SWAN of the Week, No. 125

Happy Friday!!

This week I’ve been following the news cycle concerning the U.S. Army utilizing TikTok to engage with new recruits, and how lawmakers are saying this is a national security risk and should be ceased.

“While I recognize that the Army must adapt its recruiting techniques in order to attract young Americans to serve, I urge you to assess the potential national security risks posed by China-owned technology companies before choosing to utilize certain platforms,” wrote Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y said in a letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy asking about potential national security risks posed by the social media platform.

I have opinions about this. SHOCKER!

I’ve worked on a lot of big brands and breakthrough campaigns, but none rival the experience of leading social media for the U.S. Army and the “Army Strong” campaign.

The U.S. Army account — and the team behind it — set the bar, especially when it came to pushing the boundaries of social media. Our team built the U.S. Army’s social media strategy for recruiting – including its first-ever blog and social media platform.

At its peak, we had 2,000 Soldiers writing about Army life through blogs, mobile apps, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, website, chat and events.

We orchestrated the first tweet from the International Space Station. We led panels at BlogWorld, MilBlogCon and SXSW. And young men and women finally had a direct and accessible channel to engage with enlisted Soldiers to find out what life in the Army was all about. The program was a complement to the ad campaign, recruiters, and what was being said in the news media about military service.

As we were pioneering strategy and engagement across these “new” social media channels, we worked closely with the Pentagon, NASA, ROTC, USAREC, USAR and National Guard to ensure Soldiers and prospective Soldiers were maintaining operational security while also fostering authenticity and the social behind social media. Yes, there was negativity. It wasn’t all positive, which means the output was as geniune as you can get on a brand’s social channels. And this wasn’t just any brand, it was the U.S. Army!

Thanks to smart clients and a talented team, these initiatives filled the trophy cases. Our colleagues and other clients benefited greatly from the lessons we learned, the case studies we shared, and the problems we solved together on this business. The experience changed me, and how I think about social media.

But this success was only possible because we learned how to work within Department of Defense policy, find advocates in the system, and how to push outdated terminology or understanding of emerging channels with non-social-media-using-leaders — all to benefit the mission of reaching young people on their preferred channels.

So I’m proud of Army leadership and its social media team for pioneering TikTok strategies to reach young men and women on their preferred social media channels despite slow approvals and lack of understanding from Washington, DC.

The foreign ownership and lack of transparency surrounding TikTok are real issues to address. I don’t diminish those concerns or think we should blindly move critical communications to Chinese-owned social networks.

However, the government can really drag its feet on emerging media policies. There should be plenty of room within OPSEC guidelines for recruiters to engage on TikTok without endangering national security. It’s really no different than blogs and MySpace, Twitter and Facebook. Same problems; different logos.  

I have to say that @ArmyRecruiterJJ seems to be particularly adept at posting authentic content, being himself, and playing with memes without doing anything that would risk national security. This one has 300 comments (!!), including people asking questions, answering them, asking to DM and more. This local recruiter gets it. And it’s working.

This week the U.S. Army’s new agency launched its debut campaign “What’s Your Warrior.” Its creative vision is laser targeted at driving cultural relevance with young people, borrowing equity from their passions, and has a strong call to action. I like the creative a lot. Not so sure about the tagline, but that’s not my job anymore.

I do think this campaign should help set-up @ArmyRecruiterJJ and others to spark a broader conversation about what it’s really like to be in the Army. We just have to let them have that conversation where those prospects find relevance and want to chat. And that’s not on MySpace anymore.

What do you think about the military using TikTok to recruit? Leave a comment and let me know!

See you on the internet!