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How the U.S. Navy “surrendered control” in social media — and won

July 13, 2011

We never think of the U.S. Navy as “surrendering control” of anything, but there is an important exception to that rule.

In the presentation below, Navy Captain David Werner outlines how the Navy’s PR team used social media to drive public perception during its response to Japan’s tsunami disaster.  The big takeaway? The U.S. Navy is inherently resistant to surrendering control, which is to some extent what you do when your organization engages on social media.  Yet the Navy, to its credit, recognized that the benefits of engagement easily outweighed the risks.  Watch Capt. Werner’s presentation or check out our brief summary below.

U.S. Navy: Keeping Your Reputation Afloat When Crisis Comes in Waves, presented by David Werner from GasPedal and SocialMedia.org on Vimeo.

A few highlights:

  • The Navy prides itself on communicating with agility and nimbleness in a crisis.  Werner outlines the extent to which the Navy had formulated its Japan relief strategy while most of America was still sleeping.
  • In a crisis, social media is a balancing act between what you want to communicate and what the public wants to know. There is no magic formula. Do the best you can to anticipate public reaction and adjust as needed.
  • Twitter allowed the Navy to better contain inaccurate reports about ship movements and radiation levels near Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant.
  • Werner considered Twitter to be the most effective social media tool during the crisis.  This is remarkably consistent with other rapidly evolving crises, such as the Hudson River plane crash, terror attacks, and uprisings across the Arab World.
  • The Navy was far more effective at “driving the news cycle” via social media, as journalists, military bloggers, and military families retweeted critical information from the Navy throughout the Japan crisis.
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