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Military Health System Embraces Social Media

By Gabrielle Kirk
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 13, 2009 – The Military Health System is one of the many Defense Department organizations embracing social networking in order to provide information to and receive feedback from servicemembers.

Dr. Michael Kilpatrick, director of strategic communications for the Military Health System, detailed the organization’s work in social networking at an event for federal communicators July 9 in Washington, D.C.

More of an effort was needed, even after the organization developed a robust and interactive health.mil Web site and blog, Kilpatrick said. Less than 10 percent of health.mil visitors are under 25 years old, he said, while 80 percent of the entire military community is between the ages of 18 and 25.

“So we’re not reaching the people we need to reach using that Web site,” Kilpatrick said.

To provide health information to servicemembers and their families of all ages, it’s necessary to use a variety of communications platforms, he said.

“We want them to receive the information they want, in the way they want to receive it, when they want it,” Kilpatrick explained.

Security concerns have been one of the most significant speed bumps to promoting social networking in the Defense Department. Many military Internet domains block access to social networking sites, though the Army recently has reversed a policy that blocked many popular Web sites from bases in the United States.

At the moment, there is no hard-and-fast method to measuring social media success. People can track how many fans they have on Facebook or how many are following them on Twitter, but it is difficult to quantify the impact of an organization’s presence in social networking. For now, anecdotes may say it best.

Kilpatrick described to the audience how a recently relocated military spouse was seeking care for her autistic child and “tweeted” her inquiry to the Military Health System’s Twitter account. Staff members were able to contact an expert and quickly provide local resources to her. A regular visitor’s comments went from critical to complimentary.

The Military Health System is currently using “DotMilDocs” audio webcasts, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and other social networks that it links to from its Social Media Hub Web page located at www.health.mil/connect

(Gabrielle Kirk works with Military Health System’s strategic communications.)

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