Would you invite 16 bloggers to spend 24 hours with your company? The Navy did.

OpSec is Everyone's Responsibility(I previously wrote an intro and link post about the bloggers who went on the USS Nimitz.)

When the Navy issued the invitation for 16 bloggers to spend a day on the USS Nimitz, I thought there had to be string attached, or that the Navy wanted to use us bloggers as propaganda spreaders. But hey, I’m used to people pitching me and trusted myself to be able to figure out the real story behind the Navy “story”.

But surprisingly, there were no pre-conditions, no restrictions on access other than to safeguard our well-being. The schedule was packed with organized tours to different parts of the trip, but we were free to approach anyone and ask them anything.

In fact, the only thing they would *not* let us see was the nuclear reactor — but then again, nobody gets to see them (there are two of them onboard). They also would not let us video the operations room because of the sensitive strategic information on the displays. But that was about it.

After our public affairs dropped us off in our staterooms, we were encouraged to head back to the officer wardrooms or mess halls to talk with people during midrash (midnight rations) when the final shift came off duty. Most of us took up the opportunity, and then spread out around the ship, from the top of conning tower to the fan tail. I personally got completely lost and engaged several sailors in fun conversations on the way back to my room. This is what I am still amazed by, that the Navy gave us so much access.

Would you let 16 bloggers come into your organization and have access to pretty much anything and anybody? If not, why not – after all, what do you have to hide?

This was the biggest take-away for me, the tremendous openness of the Navy. Open to us asking any question, engaging us in debates, and at the same time, steadfast in their belief of their mission, goals, and responsibilities. With that openness also came exceptional transparency, such as fighter pilots sharing their joy of flying, but also their naked, raw fear about night landings on a carrier deck.

In my conversations with organizations about social media, openness and transparency is often what companies engaging in social media most fear — it isn’t about the technologies that enable openness, but the relationships that force companies to face their biggest insecurities and flaws.

So as an exercise, think about how *your* organization would deal with and fare under the scrutiny of a 24 hour visit by outsiders. Would you script each and every interaction with talking points? Would you limit access only to departments and people who showed the best side of you, and then escort the visitors to the reception area?

Or would you trust that each and every person understands their role in the organization? Do you trust that they can and will speak with honesty but also respect “that which cannot be spoken”, the secrets that if exposed, would be detrimental to the organization?

It says a lot about an organization when its leaders and executives can step back and be secure in the knowledge that their people will do the right thing, up and down the hierarchical chain. The photo at the top of this post is of a poster that hangs in the library, right next to rows of computers where sailors can email and post on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a reminder to keep “OPSEC”, or operational security. Sailors are reminded to not disclose information that would compromise operations, as such as their location and mission.

And yes, the Navy has a social media policy, that governs the use of Web 2.0 tools — basically, that anything goes as long as it does not “compromise data confidentiality and integrity”. And the Army just this week lifted a ban on social media sites. The military realizes the opportunity for their service members to “facilitate the dissemination of strategic, unclassified information.” Yet in many organizations, executives are pondering whether to ban access to Facebook and Twitter, rather than how these technologies can foster collaboration between employees and also bring customers and partners closer to the company.

To close out, here is a video interview with Commander Charlie Brown on why the Navy invited bloggers to visit the Nimitz, and how they will measure the success of the trip. Highlights are included below.

Why is the Navy inviting all these bloggers on the ship?

We wish we could bring every tax payer out to see what the Navy does, but we can’t. So we try to bring out folks who have the ability to share the experience with a wider audience. And for us, this group of bloggers…that was a perfect group to do that.

How are you going to measure the success of the embark?

Our goal was to bring folks out who don’t necessarily have a familiarity with what naval aviation does. It’s your Navy, it’s your aircraft carriers, so we want to show you what we’re doing with those. So by having you folks coming and joining us, I think it’s already a success.

Are you a little bit nervous about what we are going to write?

Only a few of you! You’re going to have open access. You’ll be able to talk to whomever you like, and see whatever you want to see, and I think you’ll get a lot out of it.


  1. Good question Charlene. Most companies won’t allow bloggers unfettered access because they don’t have the strong culture, indoctrination and very focused mission the Navy does. If more brands had these strengths, they would be more likely to open their doors. (But they may have fewer products. Hee hee.)

  2. Hi Charlene, I thought your question about how the Navy would measure the event’s success was a great one. I believe this event was extremely successful, given the amount of buzz there’s been about it from so many influential bloggers – one of my clients in a completely different industry heard about it and held it up as an example of the kind of social media marketing they would like to do. I’m guessing the amount of press, links, videos, etc. that were generated from this event were extremely cost-effective. My question to you, though, is, what advice would you give to smaller, less sensational (eg. no midnight aircraft carrier landings)companies who want to use similar techniques for talking about their companies through social media?

  3. Excellent point, Gillian. I think the biggest thing they can do is to extend the invitation. Reach out to the most passionate bloggers/Twitters who they already engage with and ask one or just a few to come for a visit. The Navy invited Guy Kawasaki last fall on the Stennis and from there, he helped craft the plan to bring more bloggers along for the next trip.
    Wal-mart did the same with their ElevenMoms.com mommy bloggers, flew them out to HQ and gave them a tour. There’s no reason why smaller companies can’t do the same.
    One key thing – you can’t do this from scratch. Just like any relationship, it takes time to develop dialog and trust. So my advice is to start now, in small steps, in order to build to a larger platform.

  4. Thanks Charlene! I’ll pass that good advice on to my clients.

  5. Hi Charlene,

    You put important issues and should serve as reflection for all. In my country (Brazil) have fought for more transparency in the actions of our public organizations.

    Our blog, http://chapabranca.com, aims to discuss and disseminate in our government issues raised by you in this post: Openness, dialogue, engagement …

    We learned a lot with their ideas. Thank you and Congratulations for your work!

  6. ‘In the Navy’ lets all join the village people

  7. Robin Browne says:

    A very interesting article and kudos to the US Navy staff who not only organized the program but put thier necks in the noose if it had all gone wrong!

    I am a military officer, on sabbatical and currently embedded in an interactive agency to understand, learn and develop strategies for social media. I am already getting the sneaking suspicion that in a few ways, including this, the military may be ahead of the curve, despite having many advantages (some cited by other respondents) over commercial operations.

  8. It’s arduous to search out knowledgeable individuals on this topic, but you sound like you understand what you’re talking about! Thanks


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