Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

HMS Bebo

by Tim Duckett

Via a link on the feed of Ewan McIntosh –  a social media specialist in the education sector – I came across this “profile” of a Royal Navy submariner on Bebo.

I say “profile”, because it’s clearly been manufactured by a PR agency rather than being the work of the person featured – phrases like “The best bit about being a Submariner in the Royal Navy is the professionalism of the team around you” are a world away the language of your average Bebo profile.  But if it isn’t featuring a real person, then there’s clearly been some work gone into making it convincing through the back story, and it’s also being maintained as well.

The idea of military recruiters using a service used primarily by 13-17 year-olds (including my own kids, for that matter) makes me slightly queasy, although this is at least fairly overtly about pushing the Royal Navy as a career. More interesting are the reactions on the comments. Many of them are questions about the RN as a career choice – this is a fairly typical example

im join the navy as a MEOi was just wondering what its like?is it any good?

But then there are also comments that make it clear that just creating a profile on a social network is not the easiest of PR options

sorry to ask but are you a real person?

you can tell its fake cos none of the ppl on his top friends hav him on theirs

And then there are those which are clearly negative

Whatever turns u on I suppose! The Navy are struggling so much to recruit and keep people in. You must know yourself there are hundreds of submariners handing their notice in. They need more dedicated people like yourself….altho I’d be interested to know if you’re still so dedicated after another 5 years when you might have a family to consider leavin behind for 6 months at a time!

Clearly, this is engaging with at least some of the demographic, and it would be interesting to know how some of these comments are followed up, if at all. And there’s an interesting contrast going on here – on the one hand, military news management is becoming ever-more sophisticated with the use of “embedded” reporting; but here is an example of “letting go” of complete control over the message and allowing a series of conversations to take place

What’s also fascinating is how sophisticated – and maybe even cynical – Bebo users are about this kind of exercise. It’s definitely not being taken at face value, which is a clear illustration of how this kind of social media is far from a “free lunch” as far as marketers are concerned.

And I also think there’s a lesson for the organisations of the future here. Very often internal communications follow the same marketing-led pattern of a message being handed down from on high, as the management “speaks unto the little people”. The pattern that’s emerging in examples like this is one where the next generation entering the workforce in 5 or so years will used to looking at communication in a complete different way – they’re being trained to use their sincerity and reality filters to a very high standard.

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