Coast Guard Talks the Talk – Can They Walk the Walk?

September 25, 2008

Social Media

Photo Courtesy of http://www.uscg.mil/

Photo Courtesy of http://www.uscg.mil/

The Coast Guard’s top officer, Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen, recently discussed the need for the Coast Guard to start using social media like Facebook and blogs to improve communication amongst one another and with the public (Read the full article over at MarineLink).

“Whether you’re a civilian, auxilarist, reservist, active duty, contractor or retiree, to understand that when you’re blogging, that’s no different than operating in a social environment on a Coast Guard base or anyplace else,” he said. “We have a duty to the American public; we have a duty to each other to be guardians of each other. And to the extent that we have core values, I think we need to demonstrate that as we operate on a daily basis in the blogosphere.”

When I saw this, I was simultaneously impressed and skeptical. One the one hand, I applaud the Commandant on his realization that social media has the potential to improve the Coast Guard’s ability to communicate, especially in times of crisis. On the other, I’m skeptical that the Coast Guard as a whole will be able to really commit to using social media, or if the Commandant will be the only one to really embrace this approach. I love that he’s not just talking about using Facebook, but that he’s personally engaged with it. However, will the Coast Guard middle management buy into using blogs to communicate with the public and with each other? Or, will they too experience the issues encountered by General James Cartwright when he brought blogging to U.S. Strategic Command?

One of the things that I’ve seen happen time and again when supporting my clients implement social media in their organizations, especially government organizations, is that it’s not the leaders who need to be convinced – they’re leaders for a reason. They’re visionaries; they’re innovative thinkers who understand the potential of social media. It’s not the junior employees – they’ve grown up in this culture of information sharing. It’s the middle management who need to be convinced. These are the stakeholders who will make or break the social media initiative.

Middle managers are typically of the Baby Boomer generation, have been with the organization for a while, and are often set in their ways. They’re often too senior to be able to take risks and try new things yet too junior to be directly impacted by the proclamation of the organization’s leadership. However, as General Cartwright experienced, they can severely inhibit the ability of the organization to realize the potential of social media. The key is to show these middle managers how social media can help them be more efficient, communicate better, and most importantly, how it will help them in a very real way, in their day-to-day work.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this plays out – it will be interesting to see how social media changes the way the Coast Guard communicates both internally and externally. The Coast Guard is lucky to have a leader who understands how social media is fundamentally changing the way the government interacts with the public – I just hope that the rest of the organization realizes this opportunity as well. Here’s to you Commandant Adm. Thad Allen – good luck in your endeavors!

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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  • KT

    On the macro-level, do hierarchical organizations have better long-term success at “ordering” people to use social media tools than more “flat” orgs? I would think that a command-based org could overcome people’s initial reluctance to try the new tools and collaborative culture by requiring subordinates to participate. Then, once people have tried it, they like it, embrace it, and then a critical mass forms that participates because they want to, not because they have to. However, as you noted from the STRATCOM example, this is not necessarily the case. Gen. Cartwright says that things start to build steam for about 6 months, then the middle managers (“process owners”) try to clamp things down again. Do less hierarchical orgs follow a same fate?

    What works best for months 6-12? To what extent does it depend on the hierarchical vs. flat organizational culture, and to what extent is it a universal challenge of overcoming the middle management?

  • KT

    On the macro-level, do hierarchical organizations have better long-term success at “ordering” people to use social media tools than more “flat” orgs? I would think that a command-based org could overcome people’s initial reluctance to try the new tools and collaborative culture by requiring subordinates to participate. Then, once people have tried it, they like it, embrace it, and then a critical mass forms that participates because they want to, not because they have to. However, as you noted from the STRATCOM example, this is not necessarily the case. Gen. Cartwright says that things start to build steam for about 6 months, then the middle managers (“process owners”) try to clamp things down again. Do less hierarchical orgs follow a same fate?

    What works best for months 6-12? To what extent does it depend on the hierarchical vs. flat organizational culture, and to what extent is it a universal challenge of overcoming the middle management?

  • We’re excited to bring our readers the new iCommandant.com social media tool.

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    iCommandant.com does have a comment policy that closely resembles that of the Official iCommandant website, with one exception “No Moderation.”

    Comment Policy: We welcome your comments on postings at iCommandant.com. The articles (other than the open comment section) appearing on iCommandant.com come directly from the Official U.S. Coast Guard iCommandant site in a very unofficial manner. All comments submitted are NOT moderated and will NOT be reviewed before posting. iCommandant.com retains the discretion to determine which comments it will post and which it will not.We do much like the official iCommandant expect all contributors to be respectful. We may remove comments that contain personal attacks of any kind; refer to Coast Guard or other employees by name; contain offensive terms that target specific ethnic or racial groups, or vulgar language. We may also remove comments that are spam, are clearly off topic or that promote services or products.Since we don’t moderate, you can post 24/7 and 365 days a year. iCommandant.com is not responsible for comments posted to this

  • We’re excited to bring our readers the new iCommandant.com social media tool.

    iCommandant.com is not affiliated with or endorsed by the Official iCommandant site which is operated by the United States Coast Guard.

    iCommandant.com brings readers and users of social media the opportunity to discuss freely, without moderation the issues and topics found on the Official iCommandant website on the U.S. Coast Guard Domain.

    iCommandant.com does have a comment policy that closely resembles that of the Official iCommandant website, with one exception “No Moderation.”

    Comment Policy: We welcome your comments on postings at iCommandant.com. The articles (other than the open comment section) appearing on iCommandant.com come directly from the Official U.S. Coast Guard iCommandant site in a very unofficial manner. All comments submitted are NOT moderated and will NOT be reviewed before posting. iCommandant.com retains the discretion to determine which comments it will post and which it will not.We do much like the official iCommandant expect all contributors to be respectful. We may remove comments that contain personal attacks of any kind; refer to Coast Guard or other employees by name; contain offensive terms that target specific ethnic or racial groups, or vulgar language. We may also remove comments that are spam, are clearly off topic or that promote services or products.Since we don’t moderate, you can post 24/7 and 365 days a year. iCommandant.com is not responsible for comments posted to this

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