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7 tips to take your tweets from Dempsey dull to Mullen magnificent

December 29, 2010

I’ve always said that plagiarism is the truest form of flattery in social media, and when it comes to the blogosphere, those of us with writer’s block need look no further than our favorite blogs for inspiration. When it comes to snarky criticism’s of the military’s social media efforts, no one does it better than Wired.com’s Danger Room. Yesterday Spencer Ackerman pointed out some of the military’s worst tweeters. As someone who has long advocated the use of Twitter by the military’s general officers, I feel obligated to come to the defense of our GO’s online engagement. Not all Twitter accounts are created equal, that is for certain. But not all military tweeters are bad, and most need only follow a few simple tips to take them from boring bureaucrat to transparent leader.

Here are my tips for those military generals in need of a little Twitter 411. It’s simple advice that just about anyone on Twitter could stand to follow:

1. Do it yourself. Now there are certainly compelling arguments that four star generals have better things to do than tweet. I argue that if a general has to strain his brain for longer than 2 minutes to come up with compelling tweets himself, than he has a problem. Strategic communication is now a core part of our military, and various levels of military training focus on messaging. Twitter is a chance to put those skills to action. That doesn’t mean that an aid or other individual can’t jump in or assist – even Admiral Mullen hasn’t sent every tweet personally. But some level of personal engagement needs to happen to keep content interesting.

2. If you just want to post your location, try Foursquare. I see way too many military leaders (and regular Joe’s, for that matter), who simply use Twitter as a play-by-play of their travel schedules. Don’t just talk about where you’re at but provide insight on why your visit there matters.

3. Save the kudos. An occasional Twitter shout-out to a really compelling individual or unit is great, but all too often such proclamations come a cross canned and disingenuous. Using Twitter to announce great accomplishments by your organization should be the exception not the norm.

4. Show emotion. I’m definitely not interested in an overly emotional military, but you need to show some passion and dimension if you want to be compelling online. Twitter is an extension of the very informal communication mechanism of text messaging, which means that messages should be timely, relevant and personal. I’ve found that leaders who already text – with their kids, spouse or friends – are much more prepared for the world of Twitter.

5. Keep it short. A lot of official Twitter accounts seem to really struggle with the 140 character limit. You can convey a lot with a few words (just ask drill sergeants), and it’s a good exercise in communications to do so.

6. Get some training. You can clearly tell the generals (and staffs) who understand Twitter and those who don’t. Use a url shortener, don’t just post links without context, and don’t just make your Twitter account a bait and switch to drive traffic to your Facebook page, Flickr account or You Tube profile. Take advantage of the various aspects of Twitter, including hashtags, re-tweeting and even direct messaging, as appropriate. And most of all, use them correctly.

7. Engage. It’s a basic tenet of good social media and one that even leaders should keep in mind. Communication shouldn’t just be one way, it needs to involve dialogue. And no, just retweeting your organizational account doesn’t count as engagement. Pose questions, respond to feedback, and build a community. Clearly leaders don’t have as much time to do this as the rest of us, but that’s where good staff (and social media tools) come into play. Keep good advisors on hand who let you know when there is something you should respond to, and who challenge you to engage with your community.

Again, it’s basic advice all of us on Twitter could stand to follow. And for those generals out there in need of a little extra help, just give me a call!

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