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 VA.gov, 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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