The importance of online communications has been understood by a handful of Romanian institutions who use it every day to reach, interact and develop an open and meaningful interaction with Romanian citizens. DigitalDiplomacy.ro aims to meet these institutions and showcase their courage, vision and strategy. Today we introduce the Romanian Defense Ministry which developed in a few years a strong and highly appreciated presence in the local social media market.
I would like to thank Colonel Cristina Iacobut, Head of the Internal Communication division for her openness and support in facilitating this interview.
Why did you decide to communicate online? How did you reach this decision?
The Romanian Defense Ministry created official social media accounts in August 2012 as a response to the growing need of communication towards the wider public and the massive online presence in Romania.
The interest of the public towards our online activity grew step by step as it can be easily observed and this empowers us to continue our work in this project. We are all connected online and we are getting our news faster than ever. In a short time frame, the Ministry’s online pages grew in visibility – but this has been supported by tests and analysis of our team to track progress and assess next steps.
The decision to communicate online came naturally given the arguments we based it on: low costs, increased efficiency and the existence of a young audience to which we would like to communicate the importance of a military career.
This online activity determined the correct and opportune information of the wider public and of the military and civilian personnel from the Army about the military evolution, the role and mission of the Army and also about promoting institutional values and the military career. Also, we wanted to interact with people, to get their feedback and to offer answers to questions in a sincere and open manner. The basis for all of this is our objective to offer accurate and timely information.
Did you struggle with any difficulties? If yes, could you please tell us a bit about these and also about how you managed them?
Difficulties are inherent to any new beginning. Each development stage had its own share of complications. I like to call these challenges.
We started with creating the ministry’s social media presence and adapting our message to the specifics of these channels. The second stage was about creating accounts for each of the main education institutions and also for the three main categories of armed forces. Then we integrated these into an efficient network in which each page could generate specific content which could then be promoted to specific target audiences, using a specific language.
The most important thing was that we accepted this challenge. They say that the biggest failure is not having tried at all. The Ministry’s communication team is a young team which aimed to prove itself from the very beginning. The success of this project was based on team spirit, on the exchange of ideas, on creativity and an immense enthusiasm. This helped us overcome difficulties.
How does the online activity complement the Ministry’s overall communication strategy?
The Defense Ministry refreshes its communication strategy every 4 years, based on the evolution of the society. The communication through social networks is the basis of this strategy and represents a complementary action, which supports the communication through events and with the community. Also, social networks ensure that information reaches channels and audiences not easily reached using classical communication channels. Basically, considering the same objectives and the same messages but using a custom made language for the online environment, we contribute to the fast and coherent promotion of our ideas, information and messages, thus contributing to reaching the communication objectives we set ourselves.
Ever since the launch of our Facebook page we tried to create events together with the local community and to bring the army in the midst of the civilian society so that they can get to know us better and share with us some common values such as patriotism, respect for our profession and towards our peers. We started to share our successes and the audience began to understand better what is the role of the military in a civil society.
Is there support for online communication from the leadership of the institution? How important is this support for your activity?
We can honestly say that we benefit from full support! The social media communication represents an important part of the Defense Ministry’s communication process. And this is actively supported by the leadership of the ministry and by the leaders of the Army. The Defense Minister and the Joint Chiefs of Staff have official Facebook pages which are incredibly active and which allow them to interact with their friends and fans. Apart from their public statements related to their activity or that of their institution, they are using social media to develop and contribute to conversations, answer people’s questions and, most importantly, receive their feedback.
What do you think are the advantages of communicating through social networks for your institution?
The advantages are many!
Firstly – the expansion of our messages using these new communication channels and also – the access it grants us to a different category of audience. The Army is a fundamental state institution, whose mission and activities need to be known to the citizens.
We have constantly searched for ways to inform the audience and to communicate our most important activities. And we wanted to do this in most open way possible, in real time and with minimum costs. So, as we found out, there is the possibility of communicating using a low cost but increased efficiency, in the same time working closely with the more traditional media products of the Defense Ministry.
Secondly – using social networks we tried to get past some of the more traditional communication tools focused more on information and less to none of interaction with the audience. Also, we focused on communicating directly with our audience, without any intermediaries or other distortions. The online environment gives us access to a younger audience who is interested in military discussions, events, operations, exercises or other types of activities.
We shouldn’t forget that social media is now a potential source of information for the mainstream media – information posted on social networks get picked up frequently by media trusts and broadcasted in prime time intervals on the main TV stations.
Not lastly, our social media networks are accessible to all and address a wide variety of audiences but also military personnel and their families and also former military now in reserve.
What social media networks do you use for communication and why?
The Defence Ministry created official accounts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, thus responding to the information needs of their audience. The reasons for this decision have been firstly linked to the development of these networks in Romania and also about to the audience that these networks gather, an audience that is also relevant for the ministry.
Your Facebook page is one of the most active and well administered institutional pages in Romania. How do you decide the kind of information to be posted on Facebook, do you have a strategy in place for this or is it based on the ministry’s activities and related events?
Thank you for your appreciation! We are military by profession and, as we do with everything else related to our job, we maintain the rigour and discipline in everything we do. This is where all stems from..
Starting from our communication objectives and taking into account the feedback we receive from our audience, analyzing the Facebook statistics and also through internal analysis we came up with a communication strategy which consists of different indicators: activity fields (themes and topics), types of content (text, photo, audio-video), frequency of posts (hours, days of the week).
We of course focus on information sent in real time and so we developed a network of receiving and sending out information to ensure these posts are done according to our plans. We constantly plan our activity and organize public events to celebrate our online presence.
