Defence, Uncertainty, Now Media (D.U.N): Mapping Social Media in Strategic Communications

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sussex
Department Name: Sch of Media, Film and Music

Abstract

The world is increasingly interconnected and complex. One response to this within the defence sector is 'Strategic Communications' which, in short, is the means through which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the British Military attempt to enhance their defence capabilities and manage conflict through communication, particularly media communication. From legitimizing war operations to influencing the attitudes of behaviors of people in a conflict zone (particularly adversaries and civilians), media, and social media are at the forefront of these strategic communication initiatives because they offer the MoD and the military distinct opportunities to engage and influence others (see Maltby & Thornham, 2012; Maltby, 2010). More recently, social media has been considered particularly effective in this regard by virtue of its immediacy, mobility, and networked capabilities: Facebook and Twitter have become as important to the attainment of strategic objectives as Shura meetings and mainstream media coverage (DCDC, 2012). Yet, simultaneously the effect of media (and media engagement) - termed 'Now Media' in Strategic Communications doctrine (DCDC 2012: 2-7) - is unpredictable, uncontrollable and often immediate. Social media is especially volatile because it cannot be understood in the same way as mainstream media. This generates real uncertainty and risk for not only Strategic Communication initiatives but also for wider defence practice. This is articulated in a number of ways. Firstly, the unpredictability and speed of information emerging through and in social media can reconfigure (in a continuous manner) political and public perceptions of defence activities in a manner that is detrimental to strategic objectives. This level of risk is further compounded when information about the actions of internal military personnel may present the greatest risk; for example human rights abuses by soldiers (see also Gowing, 2009). Secondly, despite efforts to understand 'audiences' and 'users', particularly those related to defence operations (ie. Afghan civilians, families of serving personnel), recipients and authors of social media remain unpredictable (and essentially unknowable). In short, if the MoD and military do not know who, why or when users are 'connected' the viability, success and safety of both the communication and social media engagement can be seriously undermined. Thirdly, and related, social media is considered to pose significant risk to the security of defence operations, particularly in terms of operational security and the lives of military personnel (DMC, 2009). Overall then, within the understanding and use of social media by members of MoD and British Military lie the inherent contradictions of opportunity and risk that characterize the ambiguity of social media within (and beyond) the defence sector. It is within this context that the D.U.N Project interrogates the use of social media in Strategic Communication initiatives to better understand how risk is understood and responded to within the strategic environment. To this end, we ask what the MoD and British military are attempting to achieve through - and with - social media, how are they doing it, how do they conceive risk and how might they be generating risk? We also ask how users (particularly serving soldiers, their families and veterans) are using social media to examine the extent to which this may impact upon strategic initiatives emanating from the MoD. Lastly, we map the realities of social media use by tracking who, what and when people engage and how this relates to strategic communications objectives? In so doing, the D.U.N Project investigates and elucidates the real tensions between what defence actors think they are doing, and what they are actually doing to better understand notions of risk and uncertainty in defence strategy.

Planned Impact

The D.U.N project will impact onto policy, strategy, defence actors involved in strategic communication including those from the MoD and British Military, the wider public, media and education as well as the actors and communities we engage with through the research itself including charity organizations (such as veteran support groups), small, local, national and global industries related to this research, the public sector and wider cultural, media, political institutions.

The impact strategy for the D.U.N Project is embedded into the research itself through each distinct approach but also in the combination of the three approaches (industry, content, users) that offers reflective critique, frameworks and comparisons. Consequently, the impact increases as the project develops. As each activity engages a specific community - MoD and British Military, social media communities and communities of users such as veterans and families, we aim to produce impact in the form of dialogue, discussions and ongoing consultation throughout the project. We understand impact in both tangible and intangible terms, so that as we report back to each community with our findings, we expect those discussions to spiral outwards, beyond the remit of the project, impacting more widely and meaningfully. The activities themselves will produce innovative responses to specific and needs, and lines of inquiry, directly benefitting the communities and cultures each activity works with. We work with the institutions in terms of the design of the project, and feed back into those institutions at various stages.

We also have a range of targeted outputs that aim to impact into specific areas. The conference at Cranfield aims to directly engage the military and MoD to whom we speak, whilst the academic conference targets key research interests, and a broader academic sweep. The written outputs offer depth of approach a cross a breadth of topics, while the academic retreat is designed to utilise and engage specific expertise in a targeted way. These events are underpinned by a virtual presence that will consolidate and disseminate the findings, grow and develop an interested community from an informed position, develop agendas and share expertise. This multi-tiered approach is both targeted and broad, and, along with the design of the project as a whole, will facilitate rapid responses to policy reports, think tanks, and specific actor, industry and community needs.

