Role Based Marketing At Exigen Insurance Solutions
The Digital Marketer's Content Dilemma

Joseph Carrabis On Military Social Transparency

 If you recall, Jonathan Salem Baskin and I wrote a joint post, “Debating The Benefits Of Military Social Transparency.” Both Jonathan and I reached out to several colleagues in the industry to ask for their comments. Joseph Carrabis from NextStageEevolution responded, and here’s the result!


Thanks for inviting me to take part in this discussion. I mentioned to you that NextStage had done some work regarding hostile infiltrating social networks and had published a non-military, peace-time environment, business oriented version of our findings. The discussion in Mr. Baskin's article reminds me of the work NextStage did and as documented in the "Creating Personae" and later sections of NextStage's (for pay) paper "Social Network Mechanics: A Preliminary Toolkit for Creating and Coopting Social Networks..."

I also believe you're aware of my bias -- we're not going to see much that's truly "new" in the online world that hasn't been tried and tested in the offline world first.

Such is the case here. Manipulating social media sites is different from planting false news items into enemy newspapers, radio and tv broadcasts how? A matter of degree, perhaps, not intent. Paraphrasing Sakaiya (in "The Knowledge-Value Revolution"), the delivery method has changed, not what is being delivered. We're still dropping leaflets from planes (kudos to the commenter who mentioned that), we're just saving the cost of fuel.

The use of anonymous avatars is (my opinion) the digital version of HumIntel (and perhaps should be called DigIntel), and transparency is a ridiculous concept to apply to a hostile, combative environment. The majority of classic battlefield weaponry has been "anonymous" since the invention of gun powder. Avataring is simply weaponry moving from real to virtual environments.

Intentional digital weaponry (viruses, etc) are now amazingly targeted (see "Computer security: Is this the start of cyberwarfare?" and "Cyberwarfare challenge"). Marketers and advertisers would pay serious dollars for that kind of targeting.

Mr. Baskin's wrote "This plan violates every principle of online peer-to-peer social experience. Authenticity. Credibility. Direct connections. Truth. ..." I appreciate the stated ideals and also understand that ideals may not have any exemplars in reality. I would also appreciate knowing what "experts" are being referenced. NextStage and/or its principals have been studying and documenting online social phenomena since the advent of various BBS (GEnie, AOL, CompuServe, etc). I was introduced to "online social media" when its only form was email exchanges on then-fast acoustic dial-up modems back at Lincoln Labs in the early 1970s. One of NextStage's first social experiments was with college students in 2003, demonstrating the power of "blogs" with that audience. But "Authenticity. Credibility. Direct connections. Truth."? If that were the case, Second Life Sims would look like their owners (see "Second Life? I don't find you interesting in Real Life").

Also the question of audience seems to be either lost or missing from Mr. Baskin's post. This is not WalMart's audience. This is an "antagonistic environment, hostile theater with non-friendly, potentially unwilling participants." WalMart's online shoppers may not want to add a proffered item to their sales cart before checkout and it's doubtful their response to such an offer would be transmitting smartmob info for taking out their local WalMart. The military's "audience", their social dynamics, group psychology, intent, etc., are not being considered at all and I'm not sure of the presented argument's validity without including that audience information.

The military's objective is (forgive the overworked if accurate metaphor) "to break things and kill people". "Breaking" a social network so that member A no longer knows if they can trust member B seems like a reasonable military objective. I do not understand how doing so is "such misuse of our national reputation". Was there an "appropriate social media use" conversation when Egypt, Tunisia, etc., were experiencing their online social revolutions? (see "Geek Cred in an “Economy of Meanings” Universe" through "Democracy, is there an app for that?".)

 Any concerns that milgov has found a use for marketing's current toy du jour are misplaced, me thinks. Studies of the history of propaganda, social influence, crowd psychology demonstrate that marketing has been more influenced by learning how to mislead than how to lead (see any of "Easily Led/A History of Propaganda", "A Culture of Fact/England, 1550-1720", "Code Breaking: A History and Exploration", "Codes, Ciphers & Other Cryptic & Clandestine Communication", ... I can provide a fairly decent bibliography for interested readers).

Please note that I take no stand on war, this specific "war", no stand on what side is "right" or "wrong", am not arguing that the military's intended use by social media is "right" or "wrong" and definitely am not commenting on (what I perceive to be) Mr. Baskin's point of view. I do not know if this article's intent is humor, information or provocation. In that vacuum I'm only able to respond with questions about any research and data points that went into the article.

What I offer is that the military campaign described in this article is only new regarding the medium, not the message or intent. As a researcher I look on this as another data point, another opportunity to determine if this kind of audience-targeting is doable and at what economies of scale. The mere stating of the military's intent has -- if social dynamics is valid -- changed the social structure of the targeted networks, hence providing an opportunity for analysts to determine if a full scale campaign would be cost effective.

Determining if a social strategy is valid within a given social network is what NextStage suggests to our clients. Some kind of test should be done before releasing a broad campaign, and do careful data gathering and analysis to report on the test and broad campaign. Having been in the business for a while, I'm more wondering if the marketing concern is that we'll have some real, actionable data coming out of this that will have to be applied to social strategies going forward. I mean, accountability...whoa!