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!