No Army policy/practices to manage PR disasters created by social media

The Australian Defence Force is buckling under the weight of several horrific PR disasters caused by its ‘employee’ abuse of social media. It’s rumoured that one of the main problems dogging ADF’s reputation-protecting practices is that their 100-strong Comms teams lack staff with proven and cutting-edge PR issues expertise. I contacted ADF and asked about their social media policy and practices (they made me put my enquiry into writing and responded promptly yet obtusely). In short, the reply I received suggests that there is no dedicated social media policy in place for Australian defence forces, but that the organisation relies on existing media and conduct policies for protection. Clearly, old media policies just don’t work for new media environments (as anyone who has attended a social media conference in the last 4 years would attest!!).The new media landscape has changed rules/policies for managing PR. For those unfamiliar with the unsavoury PR pickles currently being experienced by ADF, they are:

Offensive racist Facebook and YouTube postings by army personnel serving in Afghanistan (calling Afghanis “ragheads”, “dune coons” and “sand niggaz”)

A female cadet officer who says that while having sex with a male cadet, the encounter was being relayed by Skype and watched live by a group of other cadets in another room without her consent.

Inability to take action on an anti-gay Facebook hate page (that was discovered up to 8-months ago) which derided ‘filthy lifestyles’ ‘bum bandits’ and ‘pillow biters’.

I contacted a trusted and respected colleague – who has served in the Aussie military – and he told me that ADF would not even be interested in hearing from “an outsider” with expertise in creating social media policy and/or managing PR issues or crises. It could be that their insularity and inward-thinking is contributing to the blinkered attitudes that only exacerbate their PR problems in the new media arena.

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2 Responses to No Army policy/practices to manage PR disasters created by social media

  1. Having served as an Army PR Officer (4 years Regular and 17 Reserve) I can testify to the inexperienced people running the show. For the most part they don’t have media backgrounds, with many of the senior people coming from uniformed backgrounds. They get into PR from other Corps (infantry, armour, aviation). One of the senior civilians a few years ago was a former navy officer with no PR or journalism experience. There is currently a senior State PR person who was once a midshipman. And, as you so rightly, point out, Gerry, they have no experience in social media, and nor do they want to listen. More fool them. As I’ve commented elsewhere (@prlab and in my own blog), the continuing scandals are doing irrepairable damge to all Service’s reputations. It’s also unfortunate this is happening so close to ANZAC Day. People’s confidence in, and affection for, the military will just gradually erode if this continues. A good case study in how not to do it. In this day and age, it just shouldn’t happen.

  2. Gerry says:

    Thanks Doc; am saddened to hear my assertion corroborated and that they wouldnt refer to an ex-services practitioner such as yourself. So much knowledge, so readily available too; bewildering!

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