Best in Show: Armed Forces on Social Media

It was only a few years ago that the U.S. Marine Corps banned social media sites from its network, including Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook, citing high risk for malicious actors and content. 

The ban was reversed less than a year later--in time to welcome the new Department of Defense social media hub for its military branches.  Today, the U.S. Marine Corps maintains a Facebook page with the most Fans of any military branch, as shown by data from OhMyGov.

Overall, the U.S. Military maintains some of the most active and engaging social media accounts in the federal government, as reflected by OhMyGov Analytics, and perhaps all of corporate America, according to business and technology consultant, Shel Holtz

A post by the Content Marketing Institute cites the U.S. Military as one of the best examples of how active participation in social media leads to high performance and productivity rates.  According to a report by the analyst firm Altimeter Group, "Advanced" companies make the most effort to weave social media into their business structures and processes.  Interestingly, the report also found that 76% of social media crises may have been diminished or averted, perhaps by better internal education, moderation, or clearer employee policy.  These findings show the importance of investing in a strong, centralized social media structure, much like the U.S. Military has with their centralized hub. 

Facebook popularity is fairly straightforward. But which branch of the military maintains the strongest following on Twitter?  The competition is fierce, but using total data from the past three months, the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps battle it out for first--depending on the metric.     

Total Twitter Follower growth from the past three months grew steadily for all five branches, with the U.S. Marine Corps increasing slightly more rapidly at approximately 25% growth rate.  The U.S. Army remains in first place, however, with total Followers at over 130,000, despite the second lowest growth rate of only 17%. 


The retweet per outgoing tweet ratio analyzes how many times, on average, a tweet gets retweeted. The retweet may come from followers of the Twitter account, or from those outside the follower network. Retweets can be accompanied by personal commentary, and can reflect an either positive or negative sentiment regarding the original post. 

A higher retweet per tweet ratio may be an indication of higher engagement between Twitter followers and a particular agency, and can indicate the organization is disseminating content worth sharing, or at least commenting on.

The drawback to analyzing the data in this way is that often times retweets come from those performing a Twitter keyword or hashtag search, and not from the followers of a particular account. So while the tweet/RT ratio can be an indication of engagement with the target audience - the account's followers - it is also an indication of interest in the materials being posted to Twitter by those inside and outside the account's network of followers. Either way the goal of every communication shop is to communicate information worth reading and sharing. Retweets are a way to measure the effectiveness of achieving that goal.


With respect to the retweet/tweet ratio, the U.S. Marine Corps can count on about 10 retweets per every tweet they send out, followed closely by the U.S. Army at just over 9. A popular tweet from February 4 by the Marines about the Armed Forces Boxing Championship was retweeted over 50 times:


While the Marines may have the Boxing Championship and overall Facebook popularity, the U.S. Army takes first in the ratio of retweets per follower.  This metric analyzes how many followers, on average, can be expected to retweet a message. 

This measure is different from retweets per outgoing tweet by normalizing the data according for the network size and accounting for the number of followers. For instance, an agency with a low number of followers could have more actively engaged followers than an agency with a higher number of followers, which may become apparent using this particular metric.

To the contrary, often times retweets don't come from followers at all, but instead from those searching for information on Twitter by keyword or hashtag. As such, the ratio is not a perfect way to account for follower engagement, but it is one way.


Military Branch RT/Follower
U.S. Army 1:10
U.S. Navy 1:15
U.S. Marine Corps 1:15
U.S. Air Force 1:23
U.S. Coast Guard 1:30

The lower the ratio, the more engaged the followers.  One in ten followers of the U.S. Army, on average, will retweet a post from the organization, while the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are tied at one in 15 followers.  

This is significant for the U.S. Army, as they also have the highest number of Twitter followers to begin with, which could potentially dilute their retweet per follower ratio. Instead, their 134,000 Twitter followers bests the second place Marine Corps (at 98,000) by over 30,000, while still maintaining a higher retweet per follower ratio. 

In last place, the U.S. Coast Guard can expect a retweet from every one in 30 Twitter followers, but also has less than half the following of the Army at about 48,000 followers. 

Follow me on twitter for more insights into social media and @ohmygov for government performance on social media.


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