COMMENTARY: Social media opens up possibilities

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Do you Tweet? Do you have a Facebook account? What about YouTube?

Unless you've been living and working under a rock, everyone should know by now that you are allowed to access these sites from a government computer. Now, obviously that doesn't give you license to spend all day at work reading Facebook postings from your friends and family members. Right after I heard that the access was being given, I wondered why. I wondered why the Air Force would open up this can of worms. Were they giving folks enough rope to hang themselves? Well, after some personal research, I've come to see just how smart this move really was.

In today's world, instant global communication can be accomplished with the click of a mouse. In response, our leadership recognized the value of social media to quickly get the word out.

To ensure we all stay responsible and behave professionally online, they've published a guide entitled "Social Media and the Air Force." You can find it at http://www.af.mil/socialmedia.asp. What I didn't know was that this same site offers a social media directory with links to all kinds of useful and informative sites. This gold mine lists Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and DODlive links to hundreds of military sites.

I checked out the social media directory to see what I could find, and was amazed to find BlueTube! This is a channel for everything Air Force. Hosted by the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, it contains news and information from the USAF, including videos from senior leadership. It's also a place for Airmen to share their videos and stories. They are looking for all types of material, from funny to poignant, and everything in between. It even has a great video about the annual Rolling Thunder ride in Washington, D.C., a ride that I participated in while stationed at Andrews AFB, Md. Talk about a great memory to stir up that patriotic spirit.

Although I only counted 31 Twitter accounts, there are more than 125 Facebook accounts listed in this directory and I was proud that Maxwell-Gunter AFB maintains accounts on both. Our installation is on the leading edge. Social media is the fastest way to get information and ideas out to the largest number of people. It's about collaboration and keeping people informed.

Of course, you need to be careful what type of information you are sharing, so please be sure to refer to the Social Media Guide. It spells out what to be careful about in much greater detail than I have space for here. I'll simply say, don't discuss classified or even for official use only information (discuss with your supervisor or first sergeant before posting anything to do with your job and our mission) and always be truthful while projecting a positive image of the Air Force. Always, always remember: If you are reading it or watching it, so is everyone else.

While this new social scene is a great form of communication, please use it with caution. Use it to gain knowledge and stay aware of current issues, but realize that a tool can be a weapon when placed in the wrong hands or misused. In the words of Zig Ziglar, "Remember, what you say comes back to you."