MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va.A -- — For the roomful of grizzled sergeants major in suits, the slides of Facebook metrics and Twitter case studies were a stark indicator that the Marine Corps has changed since they first stood on the yellow footprintsthis was not the Marine Corps they had grown up in.
Dozens of senior enlisted leaders attended bsorbed a brief on social media over a buffet lunch at the annual Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps symposium last week. The topic's inclusion in the symposium, which typically features briefs on subjects like future missions and professional military education, underscored how much the Marine Corps has changed since 2009, when it briefly banned social media use on its networks.
The message of the hour-long brief was straightforward: Marines communicate on social media. Their senior leaders can either join the conversation or be left out of it.
"They call us dinosaurs," chuckled Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green, who introduced the lecture and concluded it. "But the alligator's still around. The rhino's still around."
Green, who became the Marines' top enlisted leader in February, told Marine Corps Times he included the brief in the symposium's schedule in acknowledgement of the Corps' mammoth Mmillennial population, to which four out of five Marines belong.
"Eighty-five percent of the Marine Corps is enlisted, and [the majority are] sergeants and below," Green said. "You take a look at that, and we have to learn to communicate in the same forums that they're in."
The enlisted leaders heard business case studies about corporations that who had failed to acknowledge the impact of social media until too late. One vignette recounted an infamous Domino's Pizza incident in which executives were caught unaware when a video of two employees adding disgusting ingredients to a pie went viral on YouTube.
"Replace the word 'lance corporal' or 'lieutenant'" in the response of Domino’s spokesman Tim McIntyre, a spokesman for Domino's said at the time that the company "to the incident, the lecturer, Sgt. Lisette Leyva, who gave the lecture, said the suggested. "We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea."
Sgt. Lisette Leyva, who presented the lecture during the symposium, said Marine Corps officials could be forced to make a similar statement that included the word "lance corporal" or "lieutenant."
Leyva, who leads the Marine Corps' digital engagement team, was also frank about the Corps' own failings when it came to embracing social media the medium. She recounted then 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit's a 2011 deployment of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit that would stretched for a near-record 11 months. When the MEU's commanding officer of the unit declined to create a unit Facebook page to keep family members informed, several Marine spouses set up their own page, which quickly became a platform for insulting and complaining about unit leadersMEU officials.
"All because the CO decided not to have the conversation himself," Leyva said.
She also described successful ways the service has used social media to connect with Marines. In 2014, the media engagement team convinced then-Commandant a social media breakthrough moment for the Marine Corps in 2014 when Marines with the digital engagement team persuaded the commandant at the time, Gen. James Amos to do a live Q-and-A session on Facebook. The first aviator to serve as commandant, Amos was asked almost immediately why he didn't have a CAR — a combat action ribbon. But instead of getting technical or taking offense, Amos dashed off a pithy answer about the 1972 Volkswagen convertible that he had purchased as a young officer.
And jJudging from the Facebook metrics, Leyva said Marines loved the response, Leyva said.
"He was real; he was himself," she said. "He had a good sense of humor and he was able to show that."
Some senior enlisted leaders who attended the brief said they still felt troubled by the lack of control officials had on content once it was posted online, citing examples of Marine Corps videos that had been remixed or overdubbed to create parodies.
"What irritates me is you use it as a professional tool to educate the young Marines and the reality is anyone outside the institution can manipulate that specific message you’re trying to put out there," said Master Gunnery Sgt. ergeant Steven Rhoads, in the combat camera section of the Marine Corps Office of Communication. "I don’t think you can fix that, but that’s the biggest problem I’ve seen."
Rhoads acknowledged, however, that the Marine Corps needs had to use social media to communicate effectively with its population.
"The biggest thing I took out of the brief is the amount of people that are really utilizing this," he said. "When you talk about millions and billions of people, that's a great communication tool."
Sgt. Maj. Richard Thresher, with from 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing out of Cherry Point, North Carolina, said he remembered when Marine Corps units were equipped with just one desktop computer for all the troops to share, and "you had to turn it on 30 minutes ahead of time."
While some of the more senior Marines are reluctant to learn about social media, Thresher said he's seeing a slow but growing acceptance of websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram— especially as they try to connect with their troops. The biggest barrier to effectively using social media in the Marine Corps was the "old guys," Thresher said, who weren't comfortable with the new media and weren't motivated to learn how to use it. But, he said, there was a slow but growing acceptance of social media as a way to communicate with troops, especially as senior leaders realized how many Marines they could reach with a message on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
"The reality is if we don't get on board, the people we don't want on board are going to drive the train," he said. "To get the message out, we have to use it."