MS Podcast#156 : SSG Dale Sweetnam, U.S. Army

dale sweetnam

HOOAH and social media

The MediaSnackers podcast focusses on individuals, organisations or companies who are simply impressing us and which are crying out for more discussion.

SSG Dale Sweetnam is the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Online and Social media, the US Army’s Online and Social Media Division.

0.00—0.24 intro
0.25—1.33 Dales role and use of social media in the Army
1.34—4.21 the Social Media Army Handbook
4.22—6.35 negative comments
6.37—9.27 managing 122 YouTube / 266 Twitter / 205 Flickr / 930 Facebook pages (full list here)
9.28—12.00 being human
12.01—13.37 future
13.38—13.49 outro

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SSG Dale Sweetnam: Hi my name is Staff Sergeant Dale Sweetnam. I am the non commissioned officer in charge in the online and social media division, the Army’s online and social media division. And I’m calling from the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

DK: Well it’s brilliant to have you with us Dale. And tell us a little bit about what you actually do in that role please.

SSG Dale Sweetnam: Absolutely. We’re part of the social media division which is a five person staff. And essentially what we do is we use social media assets to tell the Army’s story. We use Facebook, and twitter and YouTube and these various resources to tell the story to a broader audience. Because it’s not just about newspapers anymore, it’s about telling your story and bringing it to the people where they look for their information. So a lot of what we do is we daily use these resources. Go up on and do Facebook posts, and do twitter and do tweets. Set up YouTube videos and then we also educate which is incredibly important. In the Army us being very operations security sensitive a lot of the information that we need to keep classified, need to keep secret but at the same time we want to be transparent. So we take the resources we have and we tell that story and we go out and we educate people on how to use these resources correctly when they use them on their own so that they don’t make mistakes and put solders at risk. So it’s kind of a two fold effort, to use resources to tell a story and to educate, to make sure that nobody makes you know any mistakes that can put us in danger.

DK: Fantastic. Now I found you guys because we did a post on MediaSnackers which featured your US Army Social Media Handbook which you put up on Slideshare wasn’t it? So that’s in a sense when I first came across it for one US Army Social Media Handbook and then secondly I followed the digital breadcrumbs, found you at twitter and then after a couple conversations and emails, we connected and we’re now talking. So that’s the digital breadcrumbs of the background. But in a sense, the handbook, I would love to just go into in a little bit of detail, not too much, because it’s online. We’ll put the link so people can see it. But reading through it is really interesting. You’ve touched on the OPSEC which is maintaining operational security and stuff like that. And in a sense it reminded me of the corporate entities that we work with about managing their intellectual properties and stuff like that. So you’ve already said that you go out and educate people. Tell us a little bit about what, how that manifests? Is that actual training courses for now staff and soldiers?

SSG Dale Sweetnam: What we try to do — and the genesis that handle quintessentially we were going out and speaking to small populations at the pre-command course in Fort Leavenworth Kansas and to the Defense Information School in Fort George G. Meade Maryland. And we’re speaking about social media to small audiences and there’s a lot of questions that continued to come up. Now like I said, being a small fiver person staff, we wanted to reach a broader audience so we saw that there was a need for more education, there was a need for further explanation of social media as that’s resources and how to use them correctly. So we ended up putting together the handbook which is about 36 or so pages that deal with everything from how you start a Facebook page, how you register it, all the way through how do you make sure that you don’t post secure information and how you do this correctly. And the intent was once you get this out there and being a digital media like we are is to go out there and basically hit as many people as we possibly can. So we loaded up on Slideshare. And then upon loading it there, we then tweeted it out on twitter and put it up on Facebook and put it up on the Army Live Blog to make sure that the maximum amount of people that were looking for the information could find it. And we got lucky in the respect that a few news media resources, our news sources out there picked up on the story, posted it and drove even more traffic to that site. So like I said, I mean, outside being very key, it was a focus of the handbook. And we actually intend within the next few weeks to actually create an update to the handbook to include more OPSEC information and more how to information so that this continues to grow. Social media in essence is very evolutionary, continues to grow day by day. So we’re trying to stay if not ahead of the curve, stay on par with the curve and make sure that we are getting information out there that’s the most updated and the most accurate.

