U.S. Central Command’s website launches a new blog — woo, let’s party like it’s 2005* – complete with an introductory post penned by its commanding general, David Petraeus. It’s a straight-forward welcome-to-the-blog here’s-what-t0-expect post, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But now that the general is contesting my battlespace, I feel compelled to offer a few friendly lessons learned.
- Actually engage people. “This blog is for you, and we hope you will take a moment to join the conversation,” Petraeus writes. And that’s just the right spirit! Now it’s time to make it meaningful. Delve down into the comment threads to address the concerns, criticisms and questions that people will pose to you as a public figure. Remember, they’re going to take you up on your “join the conversation” challenge, and so they’ll expect a reasonable degree of interactivity. You’ll be able to tell really quickly who’s being genuine and who’s trolling — that is, being deliberately and unconstructively provocative.
- Actually write what goes under your name. A corollary of the first point. It’s always disheartening to learn that people pawn their blogging chores off on faceless assistants — I won’t name names — when the stated virtue of the medium is interactivity. View your time engaging with your readers as an investment for their support in your endeavors. Your colleague Adm. James Stavridis once made a point of remarking how he personally responds to messages left on his Facebook wall. If you don’t have the time, just post less. Being genuine is more important than being prolific.
- **Actually engage the debate. **If people want to read CENTCOM press releases, they can sign up to have them emailed or subscribe to the RSS feed. (I do!) So if the blog is going to be worth everyone’s time, don’t just make it a repository for your talking points. You have a platform for making your case on the issues you face, and that means you can be parochial, but no one’s going to respond to your posts if they exist in a vacuum. Did you read something interesting in the paper or on Small Wars Journal or Abu Muqawama or Wings Over Iraq? Sure you did. Why not tie what you’ve got to say to that ongoing conversation? Remember: Just noting something exists by writing “This is interesting” isn’t the same thing as engaging the debate. (Twitter is good for the first task, blogging is good for the second.)
I recognize that this is really hard for someone whose every utterance is scrutinized by people trying to discern A Hidden Meaning for U.S. strategy. But as a wise man once said, hard is not hopeless.
*I know, I know, no other regional command’s website is being this interactive. But in the blogosphere, snark is just how we say hello.