Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is a great organization for Vets, but what in the world is their executive director, my friend, Paul Rieckhoff talking about?
“I would also argue the VA does a pretty crappy job of outreach. They’re not really using social media. 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.”
Certainly many of IAVA’s criticisms of the Department are merited and constructive. And I’m not interested in a petty argument over numbers here. But facts are facts—and Paul knows them. What he said to The Huffington Post last week about VA’s outreach efforts simply isn’t true.
In reality, over the past year, VA has made a serious investment to methodically reach Veterans where they are online. Looking at the numbers, we see that while IAVA has a single Facebook page with over 205,000 fans, VA has 87 Facebook pages—with a combined subscribership of nearly 220,000 fans. VA’s main Facebook page alone has over 100,000 subscribers—making it one of the largest in the federal government.
With respect to Twitter, IAVA has three feeds with a combined followership of just over 7,000. On the other hand, VA has 51 Twitter feeds with a combined followership of nearly 35,000—almost five times the following of IAVA. Likewise, when comparing main Twitter feeds, IAVA’s followers number fewer than 5,200. VA’s number more than 14,000.
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. It’s little things like the announcement of a weather-related closure that can make a big difference for a Veteran who has to travel. And it’s big things like being able to tell an emotionally distressed Vet where to go for help that can make a difference in a life. And that’s how we’re attempting to use Facebook and Twitter.
But those two platforms aren’t all we use. We’ve also given Veterans and their families a place to proactively contribute: On Veterans Day 2010, VA launched a new blog called VAntage Point (which you’re reading now). Since that time, the site has received thousands of comments from Veterans, their family members, and VA employees—and we’ve published dozens of guest pieces from them as well. In fact, we’ve published several pieces written by IAVA members themselves. (Though we’d love to hear more from the organization.)
IAVA does an outstanding job reaching out on its Facebook page and that’s a great thing for Veterans. But I would hardly say that our government Facebook page with over 100,000 fans constitutes “not really using social media.” As for Twitter, I just can’t fathom what Paul is talking about.
The thing is, Paul knows this. So I’m not sure if he just misspoke or got caught up in the interview. Either way, it would be nice if he’d correct it. VA has come a long way recently in reaching Veterans and it’s because we’re trying more than ever before—including reaching out to organizations like IAVA. And it doesn’t help Veterans when they’re discouraged from learning about the Department’s services by a prominent leader of a Veterans organization for whatever reason. We’re all on the same team here and we all want Veterans to be as informed as possible. And that’s why you’re reading this on a blog—and not on a piece of paper you received in the mail.