DK: And I know within the handbook you got kind of ideas about launching specific platforms like twitter and stuff like that but also how to kind of manage negative responses. And youre quite progressive in a sense you don’t delete negative comments. Particularly I can imagine as a political entity in the sense, you know in the military entity, you guys probably do have to manage some of those reactions from the public and stuff. How do you actually go about that from yourself in the division there but also how do you enable other people to do that?

SSG Dale Sweetnam: Well, you know as the Army, we are fighting for you know freedom of speech and the freedoms of our country. So we want to make sure that we’re providing a forum for individuals to come and actually have engaged discussion about Army activities and to make sure that we’re not censoring because that’s not our purpose. We’d rather them be talking about the Army on our Facebook page rather than starting up a forum somewhere that we don’t have any visibility of because we want to engage as well. So but yes, there are some restrictions and we approach those restrictions through the policy or through the posting policy that we have on our Facebook page which very specifically details what you can and cant do. Obviously we’re not going to go out there and censor opinions that don’t necessarily agree with the Army. But we will step in you know when there is obscenities and direct personal attacks and things with that nature. And that’s all very clearly outlined in our policy, in our posting policy. And that you know is — and in addition to that, it’s not so much that we police it because we typically don’t. I mean, Facebook provides a lot of resources where you know if an obscenity pops up we have, our Facebook will actually block it for us. But something that we’ve noticed is that the population that comes to Facebook and the population that engages through these social media platforms is very self policing. If somebody comes up there, makes a negative comment or makes some sort of negative claim, the Facebook community or the social media community will actually get on there and comment back to that individual. So it’s not necessarily us doing all this damage control, jumping on there and responding to negative comments. We actually just sit back a lot of times and watch the community itself engage. So it’s actually very exciting and its very empowering too I believe.

DK: That’s lovely. And I know it’s not just you doing this because youre empowering all your little divisions and all your battalions and whatever you call them, sorry to be ignorant there. But I jumped on your site and I know you got a site and I’ll put up the link which lists actually all the social media spaces you and all your Army divisions are in. And I totaled them up, there’s 122 YouTube, there’s 266 twitter channels, there’s 205 Flickr accounts, and 930 Facebook pages. Now that is just awesome. And in terms of a number, I see a scale of that. and if youre a business entity and got all those subsidiaries if you like, how do you go about managing them in respect because you still, the buck stops with you guys because social media, youre heading that up.

SSG Dale Sweetnam: No absolutely. And in order to get on the social media directory that you referenced, we have some admission in our registration, our procedure essentially. And we have a standing operating procedure that goes through the details as to what a Facebook page, you know an Army Facebook page should look like or what a twitter page should look like. That way they have an opportunity to kind of put it in the right position and then submit it. Upon submitting it, we review and we make sure that they have a posting policy in place and we make sure that they have information or command information on place and make sure that there not making any tremendous mistakes as to some of their initial posts or things of that nature. So we clear it first and then the ads are taken down which is really important is we submit all these registrations to Facebook and they take the ads down off the side. Because as a government entity, we cant endorse any products. And then once that’s pulled down, it appears in our directory. And like you mentioned, yes, that is a substantial amount of Facebook pages, twitter accounts, Flickr pages, all that; there’s a lot out there. And again, being a five person staff, we’re not out there scrubbing it everyday to check to make sure that there aren’t huge mistakes and gaps. And that’s where the education comes in. Each week we produce a social media roundup. Essentially it’s a 15 slide PowerPoint presentation that goes into very specific detail of a social issue or a topic at hand. And we distribute that to all of the individuals that have registered their sites. So there is, it’s not just once they’re up there, we forget about them. It’s that once there up there, they’re continuing to get education information from the social media division so that maybe they’re making a mistake and we’re not aware of it. But the social media topic comes up and it’s addressed in the roundup and then they can adjust fire, make sure to make those changes. So where there’s not that constant interaction with the pages and us constantly looking at all 900 plus Facebook pages, there is an effort to continue to maintain contact with those individuals who are managing those sites.

