Web 2.0 Capabilities Enhance Command Dialogue

February 15, 2008
by Maryann Lawlor
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The command that leads the U.S. military in experimentation is living on the cutting edge of Web 2.0 technology use. Led by a command staff that encourages innovation, the U.S. Joint Forces Command’s (JFCOM) communications department has designed a Web site that is the launch pad for blogs, podcasts and Really Simply Syndication (RSS) feeds. The goal is simple: Create a fresh dialogue with the people it serves and protects.

Gregg Your, command information officer and public affairs specialist, JFCOM, emphasizes that “communication is communication,” and JFCOM is just using Web 2.0 tools as the most effective way to communicate. “The Internet is every command’s dream because you get the message out without filters,” he states. As JFCOM transitioned into deploying Web 2.0 capabilities, the objective was to do so as effectively and as efficiently as possible, so Your’s team chose to go the write-once-and-use-many-times route.

JFCOM has converged the many ways to use these tools, starting with its Web site and then moving on to e-mail blasts when content is updated. “From that, we went to industry best practices. Then we got calls asking if we were going to do RSS feeds,” he explains.

While life at JFCOM can be thrilling, the command can’t rely on the exciting action shots of warfighters that the individual services can, so sharing its message with the service community and public through media that rely on pictures was not a viable option. As a result, Your’s team decided that the natural next step would be blogging, but this called for a trip to JFCOM’s leadership. “They said, ‘We don’t understand what you’re doing, but go for it!’” Your shares. During the first 10 months of 2007, the command published more than a dozen blogs.

Keeping in mind that JFCOM has to capture its audience with words rather than pictures, Your reminds writers to draw on all of their senses when covering events such as the command’s experiments. Their blog entries should be sensory driven, he tells them, so readers have not just the facts but also a real feeling of what is taking place.

The command’s coverage of its own two-day industry symposium late last summer is an example of this emphasis on fresh approaches to content. To ensure continuous updates, Your tasked three writers to cover the event, and they took turns populating the blog with content. While one was composing a blog entry, the other two were listening and recording speeches, attending media briefings or touring the exhibit floor.

This method of event coverage via blogs reflects Your’s belief that the most important part of any Web 2.0 capability is the content it allows organizations to share. “If we produce something about a compelling subject, people come and they come back. Content is king!” he stresses.

After the decision to move into the blogosphere, JFCOM’s next step was to explore podcasts. “We were already digitally recording, so the question was, how could we get this information out?” Your offers. First, the command had to address Section 508 requirements, which mandate accessibility to information technology for people with disabilities. Because it already had podcast scripts, Your’s team decided to fulfill the Section 508 directive by simply posting them. “It was only 36 hours between when the decision [to podcast] was made and we implemented it,” he states.

Although its Web 2.0 usage has been successful, the JFCOM team is not resting on its laurels. “We are now reaching out to bloggers with a ‘link to our site’ request. This is like cold-calling, but 20 percent to 25 percent of them are linking or writing to us,” Your notes.

And the team continues to research new ways to connect with its constituency, even to the point of considering video recording technologies such as TiVo. New projects—like those that already are established—are thought-out carefully from the standpoint of long-term sustainability as well as the benefit to the joint warfighter, he maintains.

If statistics are any indication, JFCOM’s varying approaches to reaching its constituencies must be on target, because its statistics show numbers that many corporations would envy. In the first 10 months of 2007, the most recent time period available, the JFCOM Web site received well over 7 million page views. During that same time period, nearly 700,000 RSS sessions took place.

“Web 2.0 is all about starting a dialogue. It’s pounding on doors and saying, ‘This is what we do. What are you doing?’” he maintains. And the JFCOM team hopes that the answer from other combatant commands will be that they’re taking advantage of all the opportunities that Web 2.0 technologies offer. To help make that a reality, JFCOM is sharing its tactics with other combatant commands, Your relates.