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2012 Georgia National Guard Outstanding Initiative in New Media


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2012 Georgia National Guard Outstanding Initiative in New Media

  1. 1. 2012 Georgia National Guard Outstanding Initiative in New Media Facebook Timeline Background In 2009 the Georgia National Guard fan page, such as it was, had fewer than 150 fans. With the initiation of a new strategic communication plan and the unrolling of a comprehensive online outreach plan in 2010, the old page had to be scrapped completely. Flash forward three years, and today our page has nearly7,000 fans and attracted just under three million impressions in the past year.Perhaps more impressive, from a cultural standpoint, is that our Facebook fan page went from anovel yet insignificant “get us out there on social media” initiative to one of our most important– if not the most important communication tool we possess. And it as recognized as such not justby our organizational leadership, but by significant stake holders across the state and by civilianmedia.On a weekday, the Georgia National Guard Facebook page generates an average of about 10,000impressions total and roughly 3,000 impressions per individual post. This pervasive reach has ledto things like the Georgia Guard’s more than 4,000 vote lead over our nearest competitor in theNational Guard’s “Show Support” competition – with a total of 15,300 votes of support forGeorgia. In the 2010 National Guard resiliency video contest, the Georgia Guard finished secondamongst all states – generating over 20,000 votes over the course of about a month, thanks inlarge part to the interest generated on Facebook and other social media.The responsiveness of our Facebook community – to contestslike these and to our day-today posted content – has allowed usto both quantify and gauge our target audiences for futurecommunication initiatives and to remain engaged with ourotherwise decentralized (across space and time) organizationso as to provide real, valuable public affairs insight toorganizational leadership. Whereas PAOs in the past wouldhave to gauge what public opinion might be to a given courseof action based off of a series of hunches and educatedguesses, we can now quantify what our targeted audience ofGuardsmen, families, and employers,. are interested in andeven have some data available to suggest why. 1
  2. 2. The two-way symmetric nature of our social media management approach has also served as atripwire to public opinion. Comments, from interested candidates looking to know more aboutOCS, to spouses looking to know more about their husband’s unit’s efforts in Afghanistan, toenthused Guardsmen getting excited about the recent story covering their company’s trainingexercise --- all serve as data points to help guide the PAO editorial calendar and to help keepleadership informed.For these reasons, we decided to double down on our Facebook outreach in 2012.Before we get into the specifics of how we leveraged the functionality of Facebook’s new“timeline feature” to expand and enhance our efforts on the channel, let us first describe theconditions which existed to enable that effort.ContentStarting in 2010, in a novel approach not previously employed by any other militaryorganization, the Georgia Guard Public Affairs Office began taking all salient, positiveexternal media coverage and sharing it on Facebook as part of its own online outreach. Thisprovided a running log of media coverage, informed our community about the important thingsgoing on inside the organization, allowed our PAO to “outsource” coverage of events for whichwe lacked the bandwidth to cover, and positively reinforced the media to give us favorablecoverage by publicly recognizing their work and driving traffic to their website. Unlike a B2Ccorporation, we do not generate revenue from website traffic, and so there is really no reason tofear directing folks away from our channels (especially if it’s to validate the good things anotherthought leader is saying about the Georgia Guard). Additionally, we reached out to and connected with ancillary, partner and parent military and government organizations. As a result, they have reached back and continue to share content with us through Facebook and other social media – thereby improving the quality and diversity of content offered on both our channels while at the same time increasing our visibility within the partner community. Thus, our Facebook channel became a fully functioning, largely symmetrical channel of collaborative communication.Before we even started our fan page, Facebook was playing host to a significant portion of ourstake holders. Whereas it was an uphill battle to push folks away from what they were doingtoward other PAO channels like our website, Facebook has allowed us to approach our stakeholders where they already are, and seamlessly enter their information stream.And so we went to where our audience already was. But we wanted to do so smartly, usingavailable time and resources to optimal effect. 2
