Social Media: Mapping the Challenges

iStock_000015964385_ExtraSmallBy Splash Media U Contest Finalist, Kristen Smith of KLSmith Photography

It’s happened so many times, they start to blend. That undercurrent of anxiety, of not belonging and not knowing where to go that comes with being in a new place. Social media and its influence have quickly become an integral part of our everyday existence. Intertwined with our personal and professional lives, touching both casual and close relationships, the ability to connect with people all over the world defines our identity in an ever-evolving way. For the military spouse, it has the ability to both relieve and exacerbate that feeling of anxiety brought on by every new move.

On the surface, social media feels like the perfect solution for the geographically dispersed military community. Families and friends spread throughout the country or world are only as far away as a click of the mouse or IPhone application. There is more to communication than just access, but social media often strips it to the basics. When my husband comes home with those sometimes dreaded, sometimes longed for words (“so, I heard from Branch…..”) my first destination is usually Facebook.

In the course of our almost 10 year military journey we have made wonderful friends who have since moved to a wide variety of places in true military fashion. They make up a tremendous resource when it comes to researching a possible new duty station.

Within the last month, I did exactly that. I sent a Facebook message to a friend who is currently stationed at our possible next location and asked for input on my biggest concerns: a good neighborhood (and the value of on versus off post), a preschool/childcare for my four year old, a barn for my horse and a running club for me. She posted my requested as a status update and within just a few hours I had a solid list of possibilities based on personal recommendations.

There is immense power in the ability to reach out and gather that information- a counter weight to the inherent anxiety of uprooting our lives and reestablishing in a new place.

As powerful as social media is with regards to gathering information, there is growing evidence that relying on technology based communication can have detrimental effects. When the bulk of our interaction becomes linked with social media, there is a shift in the relationship dynamic.

On a daily basis, I see photos and status updates from my Army spouse friends. Going through a deployment, dealing the challenges of reintegration, struggling with career choices, and fighting the everyday battles of parenting- I can express support and sympathy with the click of my mouse and some key board tapping.  But are we really connected and functioning as a support system when our interaction happens primarily on social media?

The argument could be made the quality of our relationships suffers when we rely on technology for our interactions. In addition, our social media presence plays a decisive role in our professional lives. Is there an innate conflict in having to guard our professional identities on the same platform that is a cornerstone of our social support? 

The power of social media is undeniable. It allows military spouses unprecedented access to geographically dispersed family, friends and spouses that are so much a part of this lifestyle. Platforms like LinkedIn make professional networking more accessible and highlight the military spouse’s widespread connections. Facebook has revolutionized the way we meet, stay connected and develop our support systems.

The Army recognizes the influence of social media on the military community and has issued a Social Media Handbook. The secret to reaping the benefits of social media is a thorough understanding of its capabilities and reach. Moving forward, educating military spouses about the pitfalls and opportunities of social media plays a key role in maximizing its positive impact on our community.

Is this your favorite Splash Media U Finalist piece!  Cast your vote by leaving a comment below the post.  Voting ends on March 15, 2013!

155 COMMENTS

    • Thank you Maggie…I know you have absolutely seen the communication benefits of social media with your business!

  1. Great writing and very true!

    • Thank you Jamie- the horse world has embraced social media as well. I’ve been really enjoyed the play by play of major sporting events on twitter!

  2. Kristen, well done. “But are we really connected and functioning as a support system when our interaction happens primarily on social media? ” – The answer is two-sided – on one side I’d say “no” we’re not because we as a society lack social – REAL face-to-face social interaction. People live in bubbles. FRGs aren’t working because people won’t come out of their house and get involved, etc. On the other side, I’d say that I’ve definitely increased my support system due to social media. I’ve also been able to keep up with friends that disperse geographically and are no longer with me. But, I believe that this is because I live by the rule – you’re not my friend on Facebook (now, I will make you an acquaintance) unless I’ve met you in person and I’d have lunch with you. I know that’s not everyone’s rule.

