Last week I was privileged to take part in a Military-Twitter Exchange Summit hosted at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, which brought leaders from across the military spectrum into interaction with managers and leaders from Twitter. The Summit was a cross-cultural exchange, designed to share best practices and leadership techniques from both organizations. One of the things I repeated over and over was how indebted I am to the Twitter platform as a tool for professional development.
Many military leaders shy away from social media platforms out of concerns for operational security and professionalism. Many of these concerns are valid, but it would be incorrect to assume that these concerns relegate social media interaction outright. Twitter offers the most bang for the buck, so to speak, for leaders who want to enter the social media fray. It requires far less personal information than some platforms, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, which negates some of the personal security concerns. Because conversations are limited to 140 characters, Twitter forces users to “think before they click,” a tactic encouraged by U.S. Army Social Media guidance.
Twitter’s greatest strength is that it allows free and open interaction between anyone, anywhere. Now while this can also devolve into never-ending, mindless battles with internet trolls (Hint: do NOT engage the trolls), a thoughtful and discerning user can navigate between helpful and divisive interactions. While the internet is full of trolls, it is also full of intelligent military users that want to further the professional dialogue. Twitter’s open nature means that you can interact with military personnel of all ranks, from all branches, from all countries, including retired veterans. There is no where else in the world where this is possible. For example, as a company grade officer, I could rarely have the open and honest interactions between field grade and even general officers that also brings in enlisted personnel and veterans that I do on Twitter. Not only that, but authors, journalists, and war correspondents are there for engagement and discussion. This unprecedented access to people from all backgrounds promotes a broader view of our profession and develops important relationships.
In addition to interacting with people (and as leaders, we are people managers, so this cannot be overstated), Twitter offers nearly limitless access to all types of open source news. As leaders, we must always seek to gain a greater understanding of the world around us. By following reporters and journalists, we gain real-time updates of events around the world. Using Lists and the much-maligned (but very useful) Twitter Moments, one can create an operational picture of regions or events. For example, by following a long list of local reporters in Afghanistan when I was deployed there, I often received faster updates on developing situations than our battalion intelligence section. Again, the user must be discerning and use their common sense to identify reliable sources for news. Often times, reporters for major news outlets will advertise local accounts to follow in the event of breaking news.
Not only does Twitter allow greater access to other active and retired military members, it also fosters relationships with civilians. Being able to put a human face on the military serves to break down the civilian-military divide and promote valuable discussions about the role of the military, military culture, and relationships. In my experience, is has also served as an immensely powerful platform on which to discuss things such as PTSD and how to offer mutual support to those going through it.
As leaders, we often lack time to engage in the substantive professional development (PD) that we would like to. Much of the time, mandatory PD can seem canned or impersonal. It can sometimes take away from the training time that we all strive for. Digital PD offers an excellent alternative, through such initiatives and blogs as CCLKOW, the Military Writer’s Guild, Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, Strategy Bridge, Blogs of War, Point of Decision, Small Wars Journal, The Military Leader, War on the Rocks, Sunny in Kabul, From the Green Notebook, Red Bull Rising, Carrying the Gun, Doctrine Man, and of course, for the lighter side, The Duffel Blog and Terminal Lance. These are only a few of the resources available from which to follow or develop discussions on what we do and face as leaders.
In developing your Twitter engagement area, you must of course tailor it to who you want to be influenced by and who you want to influence. Personally, I prefer the most diverse engagement that I can get, in order to develop a fully complete operational picture. The same goes for who I wish to influence, although I tend to draw in those who are similarly cynical and sarcastic (force multipliers). There is no set rule for how to develop your engagement area, which is beneficial as it allows users to create a “choose your own adventure” type of atmosphere.
Simply put, Twitter offers the best PD platform that I have yet come across, and that includes in real life (IRL, for all you kids). It is a tool that should be handled responsibly and with mindful care. Always maintain operational and personal security (selfies during military operations are a no-go), and adhere to Clausewitz’s maxims from his as-yet unpublished work, On Twitter: Never Read the Comments, and Do Not Feed the Trolls. You can find me at Angry Staff Officer; I wish you good tweeting.
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