In 1981, I was offered a unique opportunity to live in a concrete box somewhere in Germany and listen to the radio. It was still the “Cold War”, and the military had a program of monitoring radio transmissions across the world. While I’m sure I missed a great opportunity to discover Europe, I was anxious to exchange my drab green fatigues for the paint-besmeared jeans and t-shirts of art school. On my last visit to that neck of the woods, the base where I had been assigned had become an industrial park with a last claim to fame of having hosted one of the Woodstock Festivals.
I shipped a box off at the post office today, and noticed an advertisement for special flat rate boxes for sending packages to military personnel. The war is far away, and reminders aren’t ubiquitous the way they were during WWII. In that period, sugar, gasoline, butter, and even meat was rationed. Nylon stockings were restricted, as were rubber tires (the Dutch East Indies rubber plantations were under Japanese control).
As Rhea Drysdale recently reminded me (just ordered a book about the American fighter pilot, John Boyd on her recommendation) that war can often have a positive effect on some aspects of business. For example, McCormick’s reaper got a boost from the lack of farm workers during the civil war, creating a greater demand for the new machines, and enabling more investment in improvements of the technologies of large scale farming.
In 2008, Representative Randy Forbes of Virginia introduced a bill called the “New Manhattan Project for Energy Independence”, outlining a series of prices that would help to stimulate energy independence- things like solar power plants and sustainable fusion power. The namesake for this bill was led by Vaneever Bush during WWII, whose great accomplishment was pulling together disparate researchers from universities, the private sector, and the different military branches. The R&D accomplished under Bush was a major stimulant to technology growth after the war, including ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet itself.
While these latest wars and conflicts may not be the impetus of major technological advances, they have been instrumental in the popularization of Social Media. In 1929, the US military established the Public Relations Branch. During WWII, the department grew to over 3,000 personnel, and today, the public affairs office in the Pentagon is staffed 24/7.
Today, the Army alone has over 800 Facebook pages dedicated to various brigades, commands, divisions, battalions, and more. There are over 200 Flikr accounts, 268 Twitter accounts, and over 120 YouTube accounts. We’re not even talking yet about how many individual profiles and accounts there are being maintained by individual servicepersons. In August 2010, the DoD began to allow service members to use Facebook and Twitter during work. Of course, there are mountains of rules and regulations, and it’s fairly certain that a lot of smart and clever intelligence officers are wielding the media to perpetrate propaganda. Of course, right? The DoD even maintains a portal (big business could learn a lot here!) at http://socialmedia.defense.gov/ .
The Air Force Public Affairs Agency developed a “Web Posting Response Assessment” process which has become pretty popular with online marketers, and has been used as a starting point for our own response processs here at DragonSearch. Leave it to the military to develop social media processes. After all, the military was not only an early adopter of scientific management, but went on to lead with other process improvement methodologies as well.
While war in general will probably continue to be a part of the human condition, it is certain that the current war will someday end. When it does, hundreds of thousands of military personnel will rejoin the civilian workforce. Many of those returning will be managers and leaders, and will bring with them a new attitude towards social media that is, perhaps, lacking in much of the business world today. And when that happens, I predict that Social Media as a business tool will become pervasive through organizations, not just in marketing, but in all departments.