Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Air Force Academy Spirit

Academy joins social media scene

By Staff Sgt. Don Branum

Academy Public Affairs

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series examining Academy initiatives to reach out to the public using the Internet and social media. Part two will be published in the Sept. 4 Academy Spirit.

In order to offer the public a convenient way to see what’s going on at the Academy, the public affairs office here has created a page on http://www.facebook.com/ called “US Air Force Academy (Official)” and an account on http://twitter.com/ named “AF_Academy.”

The Academy’s public affairs office decided to establish its presence on the social networking sites after holding a social media conference here Aug. 11. Attendees included public affairs officials from the Air Force Public Affairs Agency in Washington, D.C., and Air Education Training and Command Headquarters at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, as well as the Academy’s chief information officer and representatives from admissions, the dean of faculty office, the athletic department and cadet wing public affairs.

“There’s no quick answer to social networking,” Larry Clavette, AFPAA’s director, said at the conference, recognizing that Air Force policy cannot keep up with public affairs offices’ operational requirements.

The lead officer for Internet relations is 2nd Lt. Meredith Kirchoff, a 2009 graduate and self-described avid Facebook user since 2005.

“I was introduced to the idea of an official (Air Force Academy) Facebook page my first week at work,” Lieutenant Kirchoff said. “My reaction was, ‘Of course — naturally we should be on Facebook. Lots of businesses and colleges are on Facebook, so why aren’t we already there?”

Most of the Academy’s cadet population is there already, said Cadet 1st Class Andrea Wise, the cadet wing public affairs director.

“Out of 4,400 cadets, probably 4,000 are on Facebook,” said Cadet Wise, who gave a presentation on cadet use of social media at the social networking conference. “I only know one person who doesn’t have a page.”

In addition, many prospective attendees and family members are on Facebook, Lieutenant Kirchoff said.

“They may not already be on our Web site, and they’re not necessarily reading our base newspaper, but they are on social media . We need to be out there so they can interact with us,” she said.

The two Web pages will serve somewhat different audiences: While most cadets have Facebook pages, Twitter reaches a slightly older audience. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the median age for Twitter users is 31.

The Academy will use Facebook and other social media sites to drive traffic toward its official public Web site, http://www.usafa.af.mil/, Lieutenant Kirchoff said. The public affairs staff can publish photos and other content to the Facebook page that might not be a good fit for the public Web site.

“Social networking gives us a more flexible way to present our story,” she said. “It’s a less formal venue where we can post fun, interesting, accurate information.”

While Facebook and Twitter will offer a casual means for sharing information and interacting with the public, Academy officials can also use Twitter to inform the public about delays or closures due to weather conditions, or issues affecting public health or safety such as the outbreak of H1N1 influenza that affected the Academy in July, Lieutenant Kirchoff said.

Facebook and Twitter pages are the first steps in a coordinated social media strategy. The next step will be to build a second-tier social networking presence through multimedia sites such as Flickr and YouTube and examining the feasibility of Air Force Academy blogs.

“You never know what the next new hot site is going to be,” Lieutenant Kirchoff said. “I would like us to react quickly and have people active on our pages. I’d like us to be more proactive.”

Cadet Wise said she and her public affairs representatives stand ready to assist.

“We want to get the Academy story from a cadet perspective and help the public affairs office get those stories out there,” she said. Cadets can also help the public affairs office stay informed of new social media hotspots.

AFPAA is working with other Air Force organizations to develop an Air Force instruction governing social networking policy. In the interim, the agency has released “New Media and the Air Force,” a pamphlet with advice on how to responsibly participate in the social media arena. The pamphlet is available as a download from Air Force Link’s New Media page, http://www.af.mil/news/newmedia/.

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