Considering the fact that Romania marks 10 years of NATO integration in 2014, have you planned activities which also include a social media component?
Social media played a very active part in the public information campaign around the NATO celebration.
The social networks played an important role in the promotion of ROMANIA-NATO 10 YEARS event, complementing all the other channels used by the Ministry.
We created a Facebook event ahead of the celebration which took place on April 6 and we posted daily, spanning over 3 weeks, information about the event, audio-video content from the main NATO joint missions (both before the accession and after joining NATO).
We also created an anniversary stage in which we talked about the significance of this event and we continued to upload photos from the event.
The main Facebook pages of our military structures contributed to a reaching a wider online community and promoted the activities and missions of our military across all forces.
On Twitter we promoted all our celebration activities as well as online materials posted on other social media sites.
On YouTube we uploaded audio-video materials created by the specialists of the Army’s Media channel and thus we brought back our audience’s attention older footage from the last 10 years since Romania joined NATO.
Do you have a team dedicated to communicating online? If yes and you can share this information, how many members do you have working in this team?
The attributions of the online communication have been taken over by a micro-structure from within the Direction for Information and Public Relations, which has as its main objective internal communication. We don’t have a dedicated team for social media, but we are a young, dynamic and creative team which does its work daily with enthusiasm, ensuring around the clock activity in social media, including during the weekend.
The fact that an internal communication team took over these responsibilities is not at all surprising because one of our objectives is to create a link between our military fighting in operations across the borders and their families at home. It is an objective with carries great emotional and morale weight and one which mobilizes us in a special way.
For instance, during the winter season we were present online 24/7, communicating with our colleagues in operation theaters around the world. We wanted to make their holidays as happy as possible so we recorded and posted video messages from their families, thus trying to make our colleagues feel closer to home.
And because you asked me before if we have a communication strategy in place, I should tell you that, ever since we started our Facebook page, we tried to not limit ourselves to just posting information about our activities, but to build and develop a constant interaction with our audience.
Another example I can talk about to explain how we did this – in 2013, around June 1st (The International Children’s Day) we went into the schools were the children of our colleagues study and, together with the Principal, we initiated Operation “I am proud of my parents”. In this project the children were invited to write a story in this topic. One extraordinary outcome of all this was that a lot of beautiful stories were written, and not only by the children of the military men and women.
With the same occasion, we surprised the children involved in the project and we took them to visit a military base. They had the chance to fire air riffles, to draw, to use the transmissions equipment and to witness demonstrative exercises by our military colleagues. We also created a special moment in which, using videoconferencing, they were able to see and talk to their parents in Afghanistan. It was a unique moment. We hope to repeat this project this year as well, but more will come soon. Watch our Facebook page for more details.
In your online activity, do you have an institutional model to follow (from Romanian or abroad)?
2 years after we started doing this work, we can honestly say that our online presence has its own identity.
But we must admit that before opening these pages we studied and analyzed other online pages. As Facebook has its roots in the United States, we logically looked in that direction for guidance and inspiration – the online presence of the American Armed Forces and other important institutions. Also, we benefited from the know-how of our colleagues who were stationed at the time in the US for training or those in difference operations or NATO commandments around the world, close to the teams who managed their online activities.
So we did use these pages as inspiration but our attempt to resemble to type of information that these pages promoted (i.e. US Army or NATO) were unsuccessful because of various reasons: significant differences in culture, understand and awareness about the role of the Army and its missions.
So we needed to adapt, experiment, analyze the content and the type of channel and message so that we improve the user experience.
Progress was based, I think, on the level of interaction with our fans, the feedback received, likes, shares and the number of views our posts received.
We are now in a stage of developing our social pages and we are proud to say that these have their own identity and brand. And this has been possible because of the dedication and passion of each of our team members.
Even though we think our pages may be a model for other institutional online communication, we are convinced there is always room for improvement in a such dynamic market.
In 2013 we had the opportunity to participate in a e-administration training organized by the Romanian Government, with a focus on including social networks in the institutional communication. We were pleased that the trainers and the participants already knew about our social presence and that they were interested in the way in which we managed to implement and develop them.
What are your objectives going forward for using social networks?
As we were saying, there are many more things to be done. As a next step we aim to create pages on Instagram, Flickr, Tumblr, Vine, Google+ and to create an institutional blog which would incorporate topics of interest for our audience, presented by specialists, military leaders, war veterans but also personalities of the civil society and opinion leaders.
Through this way of communication we will offer the public expert advice and will propose to the media a new way of presenting military topics, away from the current debates which lack expert capacity.
Also, we aim to focus more on bloggers who post about military topics. Also starting from the American model, we aim to invite our leaders to join activities such as „bloggers roundtable” – events for the online media, where bloggers and online journalists can engage in a dialogue with the military leaders.
We will also continue to be a constant presence in the public eyes by organizing events such as „I am proud of my parents”, „Be the hero from the story”, „Army Day in schools”, „December 1st – The pride to be a Romanian”, etc.
We are currently organizing together with the Education Ministry a project called „The Army – A different school” through which military institutions from all armed forces across the country will present military technique, practical activities and the educational military offer to over 36,0000 students from over 600 educational units.
Social Media CV
Romanian Defense Ministry
Defense Ministry Social Media Team:
- Colonel Cristina Iacobuț-Head of the Internal Communication section / Information and Public Relations Direction
- Major Alin Preda
- Lieutenant Dorin Chirca
- Civil Servant Mirela Dumitru
- Civil Servant Cristina Nițulescu