The skinny: A woman married to an U.S. Army recruiter drew the ire of the wider U.S. military family community with a blog post stating her observations about the differences between so-called “Army Wives” and “National Guard Wives.”
My POV: I don’t know enough about American military families to comment this blogger’s views. But I see the reaction (most of it squarely in the category of frustrated backlash) to her post as yet another example of a loosely linked group of people who don’t know each other offline rallying around a niche topic for a short period of time.
Of course, some military families know each other offline. But many of the community’s bloggers – many of them military spouses with children – are scattered around the country and world. They might loosely follow each others’ Twitter accounts, Facebook pages or blogs, commenting occasionally. But this community of people is not officially linked via an official network.
So to see this loosely linked network come together quickly, with such an overwhelming number of responses to one obscure blog post, is fascinating. Many community managers of more official networks (like political campaigns) spend hours in meetings trying to figure out how to gather this much attention around one issue.
Sadly, I am not overstating when I say the way this blogger responded to the (mostly negative) attention her post garnered comprises a classic case of “What Not To Do” for online community managers.
This blogger made several classic mistakes:
1. After her blog – a Blogspot account with little traffic prior to the blog post in question – received about 400 comments, most of which lambasted her ideas, she closed the comments section.
2. Before the comments section closed, her husband posted a comment defending his wife’s point of view.
When it fueled more debate, he deleted the comment. This did not happen before other people copied and pasted his remarks on their blogs or Facebook pages.
3. As other military family bloggers began posting on their own blogs about her post, she deleted the original post.
4. Later, she deleted her entire blog.
5. She deleted her personal Facebook account.
These actions led to a somewhat predictable outcome: with no other way to directly dialogue with the writer of the blog post or her husband, frustrated readers began contacting the husband’s direct supervisors at work.
This led the husband’s bosses to write an apology on the Facebook page for the Army recruiting station at which he worked.
Later, though, this Facebook page was itself deleted.
What advice would I have given this blogger?
1. Engage with comments from the beginning. Do this on your own blog and other blogs linking to yours.
2. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. If commenters say something that shifts your thinking, respond and say your thinking has changed, or is at least in flux. Don’t be afraid to admit you were wrong!
(Consider the recent case of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation. As soon as it admitted its ideas were wrong – or at least wildly unpopular – discussion calmed down.)
3. Don’t delete the original post, but add new posts with new ideas.
4. Don’t delete any comments. Respect people who have taken the time to comment.
5. If profane comments are made, delete those but note that you have deleted the comments because of their profanity. At this point, consider posting a kind of acceptable use policy for your blog in the “About” section.
This blogger could have tried to turn the negative situation into a positive by engaging with her audience. She could have challenged her own assumptions and used the attention she garnered for a positive end.
Instead, she hid under the covers and let the storm rain around her.
Two interesting follow-up questions to consider:
1. Did the U.S. Army ask or require her to close her blog?
(Which begs the questions – Can/Should it do so? The words “chilling effect” are important here.)
2. Why did the recruiting station delete its Facebook page, on which it posted the apology? Also, should it have even issued an apology? Why not just an acknowledgement?
I think the answers to these questions would shed some light on how the U.S. Army views digital banter among military family members.