There are plenty of blogs out there that can and will explain why social media is no longer optional for your business. The genie is out of the bottle, so you may as well put him to work. The problem with embracing social media in the enterprise is summed up in one word: trolls.

For those unfamiliar with the netiquette, Wikipedia defines an Internet troll as follows:

A troll (pron.: /ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as a forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. The noun troll may also refer to the provocative message itself, as in: “That was an excellent troll you posted.”

To “feed the trolls” is to stoop to their level, engaging in their inflammatory arguments and thereby encouraging further trolling of your social media channels. The day you loosen the reins on your employees and allow them to use social media on behalf of your business, you invite the attention of trolls. If you don’t train your staff on how to deal with online provocateurs, you risk turning your company social media accounts into a wasteland of less-than-useless conversational noise that distracts from your business and harms your brand.

Luckily, none other than the United States Air Force (USAF) has equipped us with basic tools for combating trolls. Meet the US Air Force Blog Assessment Flowchart, created by the USAF’s Public Affairs Office more than four years ago. No matter how much the Internet has changed in the last four years, the flowchart remains relevant and useful, especially in dealing with trolls.

Chart courtesy of the USAF. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Find a post, measure its tone, decide whether to respond, conjure a quick response where necessary. Note that the longest amount of time you should take to respond to anything is one day. Beyond the 24-hour window, the Internet has likely moved on, and you’ve missed your chance to be a meaningful part of the conversation.

The advice works with virtually any social media channel, from online forums and blogs to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter (though proper response may require multiple posts or abbreviations), and even old-fashioned email. Just substitute the words “blog” with “social media” and “Air Force” with the name of your organization.

A few notes for modernization’s sake. There are lot more options for “Concurrence” than when this chart was created. Today, writing a blog post to highlight the fact that you’ve been positively mentioned or reviewed elsewhere may seem a bit self-indulgent. Instead, a nice Facebook share, Twitter retweet, or Reddit upvote is often quite enough. The only exceptions are for really extraordinary accolades, such as the first time your company appears on the cover of Time magazine would certainly warrant a blog post. Someone saying “nice job” on Twitter? Unless there’s a really great story behind the tweet, probably not.

The chart may seem a bit inflexible, but it’s a good baseline for social media interaction. Think of it as training wheels for your company’s first forays into social media. Follow the chart and you won’t crash and — above all — you’ll avoid feeding the trolls.