Publications

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Maltby S (2016) The digital mundane: social media and the military in Media, Culture & Society

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Maltby, S., (2016) DUN Project Final Report 2016

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Maltby, S., (2016) Social Media and the Military

 
Description The main objective of the DUN Project was to interrogate the ways in which social media is perceived, organized, managed and responded to within the British defence community in order to better identify, assess and understand how risk can be managed. Our three key findings below (and associated recommendations) are notable in their relevance beyond the Defence work in that they indicate how and why digital technologies intersect with everyday organisations in various ways with particular consequences.

Key Finding 1: Social Media is understood in narrow terms within the Defence Sector which, in turn, affects how the risks and opportunities of social media are understood and managed. With regards to the opportunites of social media, these understandings a) generate recourse to potentially ineffectual traditional media management techniques because social media is understood as content (i.e. text and images) rather than a complex digital architecture of multiple interconnected meta-data and platforms; b) assume that social media content and the outcomes of content can be evaluated accurately, objectively, and also independently of the external agencies who control and own the platforms and data (Google, Facebook etc). With regard to risk these understandings a) wrongly assume a lack of knowledge, expertise and risk management among members of the Armed Forces including family members; b) misunderstand the digital environment as content rather than a complex data-logical system where individuals do not have ownership of their own social media (meta)data, or the ability to intervene in its dissemination and appropriation.; c) generate broad education and awareness campaigns that do not cohere with or capitalise on the knowledge, expertise and management strategies that many Armed Forces personnel employ as everyday, mundane consumers of social and digital media.

Key Finding 2: There is a culture of risk aversion within Defence Sector that perpetuates a fear of the digital, distorts the realities of social media risks and undermines effective risk management. In particular, social and digital media is not adequately integrated into the working and social practices of the Armed Forces despite the centrality of social media to the everyday lives of personnel, and is instead 'demonised' (for example poor Wi-fi provision and disapproval of mobile phone use). This culture of risk aversion: a) significantly undermines opportunities to develop digital knowledge, expertise and management within the wider Armed Forces community; b) encourages clandestine, rather than responsible social media use.

Key Finding 3: Defence organisational and management structures lack direction and coherence in the planning, implementation and monitoring of social media. The digital environment is diffuse, rapidly evolving and a uniquely individual experience in terms of how, when, what and why users engage with it. In contrast, the organisational and management structures of defence evolve slowly and prioritise the collective experience through centralised, top-down hierarchical, multi-layered units (brigades, regiments, services etc). Consequently, the management of social media within defence does not easily map onto individual social media use practically and culturally. Responsibility for the planning, implementation and monitoring of social media in defence remains unclear, as do the processes by which training and briefings are designed and delivered. Overall, there is a lack of consistent and coherent direction in the management of the digital at both a strategic and everyday level.
Exploitation Route Specifically within the Defence Sector we have recommended that the DUN Project findings highlight the need for the following but each of these recommendations has resonance with all large public sector and security organisations. Similarly, the practice and cultures of large organisations that are exposed through these findings offer a wider contribution to our understanding of the digital world as part of organisational and community life.

Recommendations:
1. the re-assessment of social media insight and evaluation practices to achieve more realistic evaluation of content and content outcomes in promotional campaign work. In particular, to take account of a) the wider architecture of the digital environment beyond social media 'content'; b) the difficulties of accurately, objectively and independently evaluating content, and content outcomes in a meaningful manner; c) the relevance and utility of metric based assessments of social media content that may be skewed or misrepresent.

2. the re-design of social media education and awareness campaigns that pay due heed to existing expertise and knowledge within the organisation (particularly among younger social media users), and the wider frameworks in which social media users operate and understand the risks and opportunities of social media differently as consumers of digital media (as oppose to in an organisational or professional capacity).

3. to consider the social media practices of those on the periphery of, but also central to, large organisations - in this case the families and partners of members of the Armed Forces - to ensure they are offered adequate training and support with regards to the impact of their social media use at an organisational and community level.

