WASHINGTON – Veterans Affairs officials unveiled their new social media policy Tuesday, promising to expand upon efforts already underway to reach out to veterans on Facebook, Twitter and any other tools. In a statement, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said that the goal is for veterans to have “consistent and convenient access to reliable VA information real time using social media —whether on a smartphone or a computer.”
The push isn’t new – the department now boasts 100 Facebook pages, more than 50 Twitter feeds, two blogs, a YouTube channel, and a Flickr page. Officials said they hope the new policy encourages more use of the tools by VA employees, finding new sites to reach veterans and providing a social media footprint for VA programs not yet in the mix.
In addition, the department hopes to have active Facebook pages and Twitter feeds for all 152 VA medical centers by the end of the year.
VA social media experts say the real breakthrough is that they’ve already seen success with the efforts in one unexpected area: suicide prevention. Brandon Friedman, VA director of online communications, said administrators have been able to intervene in several cases where distraught veterans posted messages on department social media sites.
Administrators work closely with the VA Suicide Prevention Office and Veterans Crisis Line to reach out to anyone who expresses suicidal thoughts. Friedman’s office even posted an article on the VAntage Point blog about the issue, encouraging veterans to seek help.
Friedman said the new social media policy “sets us on a path toward changing how we talk and listen to vets.”
The new policy includes the standard government agency warnings about official use and professionalism, but also emphasizes that social media sites can help department workers “more effectively collaborate and share information” with the veteran population.