    • Tara, you are right on both counts. We all think that social media keeps us more in touch but I have seen many people shy away from the face to face contact. I think that social media is great as long as we use it as an adjunct to physical interactions not the other way around . Great comments.

      • It’d be interesting to look at the difference between extrovert and introvert social media interaction- does it play in a similar way?

        • Now that would be an interesting study Kristen

    • But the question: “Is real, face to face interaction necessary?” In the past, I would have said yes. But I have seen many people who only have friends online, and they appear to be functioning just fine.

      • I’m sure pyschologists could give you a more “official” answer, but in the sphere of military spouses I’d say that we need a degree of face to face interaction. Because we need someone to call if something goes wrong. We all know that Murphy shows up when our service member is away and it makes such a mental/emotional difference to have someone local to call when you need a hand.

    • Thank you, Tara! You are one of those who has truly harnessed the power of social media to empower and inform!

  3. Very thought-provoking. I’ve wondered about the dichotomy of relationships and social media, too – on the one hand it’s great to keep in touch with everyone, and on the other.. well, for some people tools like Facebook have become a substitute for human interaction. It’s a tricky game to balance the two.

    • It is a very hard balance, having a teenager I find myself having to remind him that while it is nice to wish someone Happy Birthday on FB, it is also even more meaningful to make a phone call.

      • The most amazing part about that is finding myself slipping into the same pattern. It’s one of my 2013 goals to make my way through my “friends list” on Facebook and send each person a hand written note or card. I realized a couple months ago there were folks that I wasn’t sure when our last non-tech interaction was!

    • Thank you Rachel- an online presence can be incredible way to cope with the challenges of military life…like so many milspouse bloggers have discovered!

  4. So true! Spouses must be aware that their presence on social media and how they act is a reflection on themselves, their family and the military; just as it is in real life. Use it to benefit yourself, but also know when, where and how to use it correctly.

    • Stephanie, Thanks for the reminder. Most of us have become so comfortable with the social media and all the benefits. However, we forget that once we put something out there, it can’t be taken back. We write messages to our friends and families and feel like it is a regular conversation but it’s not. There are so many benefits to a wise use of social media. Thanks again.

          • I worry a lot about what my kids put out there, so many kids take things to far. My kids thankfully are not super big into FB but I have given some lengthy lectures about this topic. They need to aware that what they put online now will be out there for all future employers to see as well their future children.

    • It’s not just the spouses that need to remember this… everyone in the military family needs to be cognizant of their social media presence

  5. Definitely my favorite piece!! Way to go Kristen!!!! Work it girl!! 🙂 Hugs!

    • Janet- I know that you have used social media to broaden your opportunities and to better your community, like your work with Blue Star Families.

  6. Great job Kristen. Interesting article and great points made.

    • Thank you Jenny. It’ll be interesting to see where programs like AFTB will go with the increasing dominance of social media.

  7. Kristen, you never cease to amaze me — you are one multi-talented lady!

  8. Well written article, excellent points made.

  9. Excellent article! I think we all need to not let social media replace real interactions. Thank you for the thoughts.

  10. Well written article. Great case in point in regards to your “so…heard from branch” reference, and the subsequent actions you take using social media to gather information on potential PCS destinations. Definitely relatable.

    • Dana- it gave me a chuckle today as word trickled down that we will be getting word of where we’re going next in the coming few days and my first thought was, again, “which of my facebook friends has been there?”

    • Dana, I agree, social media has the ability to assist with everything from general information to specifics of a new PCs station. Incredible resource if used wisely.

    • Dana… don’t you wish they had this when we PCS’ed to FT Lewis?

      • you might not have ended up quite so far from post 😉 Put it worked out for you in the end!

  11. Congratulations, Kristen! I enjoyed reading your essay.

  12. Love the article Kristen! This is a struggle of mine, I’ve been doing some research, I’m curious how this plays in with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how does social media effect our kids – I know adults and kids use it different. I really hope people use it to promote the face to face relationships and not replace them.

