Raw Honesty as a Social Media Strategy (Part 1): The US Army

In the age of the Free Complaint Machine, known to many around the world as the ‘Internet’, is it wise to offer a product to anyone willing to purchase it? After all, a single poor fit between costumer and product can lead to the kind of negative feedback that resonates with thousands of potential good fits. As many businesses beg for ways to indiscriminately sell their wares, it was fascinating to learn that the US Military, of all institutions, has become quite forward thinking in selective selling. Military blogs which showcase the everyday lives and unfiltered emotions of enlisted servicemen have become a major arm of the US Army’s recruitment strategy.

“Its not all flowers and sunshine”, says Major Mary Constantino, project manager of Army Strong Stories, a Soldier blog hosted by the Army’s recruitment branch, Accessions Command. Being a soldier, it should go without saying, is tough, and the army wants recruits entering service to “come in with their eyes wide open.” Now, this doesn’t mean that horror stories grace the front page of Army Strong Stories.

For the most part, Army blogs chronicle the nuanced experiences of soldiers as they, for instance, struggle with a new training regiment or celebrate promotions with family. Bloggers are encouraged to interact with readers in a casual two-way conversation that was once difficult in the more traditional high-pressure recruitment environments.

I developed a virtual soft-spot for Second Lieutenant Kayley Obermier, whose healthy mix of philosophy and advice captures the mood of ArmyStrongStories.com. In a basic-training advice column that she originally composed for her brother, she wrote,

“Your boots will hurt when you first get them.  It takes about a week to break them in.  I had blisters the size of quarters on my heels.  I bled through my boots twice on ruck-marches.  Get moleskin at the PX”

And, my favorite:

Do not hook up with some girl.  You’ll get caught.  It’s just stupid.

A few months later, Lieutenant Obermier gives a shout-out to the first female to become commandant of a Drill Sergeant School, in a post entitled “I Don’t See a Woman, I See a Soldier”. Lieutenant Obermier writes

As a female who lives by the rule of "No BS", I find it inspiring to read of SGM King's accomplishments and strict attention to detail.  Hooah and congratulations to SGM King!

Some posts are negative. Second Lieutenant Alex Frank was none-too-pleased with his Basic Officer Leaders Course (BOLC). He posted

“I got carried away with BOLC II and got really busy. On the whole, it ended up being not worth the investment in time.”

It’s heartening to know that the Army didn’t castigate him for speaking his mind. We know this because Lieutenant Frank is currently blogging about his experience in the super-selective Army Ranger camp. The Army sees negative posts as illustrative of the kinds of ups and downs that new recruits should expect.

Ultimately, social media is less like an advertising platform and more like a dating service: selling is about finding a good match, not just a willing buyer,

Gregory Ferenstein

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