Commentary | Sept. 7, 2021

Share the Coast Guard story online—new Social Media Handbook and website show you how

By Nicole Bertrand, MyCG Writer

Share the Coast Guard story online—new Social Media Handbook and website show you how 

Like. Comment. Share. Post. If this sounds like part of your daily, weekly, or monthly ritual, then you’ll want to check out the new Social Media Handbook and website. They’ve been created to help guide all Coast Guard members – active duty, reserve, Auxiliary, retirees, and families with online engagements and encourage your participation.  

Now you don’t have to search for the official policy on how to use social media. The handbook and website offer clear guidance on what are considered acceptable and unacceptable uses of social media.  

The Coast Guard has a story to tell—the missions and rescues that save lives, the people that comprise the service, the core values that are noble guiding principles. You can be instrumental in sharing that story, with your personal stories and unique insights.  

“Every member of the Coast Guard has an opportunity to be an ambassador for the service,” said Jon LaDue, chief, Digital Media Division. “We want members to feel comfortable in sharing their story, which is why we want to reemphasize the capacities for responsible social media use.” 

As an influential and visible communications asset, social media is a high priority throughout the Coast Guard. With more than 300 official social media accounts, the Coast Guard has hundreds of thousands of followers and 80% of the fan base is external. Coast Guard missions, people, activities, and policies have proven to be extremely interesting, and large numbers of people discuss service topics online every day. 

Unofficial vs. Personal Use 

As a social media user, if you are not operating in an official capacity related to your official duties, you will operate in one of two other capacities—unofficial or personal.  

“Unofficial” refers to when you are speaking as a Coast Guard member or about Coast Guard operations or issues, but the communications are not initiated by the Coast Guard or reviewed through any official Coast Guard process and do not involve content approved or released by a responsible Coast Guard authority. “Personal” refers to content posted where you are not speaking as a Coast Guard member and the Coast Guard is not the subject.  

One key reason the service is interested in your active participation is because it is impossible for the Coast Guard’s professional communicators and social media managers to monitor every engagement or conversation. You can help ensure that correct information is disseminated across the many social media channels the Coast Guard utilizes, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr, podcasts, and blogs.   

It requires a team effort to make sure that what is said on social media about the service is accurate and in line with the Coast Guard brand. A strong brand can translate into heightened public understanding and support, increased funding and resources, and improved recruitment and retention.  

Free speech and the First Amendment  

The handbook discusses First Amendment and freedom of speech, responsibility and disciplinary action, political discourse, and monetization of social media accounts. As stated in the handbook, “like private citizens, Coast Guard members have a right to free speech under the First Amendment. Unlike private citizens, however, Coast Guard military members are subject to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and applicable Coast Guard and/or Department of Homeland Security regulations and policies at all times, even when off duty. This includes Coast Guard reserve members who are serving on active duty and/or whose affiliation to the Coast Guard can be discerned.”  

Guidelines for personal accounts are included in the handbook, as well. There are occasions when disclaimers are required when using your personal account. 

When it comes to earning money, credit, gifts, or publicity through social media, members must avoid using their Coast Guard affiliation for private gain, without authorization.  

There are limits on political activities for all Coast Guard personnel, including civilians. Your servicing legal office can provide detailed information. 

The Social Media Handbook espouses five tips for engagement. They are: 

  • Be respectful. Treat others with dignity, fairness, and compassion. 
  • Stay in your lane. Stick to what you know, whether you are speaking in an official, unofficial, or personal capacity. Speak about what you are authorized to, and if it is a personal opinion, clearly specify that. 
  • Understand online privacy. Recognize that, truly, nothing posted online is private, no matter what the settings might be. Keep that in the forefront of your mind.  
  • Avoid trolls. Trolls are users who create discord online or on social media by posting upsetting, inflammatory or off-topic posts, messages, GIFs, and memes. Resist the urge to debate, correct or stop these engagements. Trolls thrive on contention and continuing the debate. They will rarely let anyone else get the last word. 
  • Be an ambassador. You have the opportunity to share the Coast Guard story and share how rewarding and interesting it is to work for the service. Personal perspectives, stories, and photos go a long way in informing the public about the great things that the Coast Guard does.   

“Keeping in mind guidelines set forth in the Social Media Handbook will help maximize the experience of social media,” said LaDue. “A good rule of thumb stated in the handbook is, ‘if you wouldn’t say it in front of your grandmother or commanding officer, you shouldn’t post it online.’” 

For commanding officers interested in establishing social media accounts, view the handbook and make a request through your local public affairs office.