The annual Army-Navy football game is set to kick off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., following a two-week pregame show on social media sites -- including the Facebook pages of the two service chiefs.
Both services view their game-promoting social media as a soft way to get out messages about their missions and to focus national public attention on soldiers and sailors.
Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno and Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert have been posting on Facebook to stoke the friendly but fierce rivalry between the Army's U.S Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
The two service chiefs also are using their Facebook pages to involve the public at large in the traditional bet on the game, inviting fans to vote on what the losing chief must do from the following choices:
Service chief takes a photo with the winning live mascot
Wear jersey of other service and pose with winning pep squad
Wear jersey of other service and pose with winning cadets/midshipmen.
On Tuesday, the Army launched a trivia contest about the annual football face-off, which was first played 1890, with no games in the late 1890s or during World War I. The contest includes questions on why the game was not played in 1917 or 1918 and who the first president was to attend, and to forecast the winner of the 2011 contest.
The two services also have enlisted their Twitter feeds in the pregame buildup and plan to Tweet throughout the four quarters -- the Army using its main Twitter feed , and the Navy on its feed. Game Tweets on the Navy Twitter feed include a link to YouTube videos produced by commands and ships, such as this video from the USS Nimitz.
Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, the Navy's director of emerging media, said game-focused social media have multiple audiences and operate on several levels. On an internal level, they serve as platforms for "good natured ribbing" between the two services and "help stoke pride," he said.
The Navy's Facebook posts and Tweets about the game also highlight the military's roles and missions, Servello said, adding that traffic and public response to the pregame push on social media has "been very good."
The Army also views its use of social media surrounding the game as a way to get its "top line" message across to a wide audience, according to a presentation provided to Nextgov by Patricia Downs, deputy director of the Army's online and social media division.
According to Downs' analysis, using social media before and during the game helps the service promote key messages that the Army meets the needs of the country during a time of fiscal constraints, is a force of "decisive action, ready today, prepared for tomorrow," and its soldiers are the strength of the nation.
Staff Sgt. Dale Sweetnam, a non-commissioned officer in charge of the Army's online and social media division, said the public will be drawn to both services' social media sites as result of the game. "Once they make their way to our sites, it is our hope that they will stick around and read a little more about what these two great service branches are all about," he said.
High-level messages are important, said Servello, a 1999 graduate of the Naval Academy. But, he added, so is who wins this Saturday's game, and he (naturally) predicted the 10th win in a row for Navy.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated Patricia Downs' title. She is deputy director of the Army's online and social media division.