Building community through social media

Depending on which study you look at, the average American spends four to six hours a day online. At least, this is what the data said prior to COVID-19. Now working from home, individuals may spend even longer. While social distancing, many of us depend on virtual connections for a sense of community.

How do you stay connected to your local military installation?

This was a topic addressed at the recent virtual Defense Information School Digital Media forum.

The yearly forum brings together communication strategists from across the Department of Defense, academia and civilian sectors to share ideas, best practices, insights and strategies for how to advance military units, commands and leadership in an age of unprecedented human connectivity in the digital space.

The virtual event was held Aug. 19 through Friday and featured 24 speakers, who represented 13 categories of discussion that included public affairs, social media and public policy.

DINFOS Commandant Col. John Hutcheson opened the forum, and he explained that there was a positive to cancelling the traditional onsite event. 

“The benefit is we (were able to) open this up to a much wider audience,” said Hutcheson. “In fact, more than 1,500 people have registered.”

Hutcheson said the interest in the training was welcomed.

“We are living in an era of unprecedented digital connectivity, information overload and information disorder,” he said. “Cutting through the noise in this complex information environment is essential.”

 While the speakers covered a range of topics, at the heart of the discussion was how we engage with audiences online.

Col. Paul Haverstick, the acting director of the Defense Media Activity, explained the timeliness in his remarks.

“(During) COVID-19 the secretary of defense and our military leaders are constantly engaging both internal and external audiences to give them accurate information of what we are doing, why we are doing it and where we are going,” he said. “In crisis communication, how do we engage quickly with audiences?”

For myself, the question was timely from a personal and professional perspective.

Can you think back to early March? As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, did you watch the news and social media feeds? What was your instinct? Did you reach out to friends and family through digital platforms? How have relationships grown?

As a public affairs professional, COVID-19 certainly brought digital communications to a forefront. Engaging with the audience is however, something we think about every day.

Working behind the scenes of the communications in every organization is a team of creatives — including writers, photographers and graphic artists. DINFOS trains DOD communicators the importance of research, planning, implementation and evaluation. However, the social media forum reminded me of one critical thing that cannot be trained; that is, the appreciation of our stories.

Stories are what make us who we are. In fact, one speaker went so as far to say stories are in our DNA, they are how we understand the world.

Franklin Parrish, the senior director, brand, marketing and creative services at Kaiser Permanente said, “The human brain is biologically hardwired to use storytelling to process and internalize critical information and to bond with other humans.”

I wonder what are the important stories that connect us.

As a member of Army Family, I think the most important stories lie in the values that unite us. We are bonded by a calling that asks of each one of us loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. That calling, that connection that unites us, is incredibly important to acknowledge and honor.

With that in mind, remember you are part of the Army story. Whether it is reading the digital Pentagram or watching an Army Band performance on social media, you are part our community.

It is an honor to share the Army story with you.

The joint base public affairs office invites you to connect with us at our website at, on Facebook and Twitter @jbmhh and on the Digital Garrison app available free in Apple and Google Play stores.

As always, if you have any questions, reach out to the public affairs office at





By Emily Mihalik

JBM-HH Public Affairs Office