The Veterans Affairs Department is spreading its use of social media to make it easier for veterans and family members to access services. VA started with a single Facebook page in 2008 and now has more than 150 pages for each of its medical centers.
“When we started doing this, we realized veterans and their families didn’t always want information from the centralized location from Washington, D.C. What they really wanted was information on the local level because what a lot of veterans equate with VA is their local VA medical center,” said Brandon Friedman, VA’s director of online communications, in an interview with In Depth with Francis Rose.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has called the department’s spread of social media use “an important milestone.” “By leveraging Facebook, the department continues to expand access to VA, and embrace transparency and two-way conversation,” Shinseki said in a statement.
The stereotype that social media is only used by young people is dispelled by the demographics of the people who use VA’s Facebook pages. Only 7 percent are under the age of 25 and more than one-third are over the age of 45, Friedman said.
The numbers also show it’s not just veterans but family members as well who are using the sites, he said. 30 percent of the VA’s Facebook users are female, while the military is only 15 percent female, Friedman said.
VA is also communicating through other platforms, like Twitter, Youtube, Flickr and the VAntage Point blog, which allows users to comment on posts and has a special section for guest posts for submitted articles.
Friedman, a veteran himself, said he has “seen VA from both sides.”
“I know what it’s like to deal with the bureaucracy. And now that I work here, I also understand why some things are the way they are,” he said. “What that has done has really helped me to translate that and communicate that to veterans and their families.”
Facebook is one way VA is putting itself “on a path to repairing some of the relationships this department had had with the public … decades ago,” Friedman said.