Whilst the British Army creates its 77th Brigade of digital warriors, many corporations still think of social media as a necessary evil.
A piece of news on the UK newspaper The Guardian, similar to one in many other platforms, announces:
‘The British army is creating a special force of Facebook warriors, skilled in psychological operations and use of social media to engage in unconventional warfare in the information age. The 77th Brigade, to be based in Hermitage, near Newbury, in Berkshire, will be about 1,500-strong and formed of units drawn from across the army. It will formally come into being in April. The brigade will be responsible for what is described as non-lethal warfare. Both the Israeli and US army already engage heavily in psychological operations. Against a background of 24-hour news, smartphones and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, the force will attempt to control the narrative’.
The brigade is being named ‘the 77t’h in tribute to a ‘unorthodox’ guerrilla force against the Japanese during World War II.
I have met many clients in recent years, big and small, entrepreneurial and mature, that think of digital strategy as having some Facebook pages and, of course, a few active tweeter accounts. They still think brand in terms of ‘brochure’, of owned digital real estate with lots of messages to tell.
Digital Real Estate per se, is hardly the answer. Pharmaceutical companies for example have websites for physicians and (mostly for legal reasons) others for patients. Many of them are windows with uni-directional messaging. In many companies with some sort of digital (marketing) strategy, listening is minimal, telling is tsunami type, two way engagement often simply non existing. Anybody of the millennial generation will see this as archaic as the land line telephone as the sole ‘sophisticated’ channel.
Digital strategy is engagement, or it isn’t a strategy, it’s just a museum of words. Engagement means conversations, good and bad, the praising and thankful ones, and the other type.
External and Internal Communications departments are still struggling with the balance between telling and listening/engaging. My rule of thumb is that for each 10 people who I know in these corporate functions, 8 ‘get it’, but only 2 or 3 are actually reinventing themselves.
The message, and the analogy of the British Army 77th Brigade, is that the Army plans to have a significant critical mass of people totally dedicated. Whilst the average company’s Communication Department does not deal with terrorist threat or insurgence, there is a lot that can be done in the digital plaza. Does anybody need to be convinced? However, these functions are often populated by very few people, who spend their time writing newsletters, preparing investor reports and refurbishing or cleaning up websites. A rolling tweeter feed is often as much of ‘dynamics’ as one can see.
My experience within this corporate function is frustrating. I find excellent, capable people in their ranks, but very often with not enough guts to create a proper 77th Brigade. Resources? Of course this is an issue. But in many function and corporate areas, an element of ‘resourcing’ is driven by internal selling. Perhaps some Communications people are not doing a good enough job to convince the top that the world is different, and that ‘the website’ is a landing, small piece or real state with no value of its own.
This is an area of serious corporate reinvention, which time has arrived, yesterday in fact. If the Army can do it…