  3. 3. For example, in keeping with our “one source, one link” philosophy for posting content, we donot upload videos directly to Facebook but, rather, post videos to YouTube and then cross-reference the link to drive traffic between our channels. This works out great because our visitorscan view the video directly from our Facebook page without having to navigate away, and yetthe viewership counts double – the interaction gets logged in both our Facebook and YouTubemetrics and, therefore, increases the efficacy and reach of both channels at the same time.We do the same thing with high-resolution images on Flickr, news stories and releases on thewebsite, b-roll video on Vimeo, special notices on SlideShare, and finished print products onIssuu. The idea is to upload a given type of content on the channel where it can generate themost possible organic traffic, and then feed the link of that upload across other channels –primarily through Facebook.For example, Flickr is a channel where its nearly 20-million viewers are inherently prone to lookfor/at high resolution images. Sure enough, our best images generate more viewership on Flickrthan they do when they are hosted directly to our website, or even Facebook. The SEO of ourimages is also much better on Flickr – especially relative to Facebook, where images arevirtually undiscoverable through a generic search. Moreover, the functionality of using, sharing,sorting and viewing high resolution images on Flickr is much better than that of websites likeFacebook where image sharing is secondary to that medium’s purpose – making the tool doublyuseful for the press.Because many folks post an image or video toFacebook and receive high traffic for that videoor image relative to other Facebook content,they think that they are, therefore, optimizingthe viewership of that content. Certainly the“weight” factor of Facebook’s edgerankfacilitates this perception. The truth is that whilean image on Facebook may generate moreviewership than a generic status update onFacebook, it’s not necessarily true that posting aphoto directly to Facebook generates moreviewership than cross-linking a photo from Flickr. In fact, we have seen that cross-linking offersthe best of both worlds: high Facebook impressions, and organic Flickr viewership.Still, we have found a use for the photo sharing functions on Facebook. We use Facebook’scapacity for mobile uploads to stream low-resolution, camera phone-type images from events toour Facebook wall instantaneously. We have seen this generate great interest in our communityduring instances of emergency or ceremony as the method conveys a sense of immediacy thatour audience finds appealing. Moreover, this provides yet another touch point whereupon wehave a place to “hang” low-quality images and cutlines which would otherwise go without ahome. Because we only place low resolution images with brief cutlines on the Facebook photoplatform, the culture of expectation is such that we now have an appropriate home for practicallyany type of still photography. This has proven particularly useful with UPARs and their “fast and 3
  4. 4. dirty” work in the field, and so we have been able to preserve the quality and integrity of ourFlickr channel while at the same time optimizing the utility of UPAR content.To take our channel syncing to the nextlevel, we also incorporated a series of “apptabs” on our fan page. The “mobileuploads,” as mentioned above, filled outour “photos” tab. We created “front pagenews” and “cover stories” albums,highlighting when our Guardsmen haveappeared on the front pages of anewspapers and magazines. These albumsnot only provide a means of sharingunique, interesting content – they havehistorical value as well that would lateradd to our timeline. The “welcome” taboutlines what online channels the GeorgiaGuard has and what we do on them. The “other pages” tab highlights our MACOM and Wingpages as well as other pages identified as important to our strategic communication efforts. The“Georgia Guardsman” tab features an embed of our current magazine edition, while the “Flickr”tab serves as a live, cross-channel feed of our high-resolution imagery from Flickr. Our“employment” tab features helpful employment information and links from our “Guard YourBusiness” initiative for our Guardsmen looking for work as well as a LinkedIn widget which – ifthey happen to be logged into their LinkedIn account – recommends jobs in which a visitormight be interested. The Twitter and YouTube tabs feature live feeds of our content from thoserespective channels. We even have a “calendar” tab which is an embed of our public-facingGoogle Calendar of community events. These custom apps were all built in into our fan page in2012 to deliver to our fans a more comprehensive, cohesive experience. Again, the idea was totake our information to where our audience already was while at the same time synchingchannels to optimal effect so as not to duplicate effort and time.The final and perhaps greatest value-add we’d received from our endeavors on Facebook was thesheer volume of traffic it helped us generate between our channels. While Facebook, in and ofitself, has an extremely high SEO (our Facebook page is the 4th Google result for “GeorgiaNational Guard”), prior to our participation on the channel, there was only “one place” to post allof our content. Before 2010, all PAO content was being scattered to the winds. News releasesweren’t hung anywhere online, there wasn’t a single place to feature images, news stories werebeing posted both to the Sportal and the public-facing website, there was no means for externallyhosting pdfs... and the list goes on. Through Facebook, we found a single place to post allcontent as we generated it (internally) or found it (from external sources). Such a mechanismdoesn’t even exist through our website.And here we found what Facebook soon discovered and formalized as a full-blown feature oftheir channel: the day-to-day postings on our Facebook page became a living organizationalhistory. Over time, the page itself became a timeline of important events. 4
