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On Social Media: Lessons for Defense Contractors From the U.S. Army

Defense contractors aiming to use social media to increase awareness and preference to survive and thrive can learn valuable lessons from one of the foremost social media marketers in the world: the U.S. Army.

photo credit: The U.S. Army via photopin cc 

The use of social media by defense contractors is increasing.

In the first ever report on defense industry social media by DefenceIQ, over 60% of defense contractors indicated that it is “essential” or “very important” that they step up their social media presence.

Similarly, 58% of the defense contractors surveyed indicate that they will be taking action toward “increasing your social media and online presence.” 

As social media is relatively new to the business world in general, and defense contractors in particular, the definitive social media treatise for the ages has not been written. And given the fast and ever-changing nature of social media, the pace may never slow down long enough to write the social media equivalent of "On War" by Carl von Clausewitz.

So just like in battle where an effective military force has to quickly improvise and overcome, defense contractors are adopting the best practices in social media on the fly and implementing them.

For direction on social media, some of the best practices are being developed by an organization well known to many defense contractors: the U.S. Army.

In the United States Army Social Media Handbook, guidance is given on social media policy for service members, as well as how to set up and maintain a social media presence for various commands, from company to corps.

As a social media practitioner, I was struck by how the Army's social media guidance also applies to businesses. Of course, as a U.S. Army veteran, when the Army says something, I pay attention. Old habits die hard, I suppose.

The guide includes checklists and an extensive Social Media Glossary. A particularly helpful section for defense contractors is the guide's "Do and Don't" checklist for Facebook and Twitter.

Here are eleven key points, verbatim, from the Army's social media guide that can help defense contractors:

Why social media failures happen...

Most of social media failures can be attributed to organizations rushing into social media before determining what exactly the organization aims to achieve with social media platforms. Using social media effectively is a process and it requires strategy, goals, manpower and foresight.

Have a solid purpose for engaging in social media...

Determine what you plan to achieve with your social media presence. Make sure you have a way forward and a set of goals. Developing a social media outreach plan requires a lot of thought, so make sure you know how you plan to use social media to communicate.

Focus on strategy first, then tactics...

Once an organization establishes a direction, it can begin to develop a detailed social media communication strategy that provides input into all the social media platforms supported by the organization. The purpose of using social media is to place your unit’s messages in the social media space. But in order to keep people coming back to the pages, units should develop a strategy that mixes messages with items the audience finds interesting. Language should be conversational, fun and engaging.

Social media is a marathon, not a sprint...

Developing a successful social media presence does not happen overnight. It is a detailed process that requires extensive planning and execution.

Don't start a social media effort unless you can stay with it...

Once you’re up and running, the process isn’t over. Make sure you post often and keep your social media presences active. A stagnant social media presence is an ineffective social media presence....A static social media presence is ineffective, because visitors will lose interest quickly and stop coming to view the page. Social media platforms are designed to support various forms of content. take advantage of this by posting stories, videos and photos related to your organization’s mission.

Be interesting...

By reading the comments on a Facebook wall or blog post, social media managers can get a feel for what the online community wants to hear. It is also useful to talk to your audience directly. Ask for feedback and suggestions, and then act on their responses. A social media presence accomplishes very little if the audience is not interested in what is being said....Balance “fun” with “medicine.” It is important to post command messages and organizational information, but try to keep the page entertaining enough for people to want to follow it. Don’t be afraid to have fun by posting interesting links or asking trivia questions. Try posting a photo of the day or asking a weekly question. Social media is social, so it is important not to fall into the trap of talking at your audience .

Don't just announce - listen to what people are saying...

Social media is more than just a platform to push command messages; it is a social community. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter help people bridge geographical gaps to connect, talk and interact. Using social media can be valuable to a communication strategy, but it needs to be more than a sounding board for organization messages. Social media should be used to facilitate the conversation, engage the population and keep people interested in the discussion...Avoid just posting information on a social media presence. Monitor content posted by users to get a better understanding of what information they want/need.

Answer questions...

It’s not enough to just listen to what your audiences are talking about. Be prepared to engage and answer questions. Respond as quickly as possible through the most appropriate means of communication. This is the best way to stop rumors before they run rampant....Once a social media presence grows to a certain size, the population will likely use it as a resource and forum to ask questions. It is important to spend time responding to questions to establish a valued relationship with users. The one-on-one conversations will show the community that their voices are being heard.

Establish an employee social media policy...

All leaders should communicate social media expectations with their Soldiers. It is important to outline unit policy and make sure all Soldiers know what they can and cannot do when using various social media platforms.

Promote your social media presence...

It is important to tell the social media community that you’re out there. Organizations should advertise their social media presences on outgoing press releases, email signatures, websites and in conversations with reporters. The more you spread the word about a social media presence, the faster the community that follows it will grow. Make sure the public knows that your organization’s social media presences are a good resource for information.

In a crisis, use social media...

Using social media to communicate with stakeholders during a crisis has proven to be effective due to its speed, reach and direct access. In recent crises, social media has helped distribute command information to key audiences and media, while also providing a means for dialogue among the affected and interested parties.

Click here to download the United States Army Social Media Handbook or see the SlideShare version below.

What do you think? What are your thoughts about the use of social media by defense contractors? Please share your comments below.

The Principal and Founder of Artillery, Douglas Burdett is a former artillery officer and Madison Avenue ad man. He also hosts The Marketing Book Podcast, where he interviews authors every week about the latest in modern marketing and sales.

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