Courtesy, U.S. ArmyWhat image comes to mind when you think of a Soldier? Did you know that not all ‘soldiers’ are Soldiers? Many people and organizations refer to Soldiers (Army), Sailors (Navy), Airmen (Air Force), and Marines (take a wild guess) as ‘soldiers’, even though each service has its own unique history, vernacular, and way of handling crises around the world. Be ready to have an interesting conversation with an Airman or Marine you call ‘soldier’ at the O-Club on Friday night…and you’d better have your challenge coin with you.

Each service spends a lot of money recruiting promising young men and women and telling the world about what they do and how they do it. Trade shows are attended, news articles written, Super Bowl commercials aired, base tours given, and other means employed to help the community remember the not-so-subtle differences between our sister services. These are expensive and somewhat effective ways of telling taxpayers how exactly their military preserves their freedom and that of our allies. As marketing budgets dwindle at the dawn of sequestration, some rely upon the cost-effective power of social media to share their stories with the public, Congress, the media, and others interested in learning more about these brave men and women. Marketing-well, branding specifically, also helps differentiate between the services’ identities through logos, lingo, photos and videos from perspectives unique to each branch. When is the last time you saw a Soldier flying an A-10, or a Sailor driving a Humvee? Or an Airman without an air-conditioned tent or room service? Nothing is impossible, but those scenarios are highly improbable! Funny visuals, though.

Every brand has a story, just like every person has a tale to tell…some more interesting than others. Flickr presents an opportunity to share yours with your customers, and more importantly, give them a chance to be a part of it. Flickr is particularly strong at telling stories visually.1 Compelling photos representative of your company’s identity help viewers relate to your brand in the same way that attractive, famous people sharing the same frame as the latest Corvette (or even coffee maker, for that matter) help sell products. Viewers want to be as “cool” as the people in the photo; buying what [we perceive] they’re using daily moves them one step closer to “coolness”. Some of you may be too young to remember “Top Gun”, which was about Tom Cruise, who played a naval aviator (vs. “pilot”), attending the Navy’s prestigious TOP GUN pilot training school. He shot down bad guys, tackled some personal demons, and got the girl (Kelly McGillis).

Being a fighter pilot (oops-“naval aviator”) never looked so cool. It still does. Quite a few people felt the same-so much so that they rushed to apply to the naval aviation officer candidate program afterwards. 2

Flickr isn’t so much a marketing platform as it is a complement to them-underscoring posts, tweets, and other messages by pointing users towards incredible photos of people and equipment helping, defending (and, yes, attacking) other people or equipment. As a mobile app, it allows people to take more engaging photos with their smartphones because they can get closer to the action, or more intimate, “real world” shots of the subject. Viewers’ comments about the photo add to their credibility; when an Airman reminisces on how incredible it was to see an AC-130 gunship in action over Afghanistan, these positive sentiments transfer to the brand, encouraging others to respond with their own (very) short stories. It also “soft” sells people on a wide range of subjects-from ideologies (ex: democracy is good), pieces of equipment (ex: the AC-130 gunship), or branch of service (ex: the Air Force) without being too pushy. Someone viewing the photos may or may not notice the uniform, service logos, combat patches, or other subtle branding elements that tell the world that they belong to a particular unit and are proud of it.

Although Vine videos and YouTube segments can be riveting-engaging viewers with motion and audio, don’t underestimate the power of a well-framed photo. As humans, it’s in our nature to communicate visually. Images process quickly and people are drawn to them. 3 They are becoming even more popular as smartphone app designers integrate more and more creative editing and sharing features into their photography software. I, for one, am drawn more to a creatively-lit black-and-white image than a six-second, hastily-edited Vine video any day of the week. Then again, I remember when Polaroids were the coolest thing ever. Now I’m starting to feel old.

1. Bhasin, K. (2011). How to Use Flickr to Improve Your Small Business. Open Forum. Retrieved from https://www.openforum.com/articles/how-to-use-flickr-to-improve-your-small-business/
2. Evje, M. (1986). ‘Top Gun’ Boosting Service Sign-Ups. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://articles.latimes.com/1986-07-05/entertainment/ca-20403_1_top-gun
3. Stelzner, M. (2014). Visual Social Media: How Images Improve Your Social Media Marketing. Social Media Examiner. Retrieved from http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/visual-social-media-with-donna-moritz/



  1. Great post! I’m a huge fan of Flickr but my main reason for using it initially was to share hi-resolution photos. Ever since it has gone through it re-design it has formed much more into a social network for sharing photos instead of a photo repository. It was interesting hearing about how the military uses it. I think people often forget that there is a lot of marketing behind our military and it was cool that you shed some light on it. I also loved that you referenced Top Gun, it is one of my favorite movies!

  2. Thanks, AJ! When some people think of the military’s marketing machine, old-school images of the cigar-chomping PR man typing up press releases on his Selectric dance in their heads. However, they’ve embraced the power of social media, with some trepidation, admittedly, but with good reason. They’ve certainly borrowed best practices from private industry’s PR/marketing playbook, especially those that are cost-effective and allow them to converse with their troops and the public. Talk to me, Goose!

  3. I agree with AJ. A lot of people forget that there is a lot of marketing for military. People don’t think about it as much because they know it is there. Most of the time you have one if not more people in your family who have taken the military route and they look at it as not only serving their country but a great career choice as well. I love reading these blogs because everyone has a different spin on them! Thank you for your post!

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