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US Department of Defense Ahead of Most Companies with a New Social Media Policy

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Late Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense released its official policy covering new media and social media. With some three million employees, the DoD is one of the largest organizations in the world, so this is big news.

The policy, Directive-Type Memorandum 09-026, which is effective immediately, states that DoD employees (including U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines) can use and participate in new media and social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, and forums.

Armed with Social Media

Late last year, I had an opportunity to visit The Pentagon and spend time with Roxie Merritt, Director of New Media Operations at the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of Defense (Roxie is the top social media person at the DoD). At the time she told me about the need for the just released policy: "It's not about controlling the message any more. It's about giving people as much information and resources and facts as they can."

The value of social media as an important force in the U.S. military. Capt. Nathan Broshear, Director of Public Affairs for 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern) who is currently leading Air Force communications in Haiti, says of his work in Public Affairs: "We're not launching missiles, we're launching ideas."

What's fascinating about the DoD Social Media Policy is how far out in front the military is compared to many U.S. corporations.

I've had an opportunity to casually explore the attitudes of hundreds of large and small companies and in my very unscientific questioning, my guess is that about 25% of companies block employee access to YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking sites. Twenty-five of U.S. Companies percent block access to social media!

That is a huge number of companies that are putting their organizations at a disadvantage. If I managed a hedge fund, I'd sell short a basket of stocks of companies that block Social Media like YouTube and Facebook and buy stock in the companies (like IBM) that encourage employee use of these new tools and have an established social media policy like the DoD.

Instead of blocking access to social media sites company executives need to understand that this is the way people communicate in 2010. People maintain relationships on Facebook and LinkedIn. They share what they are up to on Twitter and Foursquare. And they publish valuable information on YouTube and blogs.

Here are some reasons given by people for their companies blocking access to sites like YouTube, Facebook, and other similar sites:

- It is a drain to productivity
- It is a security issue within the company computer systems
- People may harm the company brand should employees reveal too much information
- It is a bandwidth issue

Do you trust your employees?

I think the big thing here is trust. The reasons cited above are just an excuse. If you trust your employees, they might surprise you. But if you don't trust them, over time you end up with only the corporate dregs who don't mind working in an organization that won't let them communicate with others in the ways that people are using today.

If you're an employee who works for a company that blocks access, I suggest you tell them about the DoD.

If they still refuse to open up, I suggest you quit your job and work for a company that embraces the new world. You'll need to find a new job at some point anyway, because your company won't be around in a few years as the smarter competitors take away your business by reaching buyers using social media.