VA Aggressively Adopts Social MediaNew Directive Outlines Benefits, Boundaries of New Technologies
"Veterans should have consistent and convenient access to reliable VA information real time using social media, whether on a smartphone or a computer," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said in a statement announcing VA Directive 6515: Use of Web-Based Collaboration Technologies. "They also should be able to communicate directly with appropriate VA employees electronically."
The directive, issued Tuesday, discusses the advantages of social media and mobile technologies - speed, broad yet targeted reach and collaboration, to name a few - as well as what it characterizes as boundaries that shouldn't be crossed - personal attacks, offensive comments, spam, copyright and trademark infringement, political or commercial advocacy and release of VA sensitive information.
The directive explains that the use of these tools supports VA's goal of achieving an interoperable, net-centric environment by improving employee effectiveness through seamless access to information. "The use of Web-based collaboration tools such as social media tools is highly encouraged," states the directive, signed by Chief Information Officer Roger Baker and Tammy Duckworth, assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs. "Web-based collaboration tools enable widely dispersed facilities and VA personnel to more effectively collaborate and share information, which can result in better productivity, higher efficiency and foster innovation."
VA Director of Online Communications Brandon Friedman said the department isn't implementing the new policy because social media is cool or a fad. "It's about getting the right information to the right veteran at the right time," he said. "This policy sets us on a path toward changing how we talk - and listen - to vets."
The new directive is the latest move by the VA to adopt new technologies. In July, bowing to demand from its staff, the VA announced plans to allow the use of Apple's iPads and iPhones for certain purposes beginning Oct. 1 (see VA to Allow Use of iPhones, iPads).
The latest directive identifies web-based collaborative tools to be used as including wikis, blogs, mashups, folksonomies, Web feeds such as RSS, forums such as Facebook and chat rooms and collaborative tools such as Microsoft SharePoint.
According to the VA, the department began launching social media sites in 2009. The VA has more than 100 Facebook pages, more than 50 Twitter feeds, two blogs, a YouTube channel and a Flickr page. VA said its Facebook pages have a combined subscribership of more than 293,000 fans with the department's main page topping 138,000 fans. VA's Twitter feeds have over 53,000 followers, including 22,000 on its main feed. VA has posted more than 300 videos on YouTube and 9,000-plus photos on Flickr, which have been viewed a combined 1.1 million times.
Last November, VA launched its first blog, VAntage Point, which the department contends distinguishes itself from other government blogs by actively soliciting guest pieces from employees and the public. By year's end, the VA said, the department expects to have an active Facebook page and Twitter feed for all 152 of its medical centers.