VA attacked for poor use of Facebook, other social media

Dispute getting an airing on VA's official blog with dozens of comments

A dispute has flared on the Veterans Affairs Department’s official blog about if the VA is effectively using social media to reach recent veterans.

The VA Vantage Point blog, along with 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 in the VA’s Vantage Point blog on March 20 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 added, 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, but we are referring to more real websites, where real problems are discussed, and not ignored,” “Joe Average” wrote on March 21.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Mar 31, 2011 Lorne Neff Indianapolis

I am a vet and I run a Facebook page for my government organization. While I encourage all the different parts of my org to use my site since its at top, the reality is that there are a lot of different topics. Would they all be addressed and heard if they were unified under one Facebook page? Reickoff's group addresses one special interest and can be unified. I'm not sure the same can be said for a large organisation addressing so many different issues as the VA. That being said, 51 and 87 seems excessive. That should be consolidated and pared down to a few major themes/social media sites. People can get lost searching for the right page and there is the issue of manning each page.

Thu, Mar 24, 2011 Ken Klein Home

as soon as I saw the huffington post was involved i knew it was bogus! Everything that comes from that site is full of left wing radicals and one can certainly NOT trust what is written as most of it is just a bunch of hogwash.

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 BobR DC

I noticed that the VA (Friedman)deleted the Twitter conversation between Friedman and Rieckhoff. What happen to being OPEN and TRANSPARENT. Same thing with their blogs.

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 Ordinary Joe DC

Some stats for you to think about: Rieckhoff's Facebook(205,000 fans divided by 1 Facebook page) = 205,000 fans per Facebook page and (VA)Friedman's (87 Facebook divided by 220,000 fans)= average out to be 2528.73 per Facebook page Rieckhoff's +1 Rieckhoff’s group has (3 Twitter feeds, divided by 7,000 follower) = 2333.33 follower per Twitter feed Friedman's (VA) group has (51 Twitter feed, divided by 35,000 follower) = 686.27 per Twitter feed. Again Rieckhoff’s +1 If it's not about numbers (as Friedman stated), than why did he mention it? 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 I would love to know the amount of staffs (from what I gathered its 4+ fulltime employee) Friedman has to suuport his Social Media efforts, versus Rieckhoff’s group. The VA should think about ROI (Return On Investment)

Wed, Mar 23, 2011 LarryM TX

I am a Vet and so is my Dad. While I feel confortable using social media and the web, he is lost, as are a number of people in his generation and older. They don't trust it, get confused or frustrated and give up. They will trust a brick and mortar approach. Outreach requires a number of methods and requires money and people to run it, and to criticize the VA, who has been under funded for years, is disingenuous. The IAVA has a younger, more tech savvy, clien base and is being too narrow minded in its believe that social media is the way VA should be communicating with ALL its clients.

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