Social media and the U.S. Air Force (part 1)

The U.S. Air Force has approximately 280 Facebook pages, 50 YouTube channels, 115 Twitter feeds, 30 Flickr pages, and 12 blogs.  You may be thinking, “Wow! I never expected that.”  You also may be wondering why so many?  After all it’s just one organization, right?

U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

Wrong.  The USAF has bases all over the world.  And bases typically host several units all of which do different things, and every one of theses bases and units communicates with different audiences. For instance, Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio has a base Facebook page, which is followed by current and former base employees, family members of employees and members of the community.

The base medical unit decided to create its own Facebook page to interact with a more targeted audience.  The base also hosts a headquarters that oversees about 10 USAF bases, including WPAFB, and that headquarters has a Facebook page to reach their audience.  We’re not done.  The base also hosts an Air Force Reserve flying unit.  It of course has a Facebook page, too, to reach its workers, community members and USAF reservists, aka military part-timers. Confused yet?

At this point, you may be thinking there has to be a better way.  Perhaps there is.  Regardless, the advantage of allowing 280 Facebook pages is tailored engagement with audiences who opt-in.

And there’s no larger audience than that which follows the main USAF social platforms.  For starters, the USAF on Facebook has more than 503,000 Likes.  Air Force Blue Tube has more than 5,500 subscribers and has logged more than 2,390,000 upload views.  And @USAirforce has more than 25,000 followers.  As an Air Force Public Affairs guy who has managed base-level social media, I wanted to know more about what’s it like to manage “big” Air Force social platforms.  Here’s part 1 of my chat with Capt. Chris Sukach and Tanya Montgomery.

1. Did you immediately see the potential of social media for the AF or did it take a while?

Chris Sukach

Chris: I think any PR professional who’s participated via Twitter recognizes the immediacy of the medium and understands how it could be a valuable communication tool, especially in a crisis.  I think we also understand the importance of being part of a community (or communities) and tools like Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube provide avenues for listening to and sharing with those communities.

Tanya: I joined the USAF social media team a little over a year ago, which was long after the Air Force Public Affairs Agency started using social media. As the leader of the social media team, I naturally believe in the potential of social media for the Air Force, and any organization, for that matter. What’s not to love about direct access to stakeholders?

2. Why is it important for the AF to embrace social media?

Chris: First I think it’s important that we understand the basics of social media.  It’s a tool in our communication tool kit, but like many tools one has to understand its purpose in order to use it effectively.  A saw can be used to pound in a nail, but a hammer might be a better choice for the job.  The same is true of our communication tools.  The key is in defining the communication effect we wish to achieve so we can choose the proper tool(s) for the task.

Tanya: The AF has embraced social media for two main reasons. First, it’s important to dissolve the notion that the AF is a faceless monolith. It’s comprised of many different people and activities. Each person has a unique, important experience to share about his or her time with the AF, and they can tell the stories better than any public affairs pro. Overall, we want to connect with the public to show them that we’re people too and that there’s more to us than just powerful aircraft.

Second, it’s important for us to share the Air Force story before someone else, such as the enemy, tells it for us. We want people to see us as the trusted source for all things Air Force.

Tanya Montgomery

3. When you arrived at your former job handling AF social media, how did you advance it?

Chris: Our social media team worked with our counterparts across the Dept. of Defense to help create the framework for what became Directive-Type Memorandum 09-026, which established guidance for social media usage across the services.

Tanya: The first thing I did was create some order and processes. I don’t like micro-managing things, but to a certain extent, processes need to be in place, even for something as organic as social media. It’s important for team members to know their responsibilities, and for the first time since social media started with the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, we’ve had more than just a couple of people. I’m the only civilian employee on the social media team, so knowledge management is a priority in a sea of blue.

I also wanted to avoid a “sophomore slump,” so we needed to think strategically. A social media program that has been around awhile needs to be somewhat sophisticated. One thing I started was tracking measurement and doing analysis. It’s extra work, but it really helps us make decisions. Now I know which of our activities work and don’t work, which obviously means that we can spend more time creating effective posts. We also know our audience a bit more, so we can do a better job of giving them what they crave.

4. Where do you see the AF’s use of SM going?

Chris: I think that all depends on where social media goes.  I think most would agree that the social media tools we’re currently using aren’t yet finished evolving, so our usage of them should remain flexible enough to incorporate changes as they occur.

Tanya: In the future, I think AF organizations will fully embrace social media for the right reasons. As they gain more experience and learn more about social media, they will see that it’s not about pushing information; it’s all about the user and building connections.


Don’t miss part 2 of my chat with Chris and Tanya tomorrow as they dish more on Air Force social media and which Muppet would make the best social media manager.  In the meantime, check out this highly detailed Air Force Social Media Guide, which explains how and why the service uses social media.  It’s a great template for any large organization that engages heavily online.


One thought on “Social media and the U.S. Air Force (part 1)

  1. Pingback: Social media and the U.S. Air Force (part 2) « Public Relations and the people behind it

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