DK: Yes, it’s a nice little thing you got going there. And I’d love to ask you a question about the, almost the etiquette behind social. You know its conversational, its human, and I love in the handbook just to go back to that. You actually in the frequency, frequently asked questions, the FAQ at the back, you do say about mixing it up, having fun, being human. I’d love to get your take on how that does manifest itself, you know and some nice light hearted things coming out of, that you’ve seen on Flickr or whatever, YouTube channels.

SSG Dale Sweetnam: Yeah, there’s a lot of ways to do that because they Army is in and of itself a very specific large organization that has no face. You know it is the Army, it’s the largest service branch in the United States. So it’s huge and it is big and all encompassing and just this massive machine. But there’s a way to find a tone, you know there’s a way to pick a tone that you can use in your social media platforms to keep it fun and to keep it interesting. A twitter account for example is very dynamic and it has a tone, and it uses the word “Hooah” a lot which is an Army specific word that everybody in the Army associates with us. Its one of those words that means a hundred different things. So to use that and kind of maintain that conversation in a pleasant tone and to give that face to the Army. In addition to that you look for photos of soldiers doing unique things, you know picking up puppies and you know interactings with populations in different cultures and to show the human side. And there’s also, there’s a lot of fun things we can do as well. A few weeks back on April 1st, we actually decided to do an April Fools day joke which was very well received. And we ended up talking about how the soldiers here, we wear berets, that’s our headgear and we were going to change it to the Stetson which is more of a cowboy hat that is worn by the First Cav. And that created a great deal of buzz and increased the traffic to our site, it increased a great deal of traffic to our Facebook page, twitter, what have you. And it also showed, hey, you know we’re not afraid to make a little, you know make fun of ourselves and have a little fun. It was very well received and it increased the traffic to our site a great deal that we’re still experiencing now. So little experiments like this, little efforts to have a little fun, and to show a human side can be incredibly valuable to a population that you know maybe a little bit apprehensive about the Army or just doesn’t know much about it period. So there’s a way to have fun, there’s a way to experiment. And as long as youre doing it, you know with good intentions.

DK: Yeah of course. And lets wrap this up with a short question about what’s the future for you guys now especially in the division social media as you said is evolutionary, its going to change. How do you envision that impact on not just what you do but the Army as a whole?

SSG Dale Sweetnam: Well what we’d like to do is you know, we’d like to continue to move with the actual culture itself. We want to be right there in the front and to be aware of the changes and to be aware of the evolution of social media. But something we say here a lot, myself and the director when we go out and speak is you know if we do our jobs well, we won’t have one you know in a couple of years. Social media is getting to the point where the better we do our job and the better we educate, eventually, this is going to be common knowledge and each individual organization out there that’s using Facebook, that’s using twitter is going to be self sufficient and they’re going to be able to do this on their own. This is just the way we communicate now. I mean, social media is about bringing news to the person rather than the person seeking out the news. And the Army recognizes that and a lot of the Department of Defense recognizes that as well. You know when you don’t go out and look for a newspaper anymore, you go out to a website as often as news finds your newsfeed or news finds your twitter feed. So I mean, that’s the direction that we’re going and we’re going to continue to enforce that and continue to promote that and to show the value of using social media. And eventually it will get to the point where its common knowledge and I’ll be doing something else somewhere else. But our hope is to do our jobs well enough that everyone’s going to know what they need to do and how they can maximize their efforts with social media.

DK: Brilliant. Well I just want to thank you for giving up your morning to speak to MediaSnackers Dale; I really appreciate your time.

SSG Dale Sweetnam: No, it was an absolute pleasure. I’m happy to be here.

One thought on “MS Podcast#156 : SSG Dale Sweetnam, U.S. Army”

  1. Great stuff DK. He sounded like a nice Gent. You were very good, apart from your lack of knowledge of army command logistics :

    “all your little divisions and all your battalions and whatever you call them”

    I’ll give you a lesson with my John Wayne WW2 flicks and my model soldiers. We’ll need at least 10,000 to demonstrate a ‘little division’…although only a few hundred if we go for a ‘little battalion’.

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