Navy releases social media handbook

Document gives guidance on commanders 'friending' and 'following' subordinates

The Navy has published a guidebook to encourage sailors and commanders to use social networks for routine and crisis communications and to offer guidance on ethical issues such as “friending” and “following” between officers and subordinates.

Acknowledging that social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube offer opportunities for Navy commands to interact directly with sailors, their families and the public, the 17-page "Navy Command Social Media Handbook" released Oct. 15 offers a series of tips, rules and ethics considerations.

“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 said. “Not surprisingly, this makes every blogging, tweeting or Facebooking sailor an ambassador for your command and the Navy.”

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The guidebook also deals with ethical questions such as whether commanders “friend” or “follow” their subordinates, or vice versa. If the commander uses social networks strictly for professional notices, that is less of an issue, the handbook states.

“However, if you use social media actively to communicate with your close friends and family, then including sailors who work for you is a more difficult decision,” the handbook said. It advised leading by example and ensuring that the social relationships remain “on a professional level” with mutual respect and deference to rank.

Also, conduct online “should be no different than any other conduct, and the same should apply for commanders and sailors, the handbook states. If commanders notice evidence of violations of behavior exhibited on a social networking site, they are expected to take action.

“If evidence of a violation of command policy...or civil law by one of your sailors comes to your attention from social media then you can act on it just as if it was witnessed in any other public location,” the handbook said. “This adds an ethical wrinkle to friending or following your subordinates, but the key is for you to maintain the same relationship with them at work as you do online and to be clear about that.”

It also gave guidance on business or product endorsements — don’t do it — while noting that “liking” a page on Facebook does not constitute an endorsement.

For security, the guidebook warns that "loose tweets sink fleets" and provides a list of security practices.

The handbook provides detailed tips for commanders on how to use social media as part of a public relations strategy and suggests that social networks can be especially helpful during crisis communications.

“Social media, as part of your overall command communications strategy, helps fulfill your obligation to communicate with all of your stakeholders,” the handbook states. “Additionally, social media may provide a means of communications reach that is available when other means are not.”

The handbook is the most recent of several guidance documents for social media use in the military. On Feb. 25, the Defense Department issued a directive-type memo that provided guidelines for using social media. A Navy memo issued Aug. 19 supplemented that guidance.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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