    • Especially as no Physical Needs are met by Social Media. Anecdotaly, we’ve all heard of the kids that forget to eat or use the bathroom while playing online gaming. Maybe the frequency of the screen puts them into a trance (I’m reaching!).

  13. My vote is for Kristen Smith!

  14. Thank you all! Cindy- I think the generational gap is an issue the military and military support groups are going to be dealing with moving forward. I think you have to more conscious and deliberate in as to the quality of your interaction when you’re its based in online interaction. We also have to remember to encourage spouses to develop local, in person friendships/ support systems as well…sometimes, we need in person help 🙂

  15. Agreed. You have my vote.

  16. Great job. You have my vote!

  17. thumbs up-good stuff

  18. Thank you for this! Absolutely insightful!

  19. Great job and we are super proud of you!

  20. great read as always kristen!

  21. Great post, has my vote!

  22. I think about this a lot. It is hard to get motivated to meet new people when all your friends are still available online. However, some parts of face-to-face interaction can not be replicated through technology. Like any tool, it can make our life so much better or it can really be a bad thing.

    Good luck with the contest.

    • Exactly.. a mixture of the two. Balance.

    • Kate, You are absolutely right. For the first time ever, this generation has the ability to almost never come face to face with people. I have met people that became somewhat dependent on social media. There are so many benefits to the use of social media but there has to be a balance.

    • I have struggled with this one a lot. With the ease social media keeps you connected to the “old” the question is sometimes “why? Why do I need new friends?” but I love social interaction so I jump in!

  23. Thank you, Kate. And I think that’s the challenge that support groups are going to battle. Using social media to initiate and enhance interaction, rather than being the whole interaction.

    • Unfortunately, I think many support groups are fighting a battle they are finding difficult to win. I’m not sure if it’s the inability to get people motivated or simply that social media sites make it easier to share information without that social interaction but I hope, as far as FRGs, are concerned that they find a happy medium.

  24. Kristen, great article! I couldn’t agree more with your views of the “power of Social Media”! I, like Cindy, would absolutely hate to see the day when the idea of social media replacing the personal relationships we especially, as milspouses, need to maintain a level of sanity. That said, I do feel that the benefits of social media far outweigh the current negative aspects of it. All in moderation, my friend, right? Good luck!!!!!

  25. excellent read, thank you so much for sharing and i hope my vote helps! 🙂

  26. Excellent article! “The power of social media is undeniable. It allows military spouses unprecedented access to geographically dispersed family, friends and spouses that are so much a part of this lifestyle.” I wouldn’t be able to do any outreach without it

    • Social media’s power to reach out and touch military families is so important. Especially when you think of single soldier’s whose NOK is not as plugged in as a spouse may be, or those spouses who for any of a myriad of reasons exist on the fringe of our community. The trick moving forward will utilizing social media to turn that outreach into productive, valuable relationships that can function as a support system for those families.

  27. Great article!!! When I was in Army, we did not have social media! It is much valued now!

    • It’s so easy to take the level of communication we have now for granted. Even at the beginning of the current conflict, it was so very different.

  28. Wonderful article… ” But are we really connected and functioning as a support system when our interaction happens primarily on social media? ” I ask myself the same thing all the time!!

    • Lillie- there’s no doubt that is possible to have real, meaningful relationships via social media. That ability to maintain communication with family and friends across the world is an amazing touchstone. But for military spouses, in particular, it begins to play into programs like Army Family Team Building being only offered online, etc. I think that if rely too heavily on social media and online distribution we begin to neglect the importance of forming local, in person friendships.

