Coast Guard Embraces Social Media

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Coast Guard’s top officer discussed plans to adopt social-media practices to modernize the Coast Guard and increase the organization’s transparency in a teleconference yesterday with bloggers and online journalists.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen spoke about ways the Coast Guard plans to use social-media tools to get the broadest representation of the Coast Guard to the public.

“We’re going to be moving from ( Web ) 1.0 to 1.2 to 2.0 to 2.5, and … the challenge and the problem is we shouldn’t take the status quo as an acceptable position,” Allen said. “We need to keep improving wherever we can, whether it’s my presence inside or outside the Coast Guard, how we deal with the American public, but more importantly, how we deal with the folks in the Coast Guard.”

Making the organization more transparent comes at a crucial time, especially during hurricane season, when communication is extremely vital.

“If you look at the recent coordination in our response to Hurricane Ike, I knew from my own experience as the principal federal official in Hurricane Katrina that we can only be effective to the extent that we empower our leaders on scene and make what they are doing visible to senior leaders without endless routing of information through echelons,” Allen said. “[And] what they are doing has to be visible to us, and using things like chat rooms among senior leaders at the same time we're using conference calls, to using all the modern [information technology] tools we have within the Coast Guard suite to simultaneously make all senior leaders aware of the situation and the operational picture down there is what we've got to do.”

While the Coast Guard won’t constrain itself to any particular social media platform, Allen said, officials initially will use one tool he has been experimenting with personally for the past few months.

“We will be standing up what I would call a semi-official Facebook site for me to be able to communicate and make available content to the folks that are working online,” Allen said. “I have been working a personal Facebook account for a couple of months just to experiment myself with the dynamics associated with dealing with the Facebook community. It's been a very rich and rewarding experience for me.”

Allen added that the need for institutionalizing this tool and others is important to allow for equal access for everybody. While the Coast Guard’s current push is to become more intertwined in the social-media realm, Allen said, this initiative isn’t about recruiting, but rather providing new recruits access to the tools they already are using.

“Young kids coming into the Coast Guard today demand parity with what they've been using all their lives and growing up with,” he said. “And to the extent they enter an organization that's not evolving and upgrading the technology and the access and the social networks that they're used to, there's no incentive for them to join.”

Allen said he encourages everyone in the Coast Guard community who is interested in blogging to remember that interacting in the blogosphere should be seen as no different from operating on a Coast Guard base.

“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.”

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