Opinion: Social media wrap: Navy’s social-media handbook is required reading for political campaigners


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Enlisting in the Navy is not all about the glamour and grunt work of patrolling war zones, chasing drug smugglers and apprehending pirates -- although by the fascinating pictures posted frequently to the U.S. Navy’s Twitter feed you might think otherwise.

Amid the extraordinary level of minutae involved in guiding the Navy’s worldwide operations, commanding officers are increasingly focusing on the Navy’s use of emerging social media platforms.


The Navy released a social-media handbook for commanding officers Thursday. While not directly related to politics -- but certainly under the auspices of the Ticket’s remit -- it makes great reading (and stands as good advice for any disciplined political campaign).

The handbook cites a Forrester Research study last year that found four out of five adults in the U.S. use some kind of social media. It also states that sites “such as Facebook and Twitter have become important tools for senior officers and ombudsman [families of enlisted personnel]. ... The Secretary of the Navy, Chief of Navy Operations and the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy all participate directly in social media as part of their communication efforts.”

In his introduction, Dennis J. Moynihan, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information, wrote: “The rapid growth of social media platforms and technologies have flattened and democratized the communications environment in ways we are just beginning to comprehend.”

The handbook offers guidelines and suggestions on what is considered dangerous tweeting and what is considered safe. For example it advises against using particulars when discussing deployment details ...

... preferring generalities: Instead of tweeting, “My family is back in Union, Kansas,” or, ‘I’m being deployed to Base X, Y or Z,” the handbook recommends the more generic, “I’m from the Midwest,” or “I’m being deployed to the Middle East.”

It also advises naval personnel to protect their families, understand the security settings of their account, and keep sensitive information safe. It also offers advice on account hacking and what to do if someone posts inappropriate comments to an authorized account.


Under tips for successful social networking, it recommends significant participation by those in command; the creation of a central location for sailors and their families to post to; discussion of command issues; the selection of an easily searchable page name; and for a commanding officer to take the lead in setting up a social-media page.

Cmdr. Scott McIlnay, the Navy’s director of emerging media integration, told the Ticket: “We’ve been helping [personnel] use social media more effectively. Earlier this summer we put out a handbook for ombudsmen, who we realize have unique communication challenges when using social media.

“We did this as a stepping stone for this one, [which is] targeted at commanding officers and senior enlisted officers with the idea that they have unique challenges when using social-media tools, like using it safely and looking after their personnel.”

All accounts set up by a commanding officer must be registered and validated with the Navy.
More than 400 separate accounts have been set up for command posts -- which range from ships such as the Enterprise to an individual account for the master chief petty officer of the Navy -- and include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and blogs.

Most interestingly, in a section titled Crisis Communication, it says: “In crisis situations, information is at a premium. Depending on the event, you may be dealing with a distributed population, interrupted communication and a rumor mill running rampant. Your audience will quickly grow from those impacted first-hand by the crisis to family members and the general public who are keeping their eyes on the crisis and how it unfolds.’ Its lengthy list of recommendations in such a crisis are recommended reading.

McIlnay said use of social media in a crisis situation includes earthquakes, tsunamis and floods.

“We’ve used social media in Operation Unified Response, the government’s response to the quake in Haiti. We’ve also used it in a more localized setting, for a tsunami warning in the Pacific -- the folks out in Hawaii and Japan used social media to communicate. At a Navy base in northern Tennessee, when they had flooding the command used social media as a means of communication.”

And while earthquakes, tsunamis and floods sound like descriptions of a particularly hot search term on Twitter that day, their real-life equivalents mean that social media can help prevent both military and civilian casualties.

-- Craig Howie You don’t need a bigger boat to click here for Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item. Or follow us @latimestot or @craighowieLAT. Our Facebook Like page is over here.Also available on Kindle now with a two-week free trial.

Image credit: U.S. Navy / Brian Moore Media/Flickr