Sunday, April 26, 2009

Milbloggers Conference: The CHINFO Quote

From here.

The Navy seemed like it could not care less about the medium and basically told they have no time to deal with our requests. “I have to choose between the New York Times, the Pensacola Tribune, or a blog,” said Admiral Thorpe while raising his arms like a scale and placing the MSM on a higher plain.
For the sake of transparency, I should say Admiral Thorp has been nothing but good to me, and I do and will continue to defend him against his critics. I think that when you have to make the choice Frank is discussing, I think Frank is making the right choice.

With that said, organizations that understand and integrate social software into their public affairs don't have to make that choice though. I note that even the Coast Guard, which is way ahead of the Navy and other services regarding social media, doesn't understand that point. I've tried to explain it, but I think ultimately someone is going to have to show them. Based on what I've seen, that someone will end up being a defense contractor or think tank.

I can see how Admiral Thorp's comments would be seen as critical by milbloggers who have been blogging awhile. It appears there is a story yet to be told regarding a conversation between Maggie and RADM Thorp on this topic. The thing is, social software in the large enterprise is still new, and because a lot of mainstream media companies are still struggling with revenue models the maturity of social software as an enterprise function in public affairs is just not there for the Navy to be impressed yet.

If you believe that public affairs will likely be an online function of the enterprise in the future, then someone could fairly assume that it will be done with social software due to the two-way communication nature of the medium.

So while I think Frank is on target with the specific point he is making regarding social software, there may also be a point he is missing. It may not matter thought.

I would argue public affairs isn't really part of the problem because CHINFO is not organized to be part of the solution to the Navy's information challenges. The blogosphere isn't a media agent, for the most part blogs do not generate news. What blogs do is much more dangerous to the Navy, they help shape broader opinion, and right now it is the shaping of opinions in the strategic, operational, and industrial conversations where the blogosphere is operating without resistance, a space CHINFO largely does not operate because the primary voices CHINFO would promote are largely not engaged, and never can be under the current design with enough consistency to build consensus.

How many people outside the Navy know who Admiral Crowder is, what he does, or how he got to his current position? Clearly, Thomas Ricks doesn't, and he is more informed than 99% of Americans. Is that CHINFO's fault? A press release can't fix that problem, but a blog could.

But here is the kicker. How much harder does Admiral Roughead have to work on issues like shipbuilding because there is no consistent engagement on the strategic challenges of today's Navy? How does this influence conversations like the fighter gap? What about the LCS? How do ideas in the Navy become popular, or propagated? What makes a MSM reporter outside the defense media interested in a specific Navy discussion? Why has piracy led to the embrace of Influence Squadrons?

How many flag officers even realize that groups like CNAS are crowdsourcing ideas with social software right into the defense budget whether the military likes it or not? I think the Air Force gets it. Just wait until those folks get good at it, and their competitors start doing it too.

Why are certain strategic ideas floated in the think tanks more popular than others? Where does Congress go when looking for opinion? What makes an article about the Navy written in Proceedings, Armed Forces Journal, or National Defense Magazine influential? How much control does the Navy have regarding insuring the accuracy of events? A certain blue boat incident comes to mind.

If the Navy cannot answer those questions, then maybe the question should be asked how I know the answer and they don't. A blog is a lot of things, and one of those things is an interconnected input and output networked connection on the information highway. I'm not sure if the Navy needs a blog or not, but I would suggest that in an era of rapid demand for information, a lot of Navy leaders could sure use the effective functional inputs and outputs that social software offers, and in most cases the purposes would not be for public affairs so much as for purposes of strategic communications.

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