In a previous blog post covering the basics of social media, I discussed a few major goals of social media (Creating community through two-way communication, creating and providing the opportunity for content that can be shared, responded to and evaluated, and finally, being personalized/customized). To better explain these goals, I decided to profile an organization that has dived in head first –pardon the pun – the U.S. NAVY. For full disclosure, I am a proud NAVY sister, and I have found the branch’s use of social media beneficial for keeping connected to my brother, as well as to other military families who “get it.”

NavyThe branch has embraced social media with open arms by maintaining accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and iTunes (featuring news in the form of podcasts and video podcasts). As of 1/15/10, the NAVY listed over 200 official social media sites . Additionally the NAVY sponsors their own social network for Moms on Ning. This allows those serving to connect and stay up-to-date, utilizing any of the available social media platforms. The NAVY’s CIO acknowledged that social media can be used to “build trust and collaboration, both within and outside the organization.”. On Twitter, there are several Navy-related accounts including: @NavyNews, @flynavy, and @PacificFleet (a comprehensive list is available on GovTwit, the Government Twitter directory). The NAVY Twitter accounts serve as a great source for military information (and a sense of everyday life), especially since, unlike the official traditional military media outlets, tweets are informal and written in “civilian-speak.” The NAVY is fully-aware of who its audience is, and tweets accordingly.

The NAVY has reached a niche market by providing parents (and relatives) the opportunity to unite with others in similar situations and get support through the social networking site NavyForMoms (NFM). As seen in other markets, the “mommy bloggers” are an influential group and the military branch tapped into an older version of this consumer. These moms don’t have infants – they have full-grown children. The NAVY specifically targeted mothers due to the impact of their opinion on those interested in joining the branch. They realized that if they could reassure Mom,  it could result in higher recruitment rates. The NAVY created a marketing campaign focused entirely on this target market and launched the NFM website as a social media test in March 2008.  There are currently 27,481 enthusiastic NAVY family members (predominately mothers) who are very proud and supportive of their sailors, and are advocates of the NAVY.  The NFM site concisely states their goals:

“ was created for the mothers (and loved ones) of those who are currently serving or considering serving in the U.S. Navy. The site gives members a place to discuss issues with others who share common concerns. Here, content is member-driven. Questions are asked and answered. Moms share with fellow moms their fears, dreams and personal experiences. The ultimate goal is to provide an environment of understanding, comfort and belonging to all involved.”

Discussions include how to best handle emotions when a sailor leaves home for the first time, advice on attending a sailor’s PIR (‘Pass in Review’ aka boot camp graduation), and brainstorming ways to support those who serve when they are away from home, including “Adopting-A-Sailor” during the holidays. Members share and respond to each other through personal blog postings, forums, photos, videos and local events. They customize their experience by writing posts and comments, configuring the look and feel of their avatar and profile and by choosing groups to be involved with. I am a member of NFM, and I belong to the “Proud NAVY siblings” group. It was through this network that I learned about the NAVY tradition called “blue candle lightings,” which is done when a sailor can’t make it home for the holidays – a candle is lit in their honor. I was upset that my brother couldn’t make it home that year, but I felt a sense of connection when I set-up his blue light, knowing that I wasn’t the only family member in the U.S. going through those emotions on Christmas Day. I was one of thousands that day, and since my family doesn’t live close a naval base, I don’t have a chance to physically interact with other military families. Social media has allowed for people similar to me to connect on a virtual naval base, when support is otherwise unavailable.

The NAVY integrated NFM into their overall PR and marketing communications strategy for the branch. OOH environmental ads were created through “Blue lightings” of historic landmarks (a nod to blue candle lightings) and by completely transforming the look of subway stations and sporting venues. Print ads and 30-second spots promoted the site by introducing actual active members, including Karen Gallagher, a proud NAVY mom (Yes, she is a real person who lives in NH, and her sons are NUKES, just like my brother. She is a rather nice lady.). The efforts did not go unrecognized by the community as NavyForMoms campaign won Silver in the AMA’s 2009 Effie Awards in the Government, Institutional and Recruitment category.

We've come quite a long way, haven't we?

We've come quite a long way, haven't we?

The U.S. NAVY has made it a priority to utilize social media. By doing so, they have created a virtual version of the tight-knit military community that has previously only existed for our sailors and their familes on physical bases and naval yards. In other words, NFMs is a great example of how to utilize the power of social media.

Written by Kristin Mattera