Telling Army's Story On Social Media
by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicholas Brown-Bell
February 1, 2022
The U.S. Army Social Media Playbook states ... “Social media is a powerful tool we use to communicate on a daily basis to tell the Army's story. It offers an opportunity to inform, influence and engage your audience with content that communicates the values of your organization.”
The Army consistently uses social media platforms to further promote its mission, operations, and the diversity of its soldiers and civilians. One application, though, that has caused the most uproar within the U.S. government and its agencies is TikTok. In December 2019, fearing the Chinese-created application could be used as a cyberattack tool against the U.S., the Department of Defense banned the use of TikTok on any government device for any government purpose.
This policy does not mean that service members and federal civilian employees cannot use TikTok as a private citizen, even in uniform, as long as they are respectful and promote the qualities for which the Army stands.
“There are numerous initiatives, to include ‘This is my Squad’ and ‘People First’ that highlight the changing culture of the Army. TikTok is a large platform with a huge population of DoD personnel. Soldiers are asking questions, looking for guidance and networking using TikTok and other social media platforms daily,” 1st Sgt. Joseph Starcher, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 4th Cavalry Multi-Functional Training Brigade, said.
November 19, 2021 - First Sgt. Joseph Starcher's office hosts much more than the standard leadership tasks expected of such a position. Starcher, senior enlisted leader, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 4th Cavalry Multi-Functional Training Brigade, Fort Knox, Kentucky, utilizes his rare down-time to film educational, motivational, and hilarious videos for posting to social media application TikTok. Starcher was elected to serve as the TikTok First Sgt. by the application's users in November 2021, becoming the first to fill this role. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nicholas Brown-Bell)
“Using TikTok to humanize senior ranks allows Soldiers to interact and ask questions they may be uncomfortable asking in person. TikTok further provides an opportunity to network with people from around the world, which helps soldiers feel relaxed about posing policy questions or engaging in healthy debate with senior leaders,” he continued.
Starcher knows a lot about TikTok, and currently boasts nearly nine thousand followers and about 70 thousand “likes” on his videos. His content ranges from glimpses into his personal life to showcasing the new Army Green Service Uniform, commonly referred to as “pinks and greens,” all in a humorous manner. In this way, he invites his followers to have fun while learning about him as a person, not as a First Sergeant, and about policy changes that will affect them.
His influence just got a whole lot bigger, too. In November, Starcher competed against three other Army First Sergeants, serving in all three components, to become the “1st Sgt. of TikTok.” After a week of heated voting, Starcher earned the title.
“Last year, the large military TikTok community decided to establish a "Chain of Command,” Starcher explained. “I am honored to have been selected over my fellow competitors because they are all great leaders and mentors. Each of us highlight the approachability that must be inherent in our noncommissioned officers, especially as we are entrusted with positions of increasing responsibility.”
Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, commanding general, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, mirrored this sentiment in October at the annual Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C. “We do know that most of Generation Z lives in the virtual space; they live online, they live with social media. As you look at Facebook, it’s a great platform. But Generation Z’s not there.”
Vereen, according to recent statistics, is absolutely correct. Popular digital marketing strategy firm Hubspot reports that TikTok has over a billion monthly active users worldwide, with 48 percent of Americans aged 18-29 reporting daily use of the application.
Starcher sees this as a huge opportunity to talk frankly to current Soldiers without the pressure of being “First Sergeant.” On TikTok, he can be a funny Soldier who loves what he does, genuinely enjoys talking to and learning from Soldiers, regardless of rank, and educating those in uniform and those considering joining the military.
“As a leader, learning new ways to connect and interact with your Soldiers is important. Platforms and apps change, but the ability to adapt is important and should be stressed to leaders across the formation. You have no idea who you might reach.”
Service members must, of course, remain educated about their service policies regarding online conduct. Violations of social media policy are punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and can carry significant consequences. Starcher works closely with public affairs personnel to ensure his published content falls in line with current DoD guidelines.
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