    • Lately, I have seen more and more groups forming on the internet that get together in person

  29. Great article! It’s amazing how prominent social media has become over the past five years!

  30. Absolutely! Great post!! 🙂

  31. Great article! It’s amazing how prominent social media has become,great article.

  32. A very well written article Kristen ! I just love watching the evolution of social media !

  33. Having volunteered and worked with military spouses for over 14 years, I believe this article has the most relevancy for me at this immediate moment. Face to Face, email, website and Social Media contacts cannot be utilized independently in a vacuum but rather have to be configured in a way to effect successful contact and reach the most military spouses that span the generations. You cannot ignore any demographic and achieve the beneficial desired outcome. Changes obviously have to be addressed and reassessed, especially with the downsizing and budget cuts. Listen to all the communication and information dissemination needs and address them but within the security constraints to protect every spouses personal identifiable information. Identity theft is not something anyone wants to deal with or have their spouses security clearance at risk because of.

    • Thank you, Wendy. There are so many aspects to the social media issue for the military community and a healthy balance between communication needs and privacy is at the core of the issue!

  34. From the perspective of a SM, it makes a difference to have a support network for my spouse.

  35. I agree it’s double edged, Kristen. For the most part, as military spouse, I believe it has social media has helped me get involved in real life.

    • Michele- I think that’s the most positive impact of social media- as a trigger to get people involved!

  36. Great article. After 30+ years of military life and working with military spouses, I think you have to have a mix of both…social media for information/connections at new places/spreading the word about important resources…AND in-person connections. We all need hugs, someone we can trust to leave our kids with or to ask for local help, someone who can see in our faces and body language how we are really feeling (something more easily hidden in online communication). Plus I don’t know what I’d do without my buddies who walk/talk/laugh with me, sit and laugh and cry through movies when we are geographically alone due to deployments, etc.

  37. Kathie- that’s exactly it. Social media can be powerful *conduit* for fostering face to face communication and relationships. They’re two sides of the same coin and I believe we need to make sure our spouses are seeing both sides!

  38. Great article Kristen! I hope you win.

  39. I can’t think of a medium that has been as prevalent a thing as fb since television. I may be wrong, but I want to make this one related comment. When given the choice between watching some of the stuff that’s on TV nowadays and checking in on my friends via social media, I have been choosing social media more and more, in order to see what’s up and to offer my encouragement, knowledge, and what have you. It is not a physical hug (and for local relationships we better be getting that quality time and physcial touch in), but it’s got to count for something. It certainly is better than nothing. But I do balance social media communication with cards and letters and phone calls. Like it’s been mentioned before: everything in moderation!

      • Star- you’re absolutely right. And folks like you and Tara have used social media to make that encouragement and knowledge widespread and available in a way that it never would be otherwise. That is the power of social media. The issue has been raised recently (by Tara among others) that a lot of the current focus in social media is on professional networking rather than personal connection. Do you feel that’s an issue?

    • Maybe this explains reality tv… A desire to interact and feel like your time isn’t wasted.

  40. Patrick A. Wente

    Social media in the military is plan gossip and slander!

    • Patrick, if you mean “plain gossip and slander”, it is unfortunate that you feel that way. Yes, it can be used to facilitate negative discourse, but that is true with any medium not just social media. I feel that your statement is an over simplification and an unfortunate generalization. Responsible use of Social Media and the military goes hand in hand. There has to be checks and balances for it to be an effective use of technology and communication to benefit the military and military spouses. We have to stay current with technological trends to remain fresh, inventive, engaging and up to date. Don’t blame the technology, blame those that are using it irresponsibly.

    • Wente… It does have positive impacts

    • There is no doubt that there is a tremendous negative aspect to social media- the number of news stories addressing online bullying is the most prominent example. Boundaries are just as important in virtual interactions as they are in person.

  41. Yes, cerainly the money and recognition (vic DC)is towards the tangibles: jobs out there matched with job seekers. The soft science of relationship and mentorship cannot get traction.

  42. Awesome article, social media rocks.

  43. I think that social media can be both blessing and curse depending on how we use it. Great questions and great conversation starter! Way to go Kristen!

