Marine Corps Brig Gen Jim Glynn at the 7th Nat’l. Summit on Strategic Communications

Enabling effective human communication in a hyper-connected world is one of the real challenges that we face.

My career as a U.S. Marine has been largely operationally focused; it has been in plans or the operational sector or in the leadership role of a commanding officer. My experience has been that our most effective leaders have been folks who knew and appreciated the art of communication. Communication and leadership are inextricably linked, and today’s hyper-connected world has just accentuated that.

The foundation of communication, and certainly our communications from a military perspective, is trust. Our most effective leaders recognize trust as a core competency, not just personally but institutionally for the organization.

Leaders also recognize that language is a key to relevance. We have to consider the manner in which audiences communicate today. That’s important to being “hyper-connected” with audiences.

We have endeavored to make communication the personality of our most senior leadership.

In our case the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Neller, our CEO, has been in place for just over six months. He has been travelling the world, first and foremost, to communicate face-to-face with marines from Iraq to the Philippines and everywhere in-between.

Now, in one instance, there was a young marine who was unable to attend a town hall engagement attended by several thousand in 29 Palms, California. When General Neller put out via Twitter that it was exciting for him to be there and how he really enjoy the energy and the engagement of the marines, a young lance corporal chimed in and said, “Sir, sorry I wasn’t able to be there.” General Neller came back and asked him, “Were you just sorry you couldn’t be there, or did you have a question?”

The marine actually had a question, and the commandant responded directly to him. What came out of went viral in our own circles: The fact that the CEO would communicate directly with someone at one of the lowest levels; and that he would not only communicate but enable a conversation. This engagement garnered quite a bit of attention and generated a massive increase in the Twitter following of our commandant, particularly among young marines.

You can go home tonight, follow @GeneralRobertNeller and you can be part of the conversation too.

Social media and communication in general is a key component to every operation and every mission of the U.S. Marines. In today’s hyper-connected, world there are many audiences, and the one most significant to us is internal. We have 225,000 marines both active duty and reserve, as well as our civilian workforce deployed around the world

The average age of our digital and social media engagement team is 23. What’s important is not just their age but how much we, I, trust them. In the short time I’ve been in this role, we have had somewhere in excess of 2,000 official posts across all of our digital and social media platforms. I’ve only come to work the next morning twice where I was saying, “Hey, what were we thinking on that one?”

But the point is, if you’re in major league baseball and you only strike out twice with 2,000 at bats, then you’re making more than anybody else in major league baseball. And yet, we’ve got 23-year-old men and women that are doing this for us every day without fail.

One example of their work is from Exercise Cold Response which took place in Norway. In the video on social media, you don’t actually see many American Marines, but you see our equipment and you see some things you’ve probably never seen before—like tanks sliding across ice. It caught on in the social media, and it gave us an idea of the global reach we were achieving.

In social media, gaining attention through video like this that is uniquely yours is what gets people to come back and revisit your digital properties. In this case, we didn’t know we were going to capture imagery like that; we didn’t set out to skid tanks across the ice, but ultimately we realized that pretty interesting!” So we decided to share it in social media, and off it went.

The reason why this is significant to me is about appreciating our audience. Eighty percent of the Marine Corps is under the age of 30. It’s a young man’s and young woman’s game; they let folks like me continue to play because I guess we’re decent teammates.

I jokingly tell them, “I’m a social media immigrant and you are social media natives.” Their first action when they leave work is to open up the smartphone, take a quick scan of what’s there, and then cycle through the social media apps. This is how they communicate. I haven’t come across one marine who had less than four social media apps on their phone.

These young men and women recognize how to communicate with their peers, and they appreciate what gets attention. They build the engaging content.

That has been highly effective for us. If we can get people’s attention online, then we can draw them back instantaneously with good content.

The hyper-connected world helps build engagement, and we hope our communication leads to respect and trust and a more intimate conversation.

Social media for us right now has allowed us to reach about 9.2 million people weekly across a variety of platforms. We’re currently up on seven platforms each and every day. While those enable our reach, social media is a means for us to communicate, not the means. We still seek to communicate face-to-face, knee-to-knee.

With this hyper-connected world and social media, we’ve come to appreciate the expectation of communication. In a texting, social media world, the expectation is that you have something to say and you’re going to share it with me. That leads to transparency, which is the second piece of the equation; the absence of communicating in an age of transparency begins to engender the opposite of trust.

In days of old, “No comment” was perhaps an acceptable answer to a question you weren’t prepared for. Today, we find that we’re in a race to establish the first truth and to begin the conversation based on a narrative and the established facts that we know. Another piece of the equation is the participation enabled by social media; the idea that I don’t have to just sit here and listen, I can also actively take part in that conversation.

What we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how it’s being done is going to be instantaneously communicated, not just in what we do but in what we say. So how we attempt to achieve that synergy is by consciously making a connection between our actions and our messages; aligning our intended messages with our actions or in some cases take actions to reinforce the message that we want to send.

The last thing I alluded to was the role of multiple audiences. In our case we also have to speak to foreign audiences where we’re deployed; as well as communicating with civilian leadership at the Department of Defense, and across the river with our congressional leadership and the White House. In order for the trust, in order for the relationship to build, our best spokespersons are those folks that we have out there.

What you have hopefully heard from us in the past, things like honor, courage and commitment as our core values; or “The Few, the Proud the Marines” is one of our brandings. In an overseas environment, we like to be known as “No better friend, no worse enemy.”

I hope this give you an idea of how we at the U.S. Marines take our brand and meld that into everything that we do. We turn it into personal interaction enabled by the hyper-connected world, which also helps build the face-to-face communication, and then the respect and the trust that we hope leads to not just an expanding reach but a more intimate conversation and continued success.

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