Recently, I took a look at the U.S. Air Force's policy toward responding to web postings. The document has been floating around for a while and has been widely cited by online reputation management consultants. I mainly agree with the assessment with a few exceptions.
The "Air Force Web Posting Response Assessment" is a public domain document/infographic from the Air Force Public Affairs Agency that offers general guidance on how Air Force personnel should respond to web content posted about USAF.
In general, it's a useful tool that provides excellent guidelines which many companies should consider following.
When you come across a positive web posting, the guidelines are quite simple. If it is factual and well-cited (even if the USAF doesn't agree with it), then the guidance is to either let it stand (no response), concur with the post or provide a positive review.
When a posting is negative or unbalanced, things get a little stickier. According to USAF, there are four types of folks who post negatively.
• Trolls -- a site dedicated to bashing or degrading others. USAF says to only monitor such sites and notify headquarters (I will come back to this nuance.)
• Rager -- a posting that is a rant, rage, joke or satirical in nature. Again, monitor only.
• Misguided -- a posting with erroneous facts. To such a posting USAF recommends fixing the facts by responding with factual information directly on the comment board.
• Unhappy Customer -- a posting that is the result of a negative experience. USAF recommends working to rectify the situation.
All responses, according to the guidelines should be transparent (disclose the USAF connection), well sourced, timely and in a tone that reflects on the rich heritage of the Air Force.
On the whole, the guidance makes a lot of sense. To get one matter out of the way, every organization should have a little bit of a sense of humor and the ability to brush-off rants or jokes that are meant to be satirical - even if the ranter does a lousy job at satire.
I disagree however that a troll should always be ignored. While it certainly makes sense that some troll sites fall well below the radar and truly don't merit the response of a professional enterprise, some instances do merit a response. And the USAF guidelines remind its folks to "notify HQ" for a reason. When online content, even that from a troll, starts doing damage to your brand, the "monitor only" policy isn't going to cut it. As to fixing the facts, I'm largely in agreement. Unfortunately, many companies do not have the gravitas of the Air Force, so they need assistance and help from a third party to "fix those facts."
Finally, I absolutely concur with the guidelines of transparency, proper sourcing, timeliness, tone and influence.
For any company that regularly deals with negative web postings, I encourage you to develop a response policy and the USAF piece is a great starting point - with a few modifications.