West Point shows military precision in its social media approach

West Point has its own YouTube channel.

Dean Tsouvalas, editor-in-chief of StudentAdvisor.com, interviewed Major Olivia Nunn, public affairs executive officer and social media chief at West Point – The United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.  West Point was ranked No. 9 on the Top 100 Social Media Colleges rankings released in fall 2011.

Founded in 1802, The United States Military Academy at West Point has gained a reputation for being one of the toughest educational institutions when it comes to admissions. And why shouldn’t its officials be selective?  They are responsible for training America’s top military officers.

Affectionately known as “The Long Gray Line,” West Point’s alumni include two presidents, three foreign heads of state, 18 astronauts, and a slew of notable generals including Robert E. Lee, Douglas MacArthur, Norman Schwarzkopf, and David Petraeus. It comes as no surprise that the history department has adopted as its unofficial motto: “Much of the history we teach was made by people we taught.”

DT: How large is your social media team?

MN: Our team here at West Point is a team inside the public affairs office. My team is five people. I have four personnel who work for me in the social media team; we are responsible for not only social media on different platforms, but also how we present ourselves on the internet, specifically our website.

DT: Which department at West Point oversees your social media community?

MN: That’s us. Within the public affairs office, or PAO, I am the executive officer. We oversee social media for West Point because under the Department of the Army, one of the duties and responsibilities of a public affairs officer is to ensure that the information that you share with your readers and audiences is accurate, factual, truthful, and timely. And you are sharing your message that conveys what your leadership wants to convey.

DT: How many departments are engaged in social media for the academy?

MN: That’s a hard question to answer. Every academic office, and we have 13 academic departments, has a Facebook fan page to share with their specific audience about the things that they’re doing.

We also have other departments outside of academics. My job here in the Public Affairs Office is to ensure that we monitor their pages. We work with each of these agencies to ensure that their Facebook pages represent the information that the superintendent wants to share.

DT: Some of my favorite YouTube channels are from West Point. Can you tell me a little bit about them? What your involvements have been?

MN: On YouTube, the West Point Channel was started by a soldier of mine, Sergeant Alexandria Corneiro. She came up with the idea of wanting to provide a means of communicating with our audiences and giving what we say is an “Insider’s Look” to West Point. She created the channel on YouTube and created the show called The Point. You could see an evolution of our show if you go and click on  The Point from the first episode to the most current episode.

DT: How is social media making a difference at West Point?  What aspects of social media and tools do you think are very effective for your community?

MN: I think social media, and I think for any community particularly here at West Point, is a very effective tool. It’s a tool we do leverage to be able to communicate to our local community as well as our extended community, which wants to know about West Point. They are connected to us because they were once here, they are a graduate, or they are a donor or they are parents of a current cadet.

We use Facebook to show them what West Point is all about and we try to show a unique aspect of West Point every day. We try to post at least three times a day with something that’s really interesting about West Point.

We also utilize our Facebook and social media platforms to be able to provide information in emergency situations. This past year we had a little earthquake – the one that hit the D.C. area and we felt the residual here at West Point. We didn’t have any damage or injuries, but we felt it and we put that out immediately. We captured a photo and sent it out.

We also felt the aftershock here. The immediate feedback we got, especially from parents, was excitement because they’re not here with their kids.  They didn’t have to call their kid and wonder where they are because they’re busy in class. We provided the information, “Hey, your kid is just fine.”

During Hurricane Irene, some portions of West Point got a lot of water. We were able to provide that information to our community and relayed information about road conditions. Again, the parents were able to check in and make sure kids were fine.

DT: What channels are you using to get the message out three times a day to tell people more about West Point?

MN: We are heavily focused on Facebook and Twitter. Our Twitter account is tied to our Facebook. We also utilize YouTube and Flickr. Anytime one of our photographers takes photographs, we load them onto Flickr and caption them. We’re very successful with photos.

Many times people do not necessarily want to get the information from Facebook, but they’re interested in a photo. You know “Where’s Waldo?”  We say, “Where’s Your Cadet?” A lot of times parents are perusing through photos hoping to catch a glimpse of their own child.  Those are predominantly platforms on which we focus our attention.

Because of limited personnel to focus on social media in our offices, we need to make sure we’re focusing on the platforms that communicate with a broad audience.

DT: What kind of social media policy or guidelines do you have in place for your students and your staff?

MN: We utilize the Department of Defense and the Department of Army social media policies. We are constantly keeping tabs on what’s coming in terms of new policies that we need to pay attention to. We also need to pay attention to training, the recommended training, or the required training. We get that information by staying closely tied to the Department of Army, to our counterpart in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs at the Pentagon. I have a counterpart there that I talk with and her team shares information.

With that, we have created a social media standard operating procedure, an SOP, here at West Point that was approved by my boss, Lt. Colonel Sherri Reed who is the director of public affairs for communications at West Point. It’s readily available. We give those to departments when they ask for them.

For each new or existing department’s social media, Sergeant Christopher Camacho works with them one on one as that is his area of expertise. It’s his job to ensure they follow the policies that are currently in effect.

DT: What about the students? I know you must at times deal with critical information that you cannot have a student tweeting out or a photo. How does that work?

MN: Cadets, like any military personnel, fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There’s some training that goes into making sure they understand that there is a conduct about themselves not only when they’re in uniform, but out of uniform.

We utilize a chain of command here at the Academy just like any other Army institution.

DT: Do you teach a course on social media or are you asked to go and speak to various classes for that?

MN: There is a course taught that every senior is required to take. It’s called “MX400 – Professional Military Development.”  Inside that course, there is one lesson that addresses information operations. When they get to that block of instruction I am asked to be a guest speaker to talk as a subject matter expert.

Even if I’m not the one giving the class there is course material that is provided to them.

DT: When you are recruiting students, do you know if admissions spends any time looking at their social media presences?

MN: I cannot talk specifically for admissions. They are on our website, they have a link and they provide a lot of information for anyone who is interested in coming to the academy. How to start your packet. What does it take to get your packet together.

We offer a lot of information on our official Facebook fan page. We leverage social media to point you back into the direction where you can find that information.

DT: How would you define social media success at West Point?

MN: I guess for us, success is telling the West Point story and part of telling the West Point story is, “How does a cadet that has a 47-month experience here at West Point graduate as a commissioned leader of character?” In order to do that we have to inform our audience. So we don’t necessarily get bogged down with numbers or metrics.

What we do look at is when we do share something, “What did that do for us?”  “What kind of information or feedback did we get from our fans?”

DT: Is there anything you would like to add?

MN: There is a lot of ongoing conversation in our office. I think that’s what’s been very successful for us, because we have this open-ended dialog every day. Not only does that do us good in terms of what we represent ourselves on Facebook, but it’s a great conversation for constantly growing and developing within our team.

For the full StudentAdvisor.com interview with Major Olivia Nunn, click here.

About Major Olivia Nunn

Major Olivia Nunn was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Chemical in 2001 from Radford University. Nunn has served in several positions in the Army which include; Chemical Reconnaissance Platoon Leader, Battalion Chemical Officer, Convoy Commander, 4th Infantry Division’s Chemical Training Officer, Assistant S3 Operations Officer, Brigade Training Officer, Brigade Unit Status Readiness Officer, Brigade Liaison Officer, Troop Commander of Head Quarters and Head Quarters Troop, 1st Brigade Combat Team and is currently serving as a Public Affairs Officer at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

About StudentAdvisor.com

StudentAdvisor.com is the home of the Top 100 Social Media Colleges rankings. All of their information, guides and tools are free to the public.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.