Social Media and the National Security Professional
This is an update of an article I published last August in Social Computing Magazine (a great enterprise Web2.0 site edited by Dion Hinchcliffe). A key goal of this piece has been to encourage more in the national security world to use capabilities like Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, and of course Twitter. If you know someone you would like to encourage to use these sites please feel free to lift from this. If you know of other sites or capabilities that deserve this sort of tutorial please let me know. Another key goal of this paper is to enhance the security of our nation, and my thesis is that by getting more senior thought leaders into these web2.0 capabilities we can do just that. Social Media and National Security Professionals24 January 2009Bob GourleySocial Media is a term used to encompass a wide range of technologies used to enhance shared meaning among participants. When properly used, Social Media capabilities also address the information explosion we are all experiencing. Social Media includes weblogs, wikis, email, instant messaging, tagging and broadcast text. Popular social media services include such familiar names as AIM, T…
This is an update of an article I published last August in Social Computing Magazine (a great enterprise Web2.0 site edited by Dion Hinchcliffe). A key goal of this piece has been to encourage more in the national security world to use capabilities like Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, and of course Twitter. If you know someone you would like to encourage to use these sites please feel free to lift from this. If you know of other sites or capabilities that deserve this sort of tutorial please let me know.
Another key goal of this paper is to enhance the security of our nation, and my thesis is that by getting more senior thought leaders into these web2.0 capabilities we can do just that.
24 January 2009
Media is a term used to encompass a wide range of technologies used to
enhance shared meaning among participants. When properly used, Social
Media capabilities also address the information explosion we are all
experiencing. Social Media includes weblogs, wikis, email, instant
messaging, tagging and broadcast text. Popular social media services
include such familiar names as AIM, TypePad, Facebook, LinkedIn,
Twitter and Plaxo.
This note captures some tips and techniques for the use of social media focused on national security professionals.
for context and background, let me start with the analogy of
traditional media and it’s still significant contribution to dialog in
the national security space. Great thinkers with something to say
frequently author an editorial submission to news outlets. Examples
abound, but as a reference let me point out the thought provoking piece
by Mark Lowenthal in the 25 May 2008 Washington Post titled “The Real Intelligence Failure? Spineless Spies.”
Here one of the more elegant writers in the intelligence community laid
out his personal views and made a contribution to the dialog on the
intelligence community. This type of article is of value in helping
us collectively think through some key issues. The article also
underscores that the explosion of social media does not eliminate the
need and value for authoritative voices.
Now let’s discuss how new media helps the dialog.
new media, you do not have to be one of the leaders of the national
security domain to publish your thoughts. You can establish your own
blog. There are many services that do this. The most popular ones are Moveable Type and TypePad. I like them both and have used both. If you are just starting out I recommend you sign up with TypePad. You can have a blog up in minutes, and with a little more time
you can have your own domain and a blog configured with your own
design. Having a blog does not mean you are automatically an expert,
but when you have something to say you will have a path to say it.
of the power of new media is that capabilities like blogs give more
people an ability to inject ideas into the dialog, and in many national
security issues more brains with more ideas can be a significant
enhancement to the dialog. But new media gives even more benefits.
New media gives others an ability to discover and comment on your
thoughts. For example, blogs all come with rich commenting and
moderating features so others can share thoughts and endorse, critique,
or add to your original post. This provides a way to highlight good
ideas from social media.
New media is also known for speed. The
instant your thought is published you can have it provided to others
via RSS feeds, by e-mail push, and by alerts to Twitter, a micro
blogging site which is also being used by a growing number of national
To see how Twitter works, visit my site at http://www.twitter.com/bobgourley
. You will see a series of small posts made by me. Some were
automatically created when I posted to my blog. Others were either
sent in from my cell phone while I’m on the road or from my computer at
home. If you desire to “follow” me on twitter all you have to do is
sign up for a Twitter account and click the “follow” button. Then you
can read those micro posts whenever they are made. You can also find
other national security professionals to follow on Twitter, and they
will be able to find you as well. For example, from my page, look for
the graphic that shows Lewis Shepherd and click on his head. You will
see his Twitter site. Or if you don’t remember what Lewis looks like
can click on the list of people I follow and find him there.
Following feeds like this will keep you informed of key meetings,
conferences and events and of course blog posts. Producing your own
Twitter feed will provide you with a way to contribute to the dialog.
