Social (yawn) mediaDo Pentagon shifts signal the mainstreaming of social media?

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Two back-to-back stories on Wired’s Danger Room may well presage a change in the way organizations approach social media.

Unfollowed: Pentagon Deletes Social Media Office:

At a time when Facebook has 500 million users and Twitter is closing in on 200 million, the Pentagon no longer has a single person guiding its communications shop on how to use social media to get the military’s message out. Gone are communication pro Price Floyd and technology exec Sumit Agarwal, the two men brought in during the past two years to get the Pentagon comfortable with online interaction in the 21st century.

Tweet Away, Troops: Pentagon Won’t Ban Social Media

As Danger Room reported yesterday, the Pentagon’s gotten rid of its social-media office [....] And the 2009-era policy that enshrined military access to social media — the result of a hard-fought internal struggle — expires on March 1.

[...] But [Pentagon spokesman Bryan] Whitman says that by March 1, what’ll be gone is the bureaucratic format for the policy (.pdf), to be replaced by a more permanent one — not the substance. [....] The policy will still give military members access to social media.

Some bureaucratic shifts may occur, but in terms of substance, “we’re not anticipating any changes,” Whitman says, as social-media use is “the way a predominantly young force communicates.”

Now, organizations often put the best possible face on internal developments, and it’s not hard to imagine the Pentagon really is dialing back its social media engagement.

But here’s the other possibility: that social media are now so ubiquitous, and so far-reaching, that it no longer makes sense to segregate them from other communications functions. The ability to post to a Facebook page or handle a blog comment is now just as fundamental to the work of an organizational communicator as the ability to bang out a pithy, effective news release. (If not more so.)

That’s the case made by assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Douglas Wilson in the first Danger Room post:

Wilson says using social media ought to be the responsibility of the approximately 100 people he oversees. “I was increasingly concerned our approach to social media was a stovepiped professional area,” he tells Danger Room.

“It’s important for people in press operations, community and public outreach and communications and planning to be able to know how to use and access Facebook, Twitter and the other social media tools, rather than just have a single unit or single person do nothing but social media.”

Of course, if the permanent policy ends up clamping down on military social media activity, and the Pentagon pulls back from its own engagement online, this will all ring a little hollow. But I’ll be surprised if that happens.

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