  5. 5. Making the Most of Our Timeline Because we already had a comprehensive plan in place for keeping our Facebook page rich with imagery, videos, updates and news coverage – we had a very comprehensive history of important events from 2010-2011. But when Facebook unveiled timelines for all fan pages in early 2012, the Georgia National Guard wasn’t just the first department in the state of Georgia to take advantage of the new feature, it was one of the first military institutions in the country – beating even the U.S. Army and National Guard pages to the punch. The strategy was simple in its premise. We would pull salient organizational history from prior PA products to flush out a historical Facebook timeline for the Georgia National Guard in order to improve esprit de corps and return to today’s Guardsmen a comprehensive history of their organization. Once completed, our pre-existing day-to- day efforts on the channel would sustain an online, living organizational history that would be both promotional and functional in nature. This was easier said than done. First, we began by pulling significant headlines from old, defunct unit and public affairs websites. For fear that the servers of those sites might one day go down, we pulled all the copy from a given story as well as the imagery and began building it directly into our historic timeline, posting each story as either a milestone, image, or link. This part of the project entailed scouring a decade’s worth of old websites, reading each story to determine if it was worth including (because it would have been unsustainable and unwieldy to try to include every story ever produced), and then building it into the timeline itself. Still, this only gave us a decade’s worth of our nearly four-century history. As part of our overarching timeline strategy, we decided to make formal contributions to Wikipedia pages which pertained to the Georgia National Guard. This not only allowed us to better wrap our heads around the process of aggregating, sorting,prioritizing and citing the organization’s three-century’s worth of historical data – but it alsoprovided an additional functional value to our Facebook fan page.Not too long ago, Facebook unveiled “community pages” which users could cite as places ofemployment or “like.” These pages are really just exports of linked Wikipedia pages. Byupdating a Wikipedia page with historically relevant, cited data, the paired Facebook“community” page is automatically updated as well – giving the Facebook users who bump intothe page a better sense of the organization. What’s more, after timelines came out, Facebookallowed fan pages to link with community pages. And so we took full advantage of the feature,making our fan page even richer in content, more dynamic, and giving it even better SEO.Next, we turned to the Georgia Guardsman magazine, which has been in production since theearly 1940s. We began scouring the archives, looking for important headlines to include in our 5
  6. 6. history. We even built a Flickr set of historic Georgia Guardsman covers – though there were(and remain) several significant gaps in the archives available to our office, gaps which wecontinue to work towards filling. We also scanned several editions of the publication fromvarious eras, in their entirety, converted them into PDFs, uploaded them online, and built theminto our page – flushing out a timeline complete with historical updates from the Civil War, bothWorld Wars, the Korean War, natural disasters, and much more. 6
  7. 7. The long-term objective of this project is to digitize all 70+ years of our public affairs productsand return to our Guardsmen, their families, retirees, and the citizens of this state generationsof otherwise lost organizational history. The Facebook timeline not only has provided us themeans and method to do this, but it has inspired us to peruse new and exciting ways to improvetoday’s public affairs content, instilling in our journalists a renewed sense of purpose andrelevance – a better understanding of the importance of their work.As a result of our efforts on Facebook, our Fanship increased dramatically in 2012 – by about35% our 2011 total. Each month, the Georgia Guard ranked in the top five (if not the top two)amongst all state Guards in fan growth rate.Indeed, the timeline feature has allowed us to cast aside the idea that Facebook is a channel witha relevance only to a younger demographic and we’ve been able to incorporate older Guardsmenas interested, engaged members of our Facebook community. 7
  8. 8. As we continue to build out our organizational history for all to see, the channel becomes moreand more what it was always intended to be: a shared living, dynamic history of the GeorgiaNational Guard.We continue to work with our historical society, our new historical detachment, and our onlinecommunity to flush out an even fuller and better organizational history replete with dynamicimagery and facts. This is an ongoing project, as history is made and must be reported every day,but the vast amount of the heavy lifting for rediscovering and then making available past contenttook place in our 2012 Facebook timeline initiative. 8
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