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News > Air Force reservists "tweet," blog, post their way through cybersphere
Air Force reservists "tweet," blog, post their way through cybersphere

Posted 7/6/2009   Updated 7/6/2009 Email story   Print story


by Lt. Col. Ann Peru Knabe
AF Reserve Strategic Communication

7/6/2009 - WASHINGTON -- A couple times a day Master Sgt. Collen McGee logs onto her the 433rd Airlift Wing's twitter account and "tweets" updates to 675 followers from around the world. Using the twitter handle of @AFRC_433, Sergeant McGee condenses messages to 140 characters, often including links to related websites.

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send and read tweets during real time. McGee has been tweeting both personally and professionally since February.

The Reservist's official wing updates vary. One day in early June, for example, she micro-blogged about the new Air Force Reserve Command chief, full time jobs in AFRC, and ways to honor military dads on Father's Day. On that day, each of her tweets included a link to a larger story somewhere on the web. McGee has connected other web 2.0 applications to leverage the wing's message. For example, savvy followers can also sign up for RSS feed of 433rd updates on the same Twitter site.

Sergeant McGee contends social media is a good way to reach audiences who are already interested in the wing.

"The mainstream media aren't always interested in what the Air Force thinks is cool," said Sergeant McGee. "Many of these traditional media have taken hits in staffing, or even closed, or simply aren't interested in our story. Social media gives us a chance to talk directly to people who are interested. Social media also gives us an opportunity to be real people with real personalities when we interact online."

McGee isn't unique. Reflecting trends around the world, Air Force Reserve units and their Airmen are diving into the world of social media. Using Web 2.0 technologies as a backbone for communication, social media applications such as Twitter and Facebook emphasize 2-way communication and relationship building. Many Airmen are recognizing the power of social media and its ability to build communities.

Facebook is one of the fastest growing networks with more than 200 million users around the world. The online community allows people to connect with others by sharing videos, pictures and updates. Commanders, Airmen and reserve units are using Facebook to build relationships and online communities. Reservists are connecting in Facebook's cyber realm on both a personal and professional level.

The 512th Airlift Wing based at Dover Air Force Base, Del., recently started a "fan page" on Facebook. The unit's page features photos from around the wing, 512th event notifications, notes and discussions. People who register as fans may post updates and comments. The fan page is open to anyone interested in what's going on with the wing. Still in its infancy, the site has 82 fans but is growing daily.

"Our (Facebook) fan page is allowing us to connect with our Airmen in a less formal way, and get a pulse for the wing and those who are associated with us," said Capt. Marnee A.C. Losurdo, wing chief of public affairs. "I think it also serves as a morale tool and is another way to get out the Air Fore Reserve message."

Losurdo said she plans to use the website to assist with recruiting. "We'd like to interview Airmen in critical career fields and highlight their service and why they serve," she explained. "We're going to post two to three minute videos."

Other reserve units, like the 403rd Wing based at Keesler AFB, Miss., embraced social media early on. Maj. Chad Gibson, the wing's public affairs officer, set up four Facebook groups, including the 403rd Wing, Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters, 41st Aerial Port Squadron, the 403rd Spouses Association, and the 815th Flying Jennies. Each group also has a corresponding fan page on Facebook.

Gibson's commander, Brig. Gen. James Muscatell, encouraged him to explore social media tactics as a way to build communities and spread information. The general created his own Facebook site last fall after attending an Air Force conference on diversity. The social networking site was the agreed means of communication when his new group of Air Force friends went there separate ways. The general is also blogging on the 403rd Wing group on Facebook.

While it is difficult to estimate the number of reservists on Facebook, it's not easy to ignore the communication preferences of "digital natives," or Airmen who are age 27 or younger. To better reach these digital natives and other tech-savvy Airmen, the command is now tweeting from the twitter handle @AFRC. Updates include comments and related links on topical subjects like the new GI Bill, unit missions and other relevant information for reservists.

The Air Force Reserve is also taking notice of bloggers. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron recently set a new standard in social media outreach with the Air Force's first bloggers flight last May. Bloggers flew on one of the unit's WC-130J Hercules aircraft. The flight took place on one of the unit's WC-130J Hercules aircraft, and was designed to give the bloggers a taste of what it's like to fly on a military aircraft while educating them about the mission.

Meanwhile, Airmen like McGee continue to tweet away and post updates.

"The future looks promising for the Air Force Reserve's use of social media," said Lt. Col Leslie Pratt, the public affairs operations division chief for AFRC. "I think every Reservist regardless of rank or status can enhance our messages to the public through social media."

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