In reading RAND’s 2007 report, “Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation,” I was surprised to see such an emphasis on blogging in the suggestion to “harness the power of influencers.” I agree with the authors that using word-of-mouth approaches to shaping efforts would be beneficial and that it is important to cultivate relationships with influential people in the local community/target audience. It is also crucial to avoid over-manipulating the message, which reduces credibility. In addition, use of the internet should be a part of strategic communication, along with more traditional mediums. However, I disagree with some of the specifics outlined in this section of the paper:
- The report explains that important influencers in a community can include academics, researchers, celebrities, authors, and tribal, religious, and civic leaders—people who enjoy a large amount of respect and visibility. Yet it is suggested that some of the most important influencers are “indigenous government employees and security forces” who can be asked to write blogs. However, these people may not be the most influential in all situations, especially if they are not considered trustworthy or credible to begin with (i.e. government officials in Afghanistan). If a credible person is not delivering the message, the message itself will not be seen as credible.
- RAND proposes that these influencers be asked to blog about their views on coalition forces and the local government. Blogging may not be the most effective form of strategic communication: we have discussed in class how it is often more useful to operate within already popular channels of communication. Of course blogging does offer many advantages, including opportunity for ordinary people to express their opinions (relatively) anonymously. But unless blogging already plays a role in public discourse, it is quite possible that this initiative would fail. The medium must be seen as credible and the public must also have access to it. Depending on the situation, it may be better to use radio, print, or television to reach a wider audience. (Earlier in the paper, RAND does acknowledge that internet penetration must be evaluated prior to starting such an initiative.)
- Providing wi-fi-capable laptops and sponsoring wi-fi clouds to increase internet access is a nice idea, however I am not convinced that this is the most strategically worthwhile method of communication. While reading this in the “Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations,” I thought it sounded like the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative… and in going back to the actual section, I see that this RAND suggestion was directly influenced by OLPC. This is a problem in that the authors do not explain that any technology initiative must be accompanied with adequate training in order to be effective—one criticism of OLPC.
(Granted, I only read the excerpts assigned for class, plus the section where harnessing the power of influencers was discussed more in depth. So please point out if I am missing something here!)