Navy gets rave reviews for social media handbook

The Navy has made a big splash with its recent release of a handbook that spells out the do’s and don’ts of social networking for commanding officers.

The 17-page book, available on the Navy’s Slideshare site, discusses the potential role of Facebook, Twitter and other websites as part of a commander’s overall communications strategy. But it also highlights matters of etiquette and ethics that might arise.

The first “do” is to just do it — and encourage others in your organization to do it, if only for the sake of good public relations.

“With fewer Americans having served themselves in the military, it is important for our service members to share their stories of service with the American people,” the handbook states. “Not surprisingly, this makes every blogging, tweeting or Facebooking sailor an ambassador for your command and the Navy.”

But social networking with an organization is a little trickier. For example, should commanders friend or follow their subordinates and vice versa? If the accounts are strictly professional, it’s not an issue. If a commander’s network includes family and friends, then including subordinates is a more difficult decision.

That’s not to say commanders should not do it, but they need to ensure that social networking relationships remain “on a professional level” with mutual respect and deference to rank, according to the handbook.

That approach is applicable in any professional organization, writes Molly DiBianca at the Delaware Employment Law Blog.

DiBianca also highlights the Navy’s guidelines on protecting sensitive personal and professional information and reviewing the privacy settings on social media accounts. These are provisions that “employers may want to consider when drafting their own social media policies,” she said.

The handbook earned a rave review from Craig Howie at the Los Angeles Times, who called it required reading for politicians looking to make use of social media. “While not directly related to politics…it makes great reading (and stands as good advice for any disciplined political campaign),” Howie said.

Douglas Karr, founder of the "Marketing Technology Blog" and a Navy veteran, also gives the handbook a rave review, beginning with its premise that social media use is inevitable. The Navy “recognizes that the conversations will happen online, with or without guidelines,” Karr said. “Rather than fighting social media, the Navy has instead chosen to promote social media usage throughout the ranks.”

The guidebook is especially valuable for avoiding generalities and addressing specific social media best practices on “sharing facts, admitting mistakes, protecting the organization and behaving appropriately,” Karr added.

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