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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.