Today in Social Monitoring

The Old Guard, the Army unit responsible for guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, provided a small example of the importance of social media monitoring today. As Sandy began her approach on the East Coast, the photo below started hitting the Twitterverse (I was one of many who tweeted it).

About three minutes after Samir Mezrahi (@samir) from BuzzFeed posted it on Twitter, The Old Guard (@The_Old_Guard) responded, saying the photo was actually from September and provided a couple of photos of the Soldier actually guarding the Tomb during the storm.

The unit has corrected a number of sources on this, including the Washington Post.

No, it wasn’t detrimental to The Old Guard’s image to have the incorrect photo circulating, but kudos to the unit’s public affairs team for using social monitoring to find the mistake and correct it. And — this probably goes without saying — props to the Soldiers who’ve guarded that Tomb every minute of every day since April 1948.


D-Day plus 24,837

Today is the 68th anniversary of D-Day. Eight years ago, I was lucky enough to participate in the ceremony recognizing the 60th anniversary of the invasion. I can’t think of another experience I had in the Army that was more special. I got to record some interviews with a few veterans of that invasion and somewhere I have two or three mini DV tapes on which I recorded some of their stories.

Storming the beachOne man had been in a wheelchair since the war. He told me about the friends he lost that day — some to gunfire, some to water, some to both. A couple of weeks later he met a French woman who eventually became his wife. The first part of that story was told distantly; the second tearfully. I always wonder how someone could manage to court a foreign woman in the middle of a war; I really hope I asked him that…

There was another guy who I spoke to under a shady tree. I remember because the light was behind him and he looks like a silhouette. His memories weren’t of storming the beach, but of advancing through France over the following months. He said that they’d walk through the most beautiful farmlands and countryside, only to have it ruined by the carcasses of livestock rotting in the fields. He told me how the French farmers would come out to offer the advancing Allied soldiers fresh milk, even though it was scarce and they often had to dodge gunfire to do it.

I remember the guy who played it off like D-Day was just another day. I asked him if he was scared when the door of his landing craft opened and he jumped into the water. He said, “It didn’t bother me at all.” I still don’t believe him, but what do I know.

I visited France for this event in the midst of a really unpopular war. The whole time I was there, I wore the uniform of the Army that was in Iraq, a war the French were against. But I remember that I was never burdened with a bill for food or drink. Strangers came up to me and shook my hand. One little girl came up and hugged me and her father asked if she could have one of my dog tags (don’t tell anyone, but I gave one to her).

I don’t really have a point to make. As we watch more and more of our WWII veterans pass away, I feel it’s increasingly important to remember on days like today, so that’s what I’m doing. I hope that as I write this, a cool breeze is coming off the English Channel and the sun is shining brightly on those headstones. Someday I’ll have to do something with those stories.

When Measurement isn’t Measurement

So today was the big physical fitness test for my Army Reserve unit. We all gathered for the semi-annual assessment of our fitness by doing push-ups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. It’s always a nerve-racking event full of troops either trying to push for a good score so they can get promoted or just trying to pass so they can retire. Splendid fun.

We used a new course for our two-mile run this time, which is fine, but at this random point along the course one of the graders started calling out the time that had elapsed. “4:26, 4:27, 4:28…” he yelled out (yes, it’s common for graders to call out every passing second). So I asked him how far along on the course we were. He said he didn’t know.


And since I find myself so often trying to compare life experiences to my career, I started thinking about measurement in public relations and social media. I try to read up on what people are talking about as far as new methods to measure communication efforts (and there’s a lot to read) and one thing I haven’t seen much of is the importance of having something to measure against. It’s great to have a lot of followers or to have a lot of people visiting your site or to see a lot of comments on your blog. But if you haven’t set a goal for yourself or your organization, or if you aren’t benchmarking against competitors in your industry, what exactly are you measuring?

I did just fine on my PT test, but that dude calling out a random time at a random point along the run didn’t help. Had I known I was about a third of the way through the course, I could have stepped it up and really beaten my goal — just like how you can use your communication metrics at a given time to compare against your goals. That way, you can change course or step up your effort if you find yourself lagging. Without goals, you don’t know if what you’re doing is working or not.

The bottom line is that without having some sort of definition of success, measurement is just a waste of time.

Back to School

So, I’m about to head back to Chapel Hill to give a lecture at the University of North Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. I’m lecturing on my thesis, which was a case study on crisis communication in the Air Force.

I decided to use Storify to mix it up a bit. I think we’re all getting tired of PowerPoint for everything. So, my initial draft is below.

Now, this is meant to help the students prepare for the lecture, so I intentionally left some things out. I know they are supposed to read my whole thesis, but it’s almost 150 pages with appendices and I know the students just aren’t going to read that. So, below is the draft, with a few holes in it. I’m going to add in the rest tomorrow before the lecture. I thought it’d be fun to see how it changes after tomorrow.

For now, if you have an opinion on the presentation, let me know. Enjoy!

Lost Missiles and Lost Messages

Veterans Day ’11

Last time I posted something about Veterans Day was in 2009 and I was behind on posting an entry about a different topic. More of the same this year.

I’ve had the privilege to take part in two Veterans Day ceremonies this year. Today I got to speak to a group of folks in town about my experiences since I joined the Army. On Wednesday, I got to hear a retired major general give a speech at a local base. Our speeches could not have been more different.

Like I said two years ago, saying “Happy Veterans Day” doesn’t cut it. What’s happy about it? It’s a day of remembrance and thanks, not celebration. It also isn’t a day to talk about the U.S. being the best country in the world, or to defend our involvement in wars, or to talk about politics, like my esteemed fellow veteran did in his speech earlier this week.

It’s called Veterans Day, folks. Veterans Day. Not OIF/OEF Day, not America day – Veterans Day. Today we honor the people who signed up – for whatever reason – to serve in uniform. Remember to do that today. Forget the primaries, forget the exit strategies, forget the companies that will try to use patriotism as a marketing tool all day; just remember to thank a veteran and shake his or her hand.

One day, Nov. 11 will return to its original meaning: a day to celebrate peace. Until then, remember that the reason you sleep well at night is because an elite group of men and women is willing to forgo the ease of civilian life to fight on your behalf. You may not agree with the justifications behind the fight, but sometimes neither do we. That’s part of the sacrifice and that’s part of what makes it such a special group.

Also, go Tar Heels!