4. to identify how and where the management of the risks and opportunities of social media are planned, implemented and monitored across all levels of the Defence Sector with an aim to develop more responsive and flexible systems that make clearer where responsibilities lie. This finding is especially applicable to this working within the security sector where the impact of risk is considered to be particularly high.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://www.dunproject.org
 
Description The findings are being disseminated via policy briefings, workshops and meetings within the Defence Sector (including the Ministry of Defence, the British Armed Forces, Defence and Science Technology Labs, and the UK Defence Academy) but have also included the College of Policing (UK). Whilst some our stakeholders have been explicit about the extent to which the DUN Project has created impact within their working practices, particularly within the Ministry of Defence and DSTL (Defence and Science Technology Labs), they have also stated that they are unable to detail exactly what changes in practice have occurred due to the classified nature of the work they undertake. Despite the inability to be explicit about some of the DUN Project impact, there is evidence that it is continually developing primarily in relation to its affect on understanding and behaviour in 3 key areas a) Conceptualisation of risk and opportunity as it relates to social media; b) Awareness of limitations of social media evaluation; c) Development of social media training for members of the Armed Forces. a) Conceptualisation of Risk and Opportunity as it Relates to Social Media. Evidence from online feedback questionnaires, knowledge exchange workshops and one to one meetings with key stakeholders within the Ministry of Defence Directorate of Defence Communications, and the Single Service (Army, Navy, Airforce) Heads of Digital suggest that findings from the DUN Project have led to changes in the conceptualisation of risk and opportunity of social media as it relates to Defence work at a national, community and organisational level. In particular, impact from the DUN Project is being achieved in the use of social media in public relations work, recruitment, selection and human resources, as well as in practices related to counter-intelligence, counter-deception work and operational security (the process by which the security of a military operational is monitored and safeguarded). Lastly, findings from the DUN Project are also being applied in the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces communicative practices with military families and the military diaspora. b) Awareness of limitations of social media evaluation Evidence from knowledge exchange workshops with the Single Service (Army, Navy, Airforce) Heads of Digital, 77 Brigade (Army) and one to one meetings with members of the MOD Defence Directorate of Communications suggest findings from the DUN Project have led to changes in attitude and knowledge regarding the difficulties and limitations of current defence practices within communications activity regarding how they measure the impact and success of their social media work. Potential impact to changes in practice is currently being explored with the relevant stakeholders. c) Social Media Training and Awareness Evidence from meetings with members of the British Armed Forces, Ministry of Defence and serving officers has generated pathways to impact in terms of thinking differently about social media awareness and training among Armed Forces personnel particularly with regard to the effect this has on recruitment and behaviours (including harassing behaviours). This work is on ongoing.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description DUN Project IMPACT Workshop with Armed Forces Heads of Digital 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The DUN Project Impact Workshop brought together the Heads of Digital and members of their respective teams for each Armed Services (RAF, Navy, Army). The aim of the work workshop was used to:
1. Facilitate open discussion regarding the key findings of the DUN project assess initial impact opportunities for stakeholders
2. To discuss future directions for Impact activity, including wider dissemination activities and further research
3. To consider potential policy recommendations.

Initial Impact:

Awareness, Understanding, Attitude: Comments made by participants indicated the key findings of the project challenged their current thinking around the risks and opportunities of social media, thereby raising their awareness of potential problems in current practices across the Defence community (National, Organisational and Community level).

Behaviour, Practice, Performance: There was suggestion that this increased awareness may lead to changes in practice, behaviour and performance in digital communications work in the Armed Forces.

Future IMPACT and Dissemination Directions

All participants highlighted the importance of the evidence-based solutions arising from the DUN Project indicating the need for further dissemination to other key stakeholders including:
1. those responsible for social media training and education in the Armed Forces
2. Senior personnel involved in the strategic direction of defence communications.

These suggestions are being followed up with relevant stakeholders as part of ongoing DUN Project Impact Activities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Harassment in the Digital Workshop/Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Workshop/meeting with senior members of the British Army in the Bullying and Sexual Harassment Division to discuss how the key findings of the DUN Project map onto their current objectives, and any further collaborative work that can be undertaken to tackle issues of bullying and harassment that are taking place through and with digital technologies in the British Army.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Impact Meeting with Member of Directorate of Defence Communications (MOD) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The aim of the meeting was to:
1. Facilitate open discussion regarding the key findings of the DUN project and assess impact opportunities for Defence stakeholders, particularly within the Ministry of Defence but also beyond
2. To discuss future directions for Impact activity, including wider dissemination activities and further research. Ongoing meetings organised with members of the MOD
3. To consider potential policy recommendations.

