The Defense Department has been reaching out to bloggers for some time now, in an effort to reach around traditional media gatekeepers to access the public. And taking a cue from the new administration, DOD leaders have embraced social media. For example, Adm. Mike Mullen tweets. And now he’s using YouTube to solicit questions from military members and their families — and the general public — on issues surrounding the military.
But the primary web presence of the DOD, Defenselink.mil, has had the disadvantage of an odd domain name and a site design that was reminds me of the old joke, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”
Now the DOD has launched a new, friendlier web-facing presence to the general public, Defense.gov , that wears its social networking ambitions on its sidebars. In addition to the usual suspect links, Defense.gov is offering a place for visitors to post questions to the Secretary of Defense, and the DOD policy issues they’re most concerned about.
I dialed in for what was probably the most heavily-attended DOD Blogger Roundtable in some time, to hear Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Price Floyd, (whose Twitter stream is the “official” tweet of the DOD). The audio of the hour-long roundtable can be found here on Pentagon Web Radio.
The rebranding of the site, Floyd said, was to make it more intuitive to reach, and also reduce the information density of the home page. “I thought, on the old website, there was too much information on there,” he said. A lot was lost in the design, including links to DOD’s social networking presence, he said. “The links to facebook, myspace have been there for some time — we just made them more appealing.”
The main thing that is new on Defense.gov is the outreach capability of the site. “On the right hand side , we’ve added social networking software (that provides) two ways for audience feedback. First, they can tell us the policy initiatives that are important to them.”
And secondly, he said, there’s an “Ask the Secretary” feature that allows visitors to post questions to the DOD senior leaders. “The reason for this,” said Floyd, “was at the request of the Secretary (Robert Gates). He wanted to hear back from people more.anted to hear back from people more. He felt that he couldn’t really engage with people outside of the senior leadership that he talks to here in the building” According to Floyd, when Gates was president of Texas A&M, he widely published his email address for direct feedback from the community. Given the DOD community of interest’s size, email wasn’t practical.
The “ask the Secretary” feature will allow site visitors to ask questions, and vote on questions monthly to be asked. The most popular question will then be answered by Gates or another senior DOD official.
With the embrace of social networking at the top, there’s still some work to be done to allow that to trickle down. Floyd said that the DOD was reviewing its policies on social networking within the .mil network — operational security being one of many reasons why the branches have restricted access to Twitter and other sites off DOD’s NIPRNet (the unclassified DOD intranet).