VA defends its social media outreach efforts

Critics say that, despite Facebook and Twitter presence, department isn't doing enough

The Veterans Affairs Department is defending itself against critics who say the department is not doing enough to connect with veterans via social media, despite its presence on outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

The VA Vantage Point blog and a few commentators on the blog are defending the department’s efforts to expand online interaction and contact with veterans, while facing a wave of criticism that the VA is missing the mark with those efforts.

The disagreement started when Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, in a Huffington Post video interview on March 17, accused the VA of “doing a pretty crappy job” of reaching out to veterans.

The VA is “not really using social media,” Rieckhoff said. “They’re not really active on places like Facebook. So they’re not going to where the vets are. It’s kind of an old bricks and mortar system.”


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Brandon Friedman, the VA’s new media director and blogger, responded with a blog post on Vantage Point, making the case that the VA has strengthened its social media reach.

“Over the past year, VA has made a serious investment to methodically reach veterans where they are online,” Friedman wrote. While Rieckhoff’s group has a single Facebook page with over 205,000 fans, VA has 87 Facebook pages, with a combined following of nearly 220,000 fans, Friedman added.

Also, Rieckhoff’s group has three Twitter feeds with about 7,000 fans, while the VA’s 51 Twitter feeds have nearly 35,000 followers, Friedman wrote.

“Of course, this is about more than just numbers for us. It’s about having the ability to actually make veterans’ lives better by getting them the right information at exactly the right time,” Friedman wrote, saying that the VA’s Vantage Point blog, launched in November 2010, is one of the department’s efforts to deliver timely information.

More than two dozen comments have been submitted on the disagreement, including several that took VA’s side.

“First of all I would like to thank Mr. Brandon Friedman for bringing this to our attention and say that he is doing a fine job on Facebook of reaching out to the veterans,” wrote Debra Gail Heiser Carter on March 21.

But many of the comments supported the criticisms.

“Just because you have all these different accounts, does not mean for one minute that you are actually reaching out to veterans. A lot of what is published on these social media networks is over-inflated propaganda to make the VA look better than they truly are,” wrote Chris Elmenhurst on March 21.

A commentator named “Joe Average” also was dissatisfied.

“I am surprised to see the VA go on the attack against IAVA. What IAVA was referring to was that the VA was deficient in 'believable' media. Sure, there are plenty of VA 'flag waving' sites like this one, and VA.gov, but we are referring to more real websites, where real problems are discussed, and not ignored,” “Joe Average” wrote on March 21.


Reader Comments

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 Jeff Kentucky

While this may be a noble effort, facebook and twitter are NOT where Veterans go to connect and/or reach out to the VA. Bragging about numbers of "likes" and twitter feeds is totally missing the point. I do believe the VA is doing a good job of reaching out the the veterans. Could they do a better job? I think so, but social media is not as pervasive as one might think in this area of concern. I am a retired Marine and facebook/twitter is the last thing I think of when I want to connect to the VA.

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