Initial Impact:

Awareness, Understanding, Attitude: The key findings clearly challenged the current thinking of the participant, specifically around the evaluation and insight practices at the Directorate of Defence Communications (DDC), and the extent to which the difficulties and limitations of current practice may be misrepresenting the social media work which concurrently feeds into future decision making. Also, increased awareness of the cultures of risk aversion within the Defence community (National, Organisational and Community level) as they relate to social media monitoring and practice, and how this may be impinging on more effective social media management across the Armed Forces.

Future IMPACT and Dissemination Directions
As with other impact activities, the participant highlighted the importance of the evidence-based solutions arising from the DUN Project and identified specific areas where impact could (and should) be achieved:
1. those responsible for training and education including across those responsible for social media training and briefing delivery in Armed Forces but also at the Defence Academy and those responsible for professional development in the Armed Forces.
2. members of DDC and those responsible for social media strategies (monitoring, evaluation, insight etc)
3. Further research into the social media practices of Armed Forces families in light of the new accommodation model arising from the Strategic Defence Review

These suggestions are being pursued through on-going DUN Project Impact Activities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Interviewed by BBC News 24 (Global) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Sarah Maltby was interviewed by the BBC Television News Channel about the announcement of the launch of the British Military's 77th Brigade set up to influence conflicts through media and social media information
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Interviewed by BBC World News (International) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Sarah Maltby was interviewed by BBC World Television News Channel about the announcement of the launch of the British Military's 77th Brigade set up to influence conflicts through media and social media information
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Meeting with Dean of Academic Studies at Defence Studies Department, Joint Services Staff College, Schrivenham 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Meeting with Dean of Academic Studies & Head of Department and other members of Defence Studies Department to discuss the presentation and possible embedding of DUN Project findings into Defence Studies curriculum. The discussion precipitated invitations to report findings back to the wider Defence Studies community in the initial instance to ascertain the relevance for the curriculum and ways in which it might be integrated into current teaching
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Meeting with Insight and Evaluation Manger at Directorate of Defence Communications (Ministry of Defence) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The meeting was organised to discuss how key findings from the DUN Project intersect with the work of the Directorate of Defence Communications and how they can be implemented in the on-going design of both MOD and British Armed Forces work with regard to communications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Meeting with the Business Advisor for Digital Engagement, National Policing Vision 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The intention of the meeting was to assess the relevance and resonance of the DUN Project findings to the work of National Policing Vision and to assess if there was scope to integrate some of the findings into the working practices of National Policing Vision
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Partnership for Conflict, Crime & Security Research (PaCCS) Policy Briefing Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact In March 2016, PaCCS convened a group of academics, Government policy-makers, technologists, engineers, practitioners and representatives from Industry and Non-Governmental Organisations to discuss findings from Science and Security - a programme of research sponsored by ESRC, AHRC and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), under the Partnership for Conflict, Crime & Security Research (PaCCS).
The workshop explored the impact of new technologies on the defence and security sectors, focusing on questions of governance, ethics and the law. This included the DUN Project.

From the workshop, PaCCS produced a Policy Briefing Note (please see DUN Project publications).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.dunproject.org/dun-project-key-findings-in-paccs-research-policy-briefing/
 
Description Presentation to Joint Insight Forum (Ministry of Defence and British Armed Forces) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Joint Insight Forum (JIF) is a newly established Ministry of Defence committee designed to evaluate the factors which hamper recruitment and retention of full-time members of the Armed Services and reservists. I was invited to present at the second of their organised workshops to outline how key findings from the DUN Project relate to the aims and objectives of JIF.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Third presentation to Joint Insight Forum (Ministry of Defence and British Armed Forces) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Additional presentation to Joint Insight Forum (Ministry of Defence and British Armed Forces). This Joint Insight Forum was used to share and disseminate relevant existing research and key findings from research that map onto the working practices of the Armed Forces, including recruitment and retention of full-time members of the Armed Services and reservists. I was invited to present at the third of their organised workshops to outline how key findings from the DUN Project relate to the aims and objectives of JIF
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Workshop with 77 Brigade, British Army, Denison Barracks, Hermitage 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The workshop was designed to introduce 77th Brigade to the DUN Project findings and assess the relevance for the work of 77 Brigade, particularly in terms of their engagement with Influencing Activities and the means through which they measure the effectiveness of their campaigns. 77 Brigade is a combined Regular Army and Army Reserve unit organised to use information based and engagement activities to adapt behaviours of opposing forces and adversaries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016