Don't Fight It: Air Force's Lessons on Making Social Media Work for You


A recent Forrester Research study may have many companies wondering whether they should bother with corporate blogs. But whether or not you decide to maintain a blog presence, rest assured that many of your customers will blog (or Twitter or write a snippy update on Facebook) about you. And ignoring those kinds of communications is a bad idea.

Yet there are few clear rules on how to respond to being flamed unfairly online. Overreacting or reacting inappropriately can just make a company look worse. That's why I was so taken with a blog assessment tool used by the U.S. Air Force, shared in a post on the Global Nerdy blog.

It provides clear guidelines on dealing with online comments posted by folks the Air Force categorizes as "trolls," "ragers," "misguided" and "unhappy customers." Its advice: Simply monitor the trolls (dedicated to bashing and degrading others) and ragers (rants, raves, jokes or satire), although go ahead and put Air Force senior management on alert. Commenting on such items can earn you scorn, as IT Business Edge blogger Rob Enderle learned the hard way when he took seriously a joke posted by Fake Steve Jobs. The choices for misguided posts and unhappy customers include fixing the facts by posting accurate information on comment boards and acting to solve customers' problems.

The all-around excellent tips for any online communication:

  • Disclose your Air Force connection. (Not doing so can reflect poorly on your organization, as corporate types making edits to Wikipedia entries discovered in 2007. And it may get you in legal trouble, as did anonymous posts written by a Cisco employee on the Patent Troll Tracker blog. )
  • Clearly cite sources by including hyperlinks, video images or other references.
  • Don't rush your response; take the time to make it a good one.
  • Keep your tone civil.
  • Focus on the highest-profile blogs and those most likely to be read by your intended audience.

Turns out the Air Force has been highly proactive in its use of Web 2.0 communications tools, as evidenced by this post on Web Ink Now. Its 16-person Emerging Technology team ensures the Force has a presence on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Second Life and more. Plenty of other government agencies are experimenting with Web 2.0 tools as well, as I wrote last year. And many folks are predicting a more tech-centric government under President-elect Obama, based on his stated desire to appoint the nation's first chief technology officer and a nine-page federal technology plan he offered during his campaign.