The VA Goes Social in a Big Way
By Nina Dunn on September 12, 2012 - 4:40pm
Last summer, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released its social media policy. Often regarded as a massive bureaucratic department with communications challenges, the VA has come a long away. Its social media can be considered progressive, especially for the agency that takes its roots in the military. (Take for example hospital systems, many of which still forbid their doctors to use social media.)
At the helm of VA digital efforts is Brandon Friedman (@BrandonF), their director of online communications. Friedman was brought onboard in late 2009 to improve communications between the department and veterans — and his results have been impressive.
When a federal agency decides to jump on the social media bandwagon, it might feel like just another vehicle for propaganda. Yet, the VA’s active participation on social media sites turned out to be lifesaving. The online team has been able to intervene when veterans talked about suicide and connect them with appropriate assistive services.
Today, the VA manages an extensive library of social media platforms. The agency has over 230,000 Facebook followers and nearly 50,000 Twitter followers. It also created VAntage Point, an official blog with VA employees and veterans as contributors, and a YouTube channel to engage with vets. In addition, the VA has established a social media presence for its medical centers around the country to provide community-level information to its veterans.
Although young active duty service members have been quick to embrace social media, nearly a half of VA’s Facebook users are over the age of 45.
Compared to the VA’s 300,000-plus employees, and the nearly 22 million vets in the system, the agency’s social media subscribership, so far, remains narrow and far from viral. But as more and more servicemen transition to civilian life, social media can play a more important role as a communications tool that makes it easier for vets to understand complex veteran benefits, connect with each other and have their voices heard.
What is more, businesses that offer products and services to veterans, especially in the health care industry, should look into using VA social media platforms for customer opinion studies. For example, veterans on the VA Facebook page were happy to offer their feedback and suggestions about a new mobile app for PTSD.
I also hope to see more companies looking into social media pages, like the ones created by the VA, to recruit the most disciplined and loyal employees with real leadership qualities — our vets.
Nina Dunn is an account director and media specialist at Spector & Associates. In her current role, Nina works with the agency’s healthcare and technology clients, helping them develop effective thought leadership campaigns and communications strategies. You can reach her at Nina@SpectorPR.com or follow her @Spector_Health.