Pentagon Officials Say: ‘We Want to Hear from You’
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2009 Defense officials at the Pentagon have redesigned the Defense Department Web site to use social networking tools to engage the American public -- particularly 18- to 24-year-olds.
“We need to embrace these technologies. We need to use them because that’s what the young people use these days. We need to communicate with them,” said Price Floyd, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
People between the ages of 18 and 24 are much more likely to communicate using Twitter and Facebook than they are traditional communication tools, Floyd told the American Forces Press Service, the Pentagon Channel and DoDLive Blog Talk Radio.
“If we just stick to the traditional ways of communicating, we leave out a huge portion of society,” he said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recognizes both the need for engagement with the American people and the value of these new tools, Floyd noted.
“The secretary wanted to figure out ways to engage more with the public, and one of the ways you can do that is through your Web site,” he said. So defense public affairs officials redesigned the Defense Department’s home page, launching Defense.gov on Aug. 17.
The department’s former home page DefenseLINK.mil focused on providing news and information, Floyd said. The new site, Defense.gov, will emphasize personal, two-way communication.
DefenseLINK was a name more suited for an internal Web site, an intranet, as opposed to an Internet site, he added. “Most people on the outside wouldn’t have guessed that DefenseLink was the Web site for the Defense Department.”
“Instead of trying to figure out one new name, we’ve taken several domain names which all lead you to the same place – DoD.gov, Defense.gov and Defense.mil, and Pentagon.gov and Pentagon.mil,” he said. “This puts the site more in line with the other departments in the government -- State.gov, Whitehouse.gov. -- and it’s a more intuitive name to search for.”
Defense public affairs officials used the newly interactive White House Web site as a model. Just as Whitehouse.gov asks people to give their policy recommendations to the President, the new Defense site will seek people’s input on defense policies and issues, thus giving the site more credibility, according to Floyd.
“We do live in a democracy and that feedback from people is important to know what they’re thinking, what they believe is important,” he said. “It’s their national security policy, it’s not ours. It’s theirs. The president was elected and he appointed people here at the Defense Department to lead, but it starts with the American people.”
“I think we might be surprised by the issues and policies that are important to the American people, versus what we think are important,” he added.
A new feature on Defense.gov will enable people to pose questions for the defense secretary, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top defense and military officials.
“You can type in what you want to ask the secretary,” Floyd explained. “We’ll leave that open for several weeks. Once it’s done, people can then go in and vote on questions they want to have asked. They can vote on more than one, and the software will enable us to determine the top five questions which the secretary has to answer.
“There will also be a place where you’ll be able to type in policy initiatives that are important to you,” Floyd continued. “After several weeks, people will be able to come back and vote on the policy initiatives that are most important to them.”
The new site also will link to the Defense Department’s Facebook and Twitter sites. People can post comments and these engagement tools also will help people in the Department see and hear what the public regards as important.
Floyd said the goal is to encourage commanders to launch their own social networking sites, “so there’s not just one DoD Twitter site, or one Facebook site the military uses, there are hundreds, thousands.”
U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, European Command and Southern Command, for example, have Facebook sites, and there are numerous sites within each of these commands.
“Here in the Pentagon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has his own Twitter site. I have a Twitter site,” he said.
He stressed, however, that operational security remains a concern, and cautioned people to be careful when posting information on these sites. The security of the social networking sites is a major concern to Strategic Command, he noted, and the Marine Corps has banned the use of social networking on official computers.
Recognizing that there are risks involved, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III has tasked the department’s chief information officer to conduct a short-fused study. A report is due to the deputy on Aug. 31 and a policy is to be announced by the end of September.
Floyd said officials will look at both the threats and opportunities social networking sites hold for the department. The study will allow defense officials to make a decision on how to move forward and implement a uniform, department-wide policy for dealing with social network sites.
Floyd hopes the number of visits to Defense.gov will increase beyond DefenseLINK’s two million visits a month.
“Unlike most Web sites, more people over 45 go to DefenseLINK than under 45,” he said. “This was another reason why we needed to change the Web site and rebrand it was to reach that younger audience. But we also don’t want to lose the audience we have now.”
The American Forces Press Service news and feature articles, photographs and special reports currently on DefenseLINK will continue to be available as an internal page on Defense.gov.
Floyd’s message to the American public: “I encourage everyone to go to the new Web site to check it out. If you see things we can improve, please let me know. Feel free to reach out to me on my Twitter site which is on there and give me your comments. Don’t just let me know what you think needs to be improved, but let me know what you think is working really well and what you like.”