      • I truly think we all feel that way. Though I use social media to keep in contact with distant relatives and friends, I find myself spending more time on the Internet than creating personal, face to face relationships with the people in my life now. It’s something I struggle with as a college student. Sometimes I have to delete the app, deactivate the account and get back to work. Then when everything’s good to go and my grades are back to shiny A’s…I reconnect…sort of 🙂 hahahahahaha

  44. Well written Kristen!! When we received our current orders my first thought was “I wonder if they have a fb page”. Social media is a blessing, but also a curse. It allows us to take out the personal phone calls, now a days even personal emails, because so many of our friends and loved ones are on fb.

    • Alanna, that is so true! My first thought if we are getting orders or even switching units etc…is if they have a Facebook page.

  45. Very well written article, Kristen! Terrific job!

    This really hit home for me simply because I find I have a love/hate relationship with social media for the very reasons you outlined…..and it has never been more apparent than since our last pcs. My entire life is/has been in the southeast…everything familiar, everything I have ever known is based there. When researching WA, social media was invaluable…great information, new friends, you name it. At the same time I find it annoying that instead of introducing myself to new neighbors who moved in three doors down, we met via a local FB group where we struck up a conversation and realized we were neighbors….why? Because it’s “easier” to sit behind a computer screen and not make a physical effort to put yourself out there. 🙁

    It’s a very fine line that I think many of us do not walk well. It’s easy to feel a part of what is going on in our “friends” lives. We’re up to date and current with whatever they are posting so we don’t feel as pushed to pick up the phone and call or invite someone to lunch just to enjoy their company and a real conversation. I think many relationships and thought processes have been redefined by the use of social media…in good and bad ways.

  46. Way to go! Totally agree!!

    • I know what you mean Dana, I have still not met any of my neighbors in person yet.

  47. Kristen, this is a brilliant article and I’m proud to know that I’m not the only person who believes that though social media can be a wonderful, quick connection, does it really keep the lining of a TRUE personal relationship with friends and family? I believe it can be a catch 22 and you explained it better than I think I could have.

    • Remember, balance is important.

    • Jessa, something a friend said to me awhile back was that we can type LOL and ROTFL over a computer or text all day long but it will NEVER replace sharing someones company and hearing an honest to God full belly laugh at something silly you have said 🙂

      Your comment about the lining of true personal relationships reminded me of that.

  48. Great points Kristen. I think since we have been in the military I have relied much more on social media than I ever did before the Army. Keeping in touch with family and friends through Facebook etc…is such a great convenience. Although, I do believe social media does not help though with my happy to sit at home attitude at times…it makes it to easy to do so. Like another person mentioned, moderation is the key.

    • Interesting …. You would think investing in social media would have to be determined by the depth wanted for a particular relationship.

  49. Great Article Kristen. Very keen observations and analysis.

  50. So many insightful points, in both the article and the comment thread. I fear my vote may be late but I am putting my two cents in regardless.
    Kristen, I agree with your article and see where social media can be an asset to personal life as well as professional. I hardly look in the yellow pages for anything any long. Not when it is so much faster to use my phone and access the internet.
    With the FRG I agree and disagree.. FRG was so much stronger when we got out of the house and bonded. In the same breath social media has opened doors for spouses who go home during deployments and family members to be more involved and supported. You really do have to take the good with the bad..
    All in all, a very enlightening and well written article!!

  51. Excellent points made here. Social Media is a two edged sword.

  52. I agree with you Judy, it is so easy to just sit and type and have everything at your finger tips rather than get out there and socialize as that is a very important part of just being human interaction with others is very important for sure. Have a awesome St. Patty’s Day everyone.

  53. […] Social media is a fairly recent concept of today’s technology. Fifteen years ago, social media couldn’t cause harm because it DIDN’T EXIST. Today, there are many ways social media can be harmful and hurtful. Most of us have heard of cyberbullying through sites like Facebook or Twitter. We also probably would agree that Instagram can sometimes be a real self-esteem deflator. Unfortunately, the negatives associated with social media don’t stop here. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc. can cause some pretty serious harm to your relationships. […]

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