Tight Budgets Force Army to Embrace Social Media

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The Army is pushing social media use as a way for commanders from the garrison level down to slash staffing and marketing costs.

"On a manpower level I think it's really much easier to have the communications team integrated. You can really do more with less in terms of getting out the visual story and all that stuff," Brittany Brown, social media manager for the Army, said. "But beyond that were using it to do things like get the word out about [MWR activities] so that's less flyers, less printing costs."

Brown said commands from the company level up are encouraged to have at least a Facebook presence. Those run by companies are often moderated by volunteers, while battalion, brigade, and garrison staffs are encouraged to devote a public affairs office staff member to social media management, which eliminates the need for multiple PAO hires.

The Defense Department faces about $500 billion in automatic cuts known as sequestration through 2021. That's in addition to almost $500 billion in reductions already included in 2011 deficit-reduction legislation. The first installment totaled about $37 billion and began March 1 after lawmakers were unable to reach an alternative agreement on taxes and spending. The second installment totals about $52 billion and is set to take effect Jan. 1.

Army officers preparing for battalion command are required to sit through a presentation from the Army chief of public affairs on the importance of social media while attending the pre-command course at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Brown said.

"He lets them know that even if you don't have a public affairs officer you need someone who does social media," she said. "So we're trying to get the buy in for social media, we're trying to get the commanders on board. A lot of generals are on board, but we're trying to get those battalion commanders on board to do it."

However, convincing battalion and company commanders that social media is useful for spreading information, and not simply a quick way to violate operation security rules, can be an uphill battle, said one garrison commander.

"I think they're missing an opportunity to really make connections and get that information flow out there," said Col. Gary Rosenberg, Fort Drum's garrison commander. "In the end you've got an obligation as a commander to get information out to your unit. And that's a way you can do it and have some control over it."

He said at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference on Wednesday that commanders need to understand that there is some risk involved in promoting social media use.

"That's the scary part of social media. You can't always control it -- the fact of the matter is you can't. And that comes back to the education part. But through my public affairs office I have people that I employee  full time that are keeping up with my [garrison] Facebook page," he said.  "People write crazy stuff about me all the time, but that's OK. I don't take it personally. Not all commanders are that way. … But what we can do is go back and say this is a public forum and we ask you to be respectful."

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