The Department of Veteran Affairs is coming under fire for allegedly not effectively using social media. Maybe someone has legitimate beef with what the Office of New Media at VA is doing, but all I can talk about is my experience with them.
As a new media professional, I deal on a daily basis with the online outreach efforts of a ridiculous number of organizations, government and otherwise. Without hyperbole, I can't really say that anyone is doing it better than VA.
This last Veterans Day, VA launched their very own blog, VAntage Point. At VAntage Point, you don't just get the standard pro-agency propaganda you might find at other .gov sites. While sites like DoDLive and DipNote are essential reading, you won't find them acknowledging shortcomings in their own programs or calling out organizations who have abused their constituency. VA isn't afraid to do just that at VAntage Point.
Over a year ago, the Department of Veterans affairs opened the doors of their Washington, DC headquarters to a couple of Vet bloggers, including myself. We were even able to interview the Chief Technology Officer for the cabinet agency. During the day we spent at VA, their new media staff explained to us exactly how they were doing new media outreach. VA has set-up pages on several different social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Not only does VA maintain these pages, but the agency is also setting up accounts for all of its subordinate administrations, hospitals and programs. Overall, VA maintains over 120 social media pages with over 250,000 followers. Each one of these represents an opportunity for a Vet to connect immediately and directly with VA, as opposed to waiting on the telephone for hours at a time. Don't believe me? Check the wall of the VA facebook page. You'll see VA officials interacting with Vets every day.
And I've personally seen the results. In addition to the transparency displayed by VA's willingness to let us in their house last year, it was a telephone roundtable with new and social media professionals that led to Vets getting emergency checks to cover the short-comings of the original implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Yes, because of VA's social media outreach, Vets who were not going to be able to pay rent or buy groceries (which was my situation) got taken care of.
Similarly, I blogged recently about problems I've been having getting care at the Denver VA Medical Center. The same day I started throwing the proverbial gas on the fire over this issue, I was contacted by VA. It wasn't by someone in the benefits or health Administration. It was the social media professional from the Denver VA who contacted me over Twitter.
And that's really the point. You can't make an effective case for VA not effectively using social media when their dedicated public servants are reaching out to Vets in trouble just because a piece of criticism comes across their Twitter stream or Facebook wall. Anyone who is alleging that VA isn't doing well more than due diligence with respect to online outreach is simply ignoring the facts.