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Engaging Veterans Online
Posted on August 13th 2012
Anyone who has served this country's military knows that the sacrifice, both to country and family, is second to none. As a result, veterans should always be given extra appreciation, dedicated time, and a big thank you. Businesses, in particular, can benefit from taking this approach to engaging vets.
Given the impact that the Internet has on both the young and old, it’s not uncommon to see veterans turning to social media to speak their minds regarding serving in the military, the present state of U.S. politics, and just about everything else discussed on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social networking sites. And this is exactly where companies should seek them out.
Veterans Affairs Department Offers Social Media Policy
Just last year, the Veterans Affairs Department issued a social media policy that "highly encouraged" the use of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other web-based media, urging VA employees to interact with the public online.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said the new policy would set the groundwork for interaction with veterans through social media. "Veterans should have consistent and convenient access to reliable VA information [in] real time using social media -- whether on a smartphone or a computer," Shinseki noted at the time. But this doesn’t stop with military-specific efforts: The new policy, VA Directive 6515: Use of Web-Based Collaboration Technologies, should encourage businesses and other industry experts to interact directly with veterans via social media as well.
One of the reasons that veterans can oftentimes be found discussing matters in an online venue is the immediacy with which it carries. When someone posts or comments directly on a story, he expects to be noticed and heard. Often, veterans just want someone to listen to their concerns.
On the Veterans United Network for example, people want to share their opinions, and they hope someone will reciprocate their same message. In the end, it's much like any other person who hopes to have their voice heard and included – veterans just understand the need for instantaneous response more fully than others.
For those veterans who may not be engaged in social media, it’s good to point out that those who are involved are more apt to be found on Facebook. I think Facebook and blogs are huge outlets for veterans, simply because they are easy to use for older vets and more commonplace for younger ones. Most military members like to read the news and know what's going on in their cities and around the world, and both Facebook and blogs factor into that sense of community.
Business and Veterans Working Together
It is also important to note that businesses and veterans can work together on social media venues, especially given the large percentage of our former military that’s job hunting.
Those companies that could benefit the most are ones that challenge and include veterans in their daily business lives. If you are looking for opinions or volunteers, target veterans and you will get amazing responses. If you have a business looking to zero in on veterans, you only have to look as far as their likes and dislikes.
Keep in mind that veterans generally love discussing hunting, fishing, guns, and politics. Trust me: They will never shy away from a company that offers discounts to veterans, like Home Depot. Balancing what they like with what you can offer them influences and engages veterans.
In order for a business to begin a conversation with a veteran, it all starts with being a person and not an entity. I understand that remaining corporate is very important to the image of many companies, but allowing yourselves to join the "crowd" and be an "I" when posting, instead of a "we," can make all the difference.
The best way to keep veterans invested when engaging them is to keep things positive and proactive. If you do not have a proper goal, veterans will lose interest and be unable to follow what you want them to do. Remember, veterans are taught to follow by example, so set the example you want to make and ask veterans to match what you are doing (remember, scale matters - do not ask them to donate millions). If you want them to apply for positions, volunteer for your cause, or simply spread the word about your services to other veterans, say so.
In the end, keep it a manageable job; if veterans believe in your cause, they will accomplish the mission. You simply need to approach them.