Creating an Online Community of Veterans

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For decades, veteran service organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and AMVETS have helped U.S. military veterans connect with one another. But as thousands of men and women return from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of these soldiers are looking for immediate ways to unite with their comrades and peers. As a former Army infantry officer who served in Iraq, Paul Rieckhoff saw an opportunity to connect recent veterans through digital channels.

For decades, veteran service organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and AMVETS have helped U.S. military veterans connect with one another. But as thousands of men and women return from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of these soldiers are looking for immediate ways to unite with their comrades and peers. As a former Army infantry officer who served in Iraq, Paul Rieckhoff saw an opportunity to connect recent veterans through digital channels.In 2004, after Rieckhoff had returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, he and a few vets launched a MySpace page that enabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to connect with one another. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has quickly grown in popularity as an organization that offers free membership to recent veterans with a number of services it provides, including career and educational guidance, mental health support, and other re-integration services. I had an opportunity to catch up with Rieckhoff, the CEO and founder of IAVA, at the Salesforce1 World Tour in New York last week.

Because today's veterans are more digitally connected than their predecessors, Rieckhoff saw an opportunity to make use of a range of digital channels to help connect them via IAVA. The group, which supports nearly 250,000 veterans, began using Salesforce as its platform for supporting members across its website as well as Facebook, Tumblr, and other channels. The platform has also helped IAVA to orchestrate "Vet Togethers" on the 11th of each month to bring members together in local communities.

One of the benefits of IAVA's virtual presence is that it provides the New York-based organization an opportunity to identify the most pressing issues that its members would like to have addressed based on the feedback they're sharing. "Jobs are always a top issue, but now our members are telling us that suicide prevention is a top priority," says Rieckhoff. IAVA also gathers member feedback from surveys and social media posts which has helped the organization to better understand how effectively the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is responding to their needs.

Going forward, Rieckhoff says he believes IAVA will look to extend its mobile connectivity to its members to help connect them with each other and the organization in real time.
Says Rieckhoff, "If we can help one guy and he ends up helping 10 guys, that's powerful."

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