Don't Fire & Forget: Issue Management at Its Best

Case Study 5 min
See how CMSAF Bass used thoughtful planning and a comment strategy to get in front of a charged topic and guide the conversation.

The order requiring all federal employees to opt-in to the payroll deferment had already taken effect, and it was well on its way to becoming a hot topic. Questions were turning into worry and that can allow misinformation to take hold, CMSAF Bass, along with other military leaders, recognized that this was going to be a divisive issue that would need to be properly communicated.

Because the topic was so charged, a plan was set in place to manage the comments before the post was made, rather than just "fire and forget".

Before the post was made, CMSAF Bass consulted with her Public Affairs advisor to create a comment strategy. That comment strategy (how to answer, what points to make) was in place so incorrect information wasn't left to float around. Additional coordination with Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs and Air Force Manpower, Personnel and Services was done to ensure factual information was provided within the comments of the original post.

The statement made on Facebook:

Facebook post, CMC Bass, Sept 7, 2020
Teammates - Iโ€™ve been getting a lot of messages about the Social Security Payroll Tax Deferral, set to go into effect for the September mid-month pay. Unfortunately, neither military members nor civilian employees are eligible to opt-out of the deferral. If your monthly basic pay is less than $8,666.66, Defense Finance and Accounting Service - DFAS will temporarily defer the 6.2% Social Security Tax withholding. ๐—•๐—Ÿ: ๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ฒ๐˜…๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—บ๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜† ๐˜„๐—ฒ ๐˜„๐—ถ๐—น๐—น ๐—ด๐—ฒ๐˜ ๐—ผ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜…๐˜ ๐—ณ๐—ฒ๐˜„ ๐—บ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜๐—ต๐˜€, ๐˜„๐—ถ๐—น๐—น ๐—ฏ๐—ฒ ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ฑ ๐—ฏ๐—ฎ๐—ฐ๐—ธ ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜…๐˜ ๐˜†๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ. Leaders โ€” make sure your Airmen and families are tracking to prevent financial strain in the future. For the families that need additional financial help... our Airman & Family Readiness Centers and Military OneSource stand ready to assist. For more info on the Social Security Payroll Tax Deferral visit: https://go.usa.gov/xGWrm
Photo by: DINFOS PAVILION Team
VIRIN: 201207-D-PA656-0001

The post was initially well-received. Users began asking questions relevant to their unique situations and Bass was quick to respond. There were negative comments and a lot of backlash from people who felt there should have been more notice, and who didn't understand the logic behind the decision. However, because CMSAF Bass was already publicly commenting and people were responding positively, there wasn't any fallout or backlash for being the first to make a public statement about the policy. Follow along with the timelines of events below.

Don't Fire and Forget

Navigate the timeline by selecting points of information.

Aug 8, 2020
An Executive Order is Issued

The president issues an order directing the Treasury to defer the collection of payroll taxes. There is no follow up information.

1/7

Article with heading "Memorandum on Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster"

Aug 9, 2020
Confusion is Immediate

Within 24 hours, military members and families started using social media to ask questions specific to their situation. No response from leadership left a gap in the information environment.

2/7

Facebook comments:

  • A concern from those deployed to combat zones and not currently being taxed due to duty location, we'll have to pay back something not fully utilized. This could unduly penalize deployed members.
  • Anyone know how this will work for service members who will retire in January? Can they just pay a lump sum to the IRS to get everything settled? Or plan for it to be taken back come tax time?

Aug 25, 2020
CMSAF Bass Reaches Out to Airmen

CMSAF Bass makes a decision to take the lead and take ownership of this section of the information environment. Bass develops a plan to make a social media post about the EO, and stay active by answering questions in the comments.

3/7
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass wearing an earloop face mask.

Aug 29, 2020
Bass Posts to Facebook

CMSAF Bass posts information and resources to Facebook and begins responding to the unique scenarios and questions posted.

4/7

Teammates - Iโ€™ve been getting a lot of messages about the Social Security Payroll Tax Deferral, set to go into effect for the September mid-month pay.

Unfortunately, neither military members nor civilian employees are eligible to opt-out of the deferral. If your monthly basic pay is less than $8,666.66, Defense Finance and Accounting Service - DFAS will temporarily defer the 6.2% Social Security Tax withholding.

๐—•๐—Ÿ: ๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ฒ๐˜…๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ฎ ๐—บ๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜† ๐˜„๐—ฒ ๐˜„๐—ถ๐—น๐—น ๐—ด๐—ฒ๐˜ ๐—ผ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜…๐˜ ๐—ณ๐—ฒ๐˜„ ๐—บ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜๐—ต๐˜€, ๐˜„๐—ถ๐—น๐—น ๐—ฏ๐—ฒ ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ฑ ๐—ฏ๐—ฎ๐—ฐ๐—ธ ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜…๐˜ ๐˜†๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—ฟ.

Leaders โ€” make sure your Airmen and families are tracking to prevent financial strain in the future. For the families that need additional financial help... our Airman & Family Readiness Centers and Military OneSource stand ready to assist.

For more info on the Social Security Payroll Tax Deferral visit: https://go.usa.gov/xGWrm

Aug 29, 2020
Immediately Questions and Comments Begin

CMSAF Bass' audience begins asking questions and giving thanks right away. She and her team are ready to go with responses.

5/7

A Facebook user posts "so if you deploy to a tax free zone in January are you off the hook for paying it back?". CMSAF JoAnne S Bass replies "Even if you are deployed to a Combat Zone, you still pay Social Secuity tax..."

Sep 7, 2020
Post Gains Media Attention

With active conversations happening and people tagging other people in, the post was highlighted and shared by mainstream media.

6/7
An article with the heading "Military leaders say troops, civilian staff should plan for payroll tax deferral."

Sep 7, 2020
Social Media Post Self-Moderates

Within just a few days, the post has attracted advocates who are helping other users with resources originally shared by CMSAF Bass.

7/7

A collection of Facebook comments:

  • This is what I was talking about
  • Welp...once again...I need say no more
  • This is the thread I mentioned
  • I wish I had the option

The post and the commenting strategy allowed concerned employees to ask questions, voice concerns, and find answers. The number of comments elevated the post to inform an audience beyond CMSAF Bass' regular reach. As the original post and comments became more active, mainstream media picked up the thread and helped disseminate information. This allowed the overall sentiment of the post to remain positive and supportive.

Lessons Learned

Be proactive on social media but do so with planning. If necessary, consult with a social media expert to establish a comment strategy. Before you post, consider the three paths the post may go down: ideal, likely, worst. Think about the questions that might be asked and how you'll respond. Review your comment strategy, especially when dealing with a challenging topic, to vector the conversation toward the ideal or likely direction.

Just like in the original post, act in a positive and transparent manner to own your section of the information environment and gain trust with your audience so they keep coming back to you for information.

Specific to this post, don't start a sentence with "unfortunately." Doing so gave some media outlets the opportunity to attempt political spin.

This serves as a great lesson for PA pros. One word can mean the difference between a positive news story and a hatchet job.

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