Another tool of increasing use by people in this discipline is LinkedIn. This is a site that lets users add a bio or resume and then helps
them manage their social network. LinkedIn lets you connect to others
on the site who you know. You can help out people you know who might
need to meet someone you know and vice versa. This site is very helpful
in learning a bit more about people before you meet with them and in
staying in touch with people when they change positions. LinkedIn also provides simple ways to communicate with others, either all at once or direct person to person and I frequently hear from other CTOs via this path. How do you
get started with LinkedIn? Sign up for an account, fill in as much of
your bio as you are comfortable sharing, and follow the instructions to
find people you already know and connect with them.
A site with a different but somewhat related functionality is Plaxo
and I also recommend you create an account there. Plaxo specializes in
contact management. You can keep your entire address book there.
You can also synchronize Plaxo and LinkedIn so if one of your contacts
changes their information in LinkedIn it will update Plaxo.
Additionally, you can have your blog and your Twitter feed
automatically update Plaxo (many readers in the national security space
prefer to read blogs via Plaxo). The way to get started here is to
log into Plaxo, create an account and upload your address book to it by
following your instructions. Is that safe? It is at least as safe as
having your address book on your own computer. I’ve never had any
problems doing that.
Another key social media site is Facebook.
A growing number of national security experts are using Facebook to
stay in touch with friends and associates. It is also a good method
for communicating. You can send private messages to Facebook users and
can also send open messages to them by writing on their “wall”. You
can configure Facebook to display your latest blog posts and twitter
feeds. You can join up with Facebook from their site, and then
Facebook’s “friend finder” will help you find the right people to
Now let’s continue our discussion on the article Mark
Lowenthal published. In this case, if you had an opinion on his
content you could post a note at the Washington Post website, and I
noticed many did. Because the Post is an old media powerhouse they
seem to publish most comments, which has the benefit of letting you see
a spectrum of thoughts. You can also post comments in your own
blog. I published my thoughts on Mark’s piece here.
My blog automatically sent word to Twitter, Facebook and Plaxo when I
did. It also automatically pinged some key blog search engines so they
could access my content. Another friend of mine in the community
posted his views on his blog. Other friends on Twitter began dialog
with me via that channel. And other associates began an e-mail dialog
with me on the issues raised by Mark. So within a matter of minutes
wide swaths of people were engaged in collaboration and discussion on
the topics Mark noted.
Perhaps the greatest power of new media,
however, is when it is used to accelerate new ideas that were not
identified by one of the greats like Mark. For example, I recently
read a Twitter post from a thought leader in this new space named
Jeffrey Carr (see his Twitter Feed at http://www.twitter.com/jeffreycarr)
He posted a short comment about a blog entry he wrote and said it
included “3D imaging and Virtual Earth – mind blowing video http://bit.ly/3SxtdA
” His Twitter post alerted me and I checked out his blog and yes, he
was right. I saw a YouTube video that was absolutely mind blowing and
of direct relevance to others in the national security space. And the
video, frankly, could change things more dramatically and in a more
positive way that Mark Lowenthal’s well thought out piece ever could
(Jeffrey you rock!). So I’ll be blogging about Jeffrey and will be
talking about the capability he highlighted when I attend a major
intelligence conference next month. Jeffrey’s other readers in the
national security space will also be considering the significance of
his posting and the result will likely be an acceleration of a
capability into the fabric of the national security apparatus, thanks
to social media.
Another example of the power of social media for
national security professionals is in coordinating action and
participation prior to conferences. How do you decide which
conferences to attend? I try to pulse experts to see who else is
going. Once I make up my mind I let everyone I network with know I’ll
be there so they can advise me of their intentions and so we can
arrange side bar meetings as required. This is all so simple in the
world of social media like Twitter, Plaxo and Blogs.
So a key
benefit of Social Media for national security planners is to accelerate
good ideas, whether they be good ideas for policy or good ideas for
technology. Social Media can also be leveraged to address the
information explosion by enabling people to enlist the capability of
others to seek out and bring the right information to your attention.
These others can be crowds, random individuals, fields of experts or
trusted friends. Which of these you leverage can vary from subject to
subject or task to task.
Is there a dark side for national
security? What are the risks of social media? Perhaps the greatest
risks are that we not fully engage in the power of these tools,
especially when adversaries are not constraining themselves. But
there are risks to mitigate in our use of new media. These include
risks to the confidentiality of ongoing operations and in some cases
risks to personal security. By identifying these risks and taking
steps to address them now we can accelerate the use of new media faster
through the community.
I have personally encountered several
other examples, but it seems we have just scratched the surface on the
benefit of these capabilities to our nation’s security. New thinkers
are pioneering paths that are already helping the nation come to grips
with some significant issues. With more participation by thinkers like
you the contributions of social media will likely grow in importance.
So please, if you have not started engaging in social media sites yet,
jump in now.
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