Phase 0 Social Media Operations

General Charles F. Wald, USAF, Ret and former Deputy Commander, US European Command presented a clear and insightful description of Phase Zero of a military campaign in a 2006 Joint Force Quarterly article titled “The Phase Zero Campaign.”  He said:

“The traditional four phases of a military campaign identified in joint publications are deter/engage, seize initiative, decisive operations, and transition. Phase Zero encompasses all activities prior to the beginning of Phase I—that is, everything that can be done to prevent conflicts from developing in the first place. Executed properly, Phase Zero consists of shaping operations that are continuous and adaptive.”  (JFQ / issue 43, 4th quarter 2006)

Dr. Barton Brown, one of the founding Members of the Board of the Information Professionals Association, recently brought the concept of Phase Zero up date by describing the critical role that social media is starting to play now and will play in the future.  He also indicates some of the legal and policy  challenges posed by the use of social media technology in the military.   He described this in a talk he gave at the Keyboard Warriors Conference that was held in March at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia  (  The talk was titled “Phase 0 Social Media Operations” and was part of the session titled “Social Media at War: Operational Experiences”.  You can hear his talk at and download the slides for the talk at

Dr. Brown refers to Phase Zero as a peace plan instead of a war plan.  He says:

“Phase Zero shaping operations where are there are no main force conflict activities in process really provide us the greatest opportunity space for social media and if we operate in that space using social media it then sets up for success ideally by not moving to Phase 1, Phase 2 and so forth. But if we have to it postures us for success in other operations.

The US Military’s use of social media has had a lot of back and forth arguments about permissions and authorities that, if not completely short circuited efforts in a lot of cases, slowed us down and have hindered us.  And these are arguments about can vs may because we have these really great technical capabilities and we have some really sharp people both on the government side, the uniform wearing side and the private sector who can do a whole lot of things in the social media space. But the question is what may they do, what permissions do they need, what authorities do they have to get in order to go out and execute certain types of operations. … Despite all the complications and challenges we’ve had with trying to get our feet up under us with social media, there has been a continuous demand signal from commanders in the field and legislators who want to know why we aren’t doing better. … Every Geographic Combatant Command now leverages social media to support Phase 0 operations (Theater Campaign Plan).

All of our Geographic Combatant Commands spend a lot of time, a lot effort and a lot of energy developing war plans, practicing war plans, exercising war plans and hoping we never have to execute war plans.  If we would only spend as much time and detailed day to day to day energy fighting our peace plan as we do our war plan I think things would probably move along a bit smoother and social media, I think, gives us a critical tool to be able to do that.”

If we only spent as much time day to day fighting our peace plan as we do our war plan I think things would probably move along a bit smoother and social media gives us a very critical tool to be able to do that.”

He closes his talk with the following important points:

  • Social media is most effective during Phase 0 operations because of the time required for analysis and effective employment
  • Successful social media engagement with foreign audiences requires a level of cultural intimacy, volume, and tempo that the US cannot possibly achieve alone
    • Our compulsion to “control” is a death sentence for relations with otherwise willing private sector supporters
    • We are most successful when we orient others and let them work
    • Credit isn’t important … results are
    • Continued funding requires assessment / demonstration of value added