Tuesday, January 15, 2008

PSYOP & The Internet

Internet users number over a billion and by one estimate stand at 1,262,032,697 at the end of 2007 (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm) yet Internet based PSYOP remains mostly a back burner effort.

Today’s posting will address best practices for Internet marketing.

Websites are like puppies. They have to be feed, cared for and cleaned up after. People are driven to websites by content. Relevant, exciting and changing content are the hallmarks of active websites.

Graphics and effective ‘real estate’ utilization are the heart of good websites. There needs to be an inviting marriage of form and substance. Good content has to also look good. Internet users are notoriously fickle and have pronounced attention deficits. In the face of burgeoning sources of information visits are generally short. Users crave more and more information. Many knowledgeable Internet users employ Really Simple Syndication or RSS feeds to automatically channel new information to their desktops. Sophisticated users can employ web crawlers to systematically search the Internet for material.

Since the Internet is global, language can be a factor. While English is the most popular language with 30% of users, Chinese is in second place with 14.7% and Arabic number 8 with 3.7%. (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm).

From an organizational standpoint the demands of the Web require a dedicated staff of content producers and technicians. Also in the mix are resources to perform editing, graphic design and other tasks that are neither content nor technical. The content management function needs to be rich enough to be able to insure that messages remain consistent in each of the supported languages and in tune with the overall messaging and strategy. Editorial and translation personnel have to be grounded in the practicalities of their languages so that there are no unwanted nuances. If the site is encouraging communications either via e-mail or with an interactive Blog, then staff has to be dedicated to these functions as well. Web efforts must be orchestrated with other media to reinforce each other and to increase both frequency of message reception and reach to extended audiences.

When web based efforts are sponsored by the government additional elements need to be attended to as well. This includes superb CND and constant monitoring for other sites seeking to leverage off the legitimate one or adversaries who wish to either alter the message on the legitimate site or divert access from the legitimate site to their own.

When considering Internet PSYOP there are a number of considerations beyond actual programs and products. Organization and echelon are a key concern. Internet operations in this context would require a high level presence; at the very least this effort would have to be nested in a three star command or higher. The web based organization would ideally be a part of a larger information provider and would have access to technical support of the highest caliber.

There is also the matter of the legal climate. PSYOP and Public Diplomacy are restricted with respect to operations aimed at US citizens. While it could be argued that websites are passive in nature, it is also possible, if not likely, that sites would be visited by citizens of many countries, the US included. Consequently it would be necessary to insure the legality of any projected activities. One possible approach is country specific whereby the website would be hosted in a ‘host’ country where that country has given its permission for this activity. This implies tailoring of the site to a specific country which might make a great deal of sense in certain situations.

An alternative is to work with commercial providers or NGOs that have congruent goals and could act as a legitimate outsource.

In any event, it’s clear that Internet messaging is a critical part of any global information campaign and that the Internet is one of the key mediums to be employed.

Reader thoughts are invited.

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