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Everything I need to know about social media I learned from Donald Rumsfeld

May 2, 2011

I’m a big fan of getting social media tips from unconventional sources. It’s a part of my philosophy that social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it’s simply communication, in a digital format. Good communicators are generally good Facebookers, bloggers, tweeters, etc. There are tips, trends and best practices to be aware of but you can teach someone those – it’s generally much harder to teach someone how to write well (as most graduate professors say these days – it’s a lost art).

This weekend was my birthday (don’t tell me – the card is in the mail, right?), and I had the privilege of spending it with a group I know, love and am honored to be a part of – milbloggers (military bloggers for those of you not in the know). I’ve followed milblogs since before I started working for the Army, made outreach to them a priority while I was there and am now honored to be a blogger myself. Milbloggers present some of the best on the scene war reporting out there and despite media fatigue, have remain committed to telling the stories of our service members. (So, in a week when most people forget it was a group of Navy Seals who killed Osama Bin Ladin and not a politician, military bloggers will still be telling their story).

A perk of spending my birthday with a group of bloggers was being able to meet former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. At 78, Rumsfeld is not what you’d call social media savvy – all the more reason to be impressed that he agreed to speak to a group of bloggers. But listening to his remarks – which were not focused on communications – I definitely pulled some tips we could all consider.

1. Appreciate the irony – and have a long-term perspective. In speaking about criticism of corruption in the Afghan government, Rumsfeld said “Oh my god, there’s gambling in the casino.” Meaning, we’ve had our fair share of corrupt politicians in this country, haven’t we? We can’t expect Iraq or Afghanistan to instantly step into democracy without growing pains (we had a bloody civil war in the states, if you recall).

For a social media application I think it’s incredibly important to keep your sense of humor. Even militaries and government organizations need to keep a humorous perspective. We take ourselves a little too seriously and it can impact our jobs. A favorite quote of mine is from Dwight Eisenhower “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” The other point is the importance of keeping a long-term perspective. I feel like people with short attention spans are often drawn to social media – and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Building a social media presence and an online identity – whether you’re a brand, government agency or individual – takes time. Best not to rush it.

2. Don’t give too much advice. Asked about soon-to-retire Secretary Robert Gates, Rumsfeld said “I’m not a big advice giver.” Smart man. We all have great ideas. Crowdsourcing is a big part of social media and most of us in this genre love feedback. But I think we’re lying to ourselves a bit if we say we enjoy criticism, especially when it’s not constructive. Social media can tend to open the floodgates – and we’re all more critical online than we would be in person, often to our detriment. Give feedback and advice, but do so cautiously, carefully and kindly.

3. “What’s our strategic interest?” Rumsfeld made that comment when discussing U.S. intentions in Libya and the Middle East. It’s definitely a point to consider in social media and why I harp on the need for goals before you even consider launching an online campaign. “The mission has to determine the coalition…what’s the goal, what are we trying to accomplish,” he stated. Good points in foreign policy, good points in communication.

4. “Ambiguity is a major problem with our current foreign policy.” Ambiguity is also a major problem in communications. Shiny object syndrome is an issue for many leaders and professional communicators alike. When a tool, platform or message seems “hot” it’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon. But moving with the ebb and flow of public opinion or changing your mind (and your strategy) every few weeks or months is generally not the best course. Make a committment, and strive to follow it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 2, 2011 6:26 pm

    When he choked up talking about the Gold Star parent and his book, I thought I might lose it. Class act that guy.


  1. MilBlogs Make New York Times « Lindy Kyzer Communications

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