns] but it’s worth looking at a broader horizon to get a real feel for what works and what doesn’t.
The U.S. Army has, for the last few years, published the U.S. Army Social Media Handbook. Now into its third edition, the handbook is far more than a simple guide for soldiers. It is a fantastic starting point for anyone beginning to plan out their approach to social media. Let’s have a look at its top four lessons.
The most important message the handbook conveys is very simple - make sure you have a focus and a purpose when jumping into social media. The handbook puts it like this: “Determine what you plan to achieve with your social media presence. Make sure you have a way forward and a set of goals. Developing a social media outreach plan requires a lot of thought, so make sure you know how you plan to use social media to communicate.”
Don’t jump into tactics until you have a strategy
It requires a brilliant strategy to win a war and social media is no different. Spend time and effort building a great strategy and it will pay off. “The purpose of using social media is to place your unit’s messages in the social media space. But in order to keep people coming back to the pages, units should develop a strategy that mixes messages with items the audience finds interesting. Language should be conversational, fun and engaging.” Replace “unit” with the word “brand”, “company”, or “department” and the general applicability of this thought becomes very clear.
How to avoid failing
In a sense this is just an extension of “develop a strategy” - but it is really worth highlighting. The guidebook states “Most of social media failures can be attributed to organizations rushing into social media before determining what exactly the organization aims to achieve with social media platforms. Using social media effectively is a process and it requires strategy, goals, manpower and foresight.” Success on social media platforms is not hard to achieve. You just need to be prepared and committed.
Don’t avoid social media in a crisis—use it!
Contrary to popular belief social media does not cause issues—it just allows them to surface more quickly. And this is going to happen whether or not your brand is participating in social media—so it’s best to think about how to use social media platforms to your advantage. The U.S. Army says “Using social media to communicate with stakeholders during a crisis has proven to be effective due to its speed, reach and direct access. In recent crises, social media has helped distribute command information to key audiences and media, while also providing a means for dialogue among the affected and interested parties.”
It’s worth reading the full guidebook. You will find other key messages. It will help you better understand why and how social media is all about winning hearts and minds.
Mark Cameron is CEO and lead strategist of social media conversion and commercialization agency Working Three. While his agency is based in Melbourne, Australia, he works for some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking brands. As a regular speaker and writer on social media and digital strategy, Mark stays focused on customers and outcomes, not the technology, leading to simple strategic conclusions.