VetVenue is a technology based information site for veterans that includes a blog, newsletter, website and webcasts. Veterans communicate daily with
each other on the blog and determine the subjects that are featured in the interactive monthly webcasts. The site has a primary focus on employment readiness and available jobs. Veterans share information about job openings, veterans’ discounts, and their employment needs. VetVenue is maintained by Fast Forward, a community technology center in Columbia, South Carolina.
A redesigned site, more content and a marketing campaign to help sustain their efforts are some of the newest developments at Fast Forward’s Vet Venue.org.
Giving veterans the tools to improve their lives is the mission of Fast Forward, a technology training center in the military community of Columbia, S.C. And Fast Forward’s site, Vet Venue.org, aims to provide veterans access to information, resources and support.
Since its last update in November 2008, Dee Albritton, the executive director of Fast Forward, said two new writers are contributing to Vet Venue.org. “Hope Furtado has joined us as a veteran correspondent. Furtado served in the Army and is going to begin conversations with veterans. We have also worked with a professional writer in Columbia, Rachel Haynie, who is contributing stories on some local veterans,” she said.
The work created by these writers, and others who contribute, will be live on the redesigned site that is scheduled to make its appearance during the summer of 2009. In the spring, the Vet Venue team worked with local veterans to see how they could improve the site to appeal to its target audience. Albritton said the redesign of the site will be based on feedback from focus groups of these veterans about their needs and what they would like to see on Vet Venue.
“We are most pleased with the ownership the veterans are beginning to take in the site, their interest in the changes and their participation in the new design.”
“We have been working to incorporate more graphics and easier access while maintaining our handicapped compliance,” said Albritton.
Fast Forward has formed a relationship with nearby Midlands Technical College to help with the maintenance of the site. And it’s also started a marketing campaign to sell banner ads on the new site. Albritton said Fast Forward has scheduled meetings with six companies as part of this campaign.
While traffic has been relatively slow - in June 2009 it was 386 site visits - Vet Venue has attracted an international audience, with traffic from 18 countries on five continents.
Countries with the highest page views, outside the US, were Israel, Bulgaria, United Kingdom and India; pages were viewed in 11 different languages; 66.84 percent were new visits to site (257); 32.9 percent of the visits lasted between two and 10 minutes; 53.37 percent were from referring sites; 36.27 percent were from direct traffic; and 10.36 percent of referrals came from search engines.
Albritton said more than 20 vets have attended job fairs that they found out about on Vet Venue.
With its new design and additional content, Albritton is optimistic about the future of Vet Venue.
“We are still very concerned about the number of veterans using the site, although the ones who are see a definite benefit. We are most pleased, however, with the ownership the veterans are beginning to take in the site, their interest in the changes and their participation in the new design.”
A New Venue for Vets
Giving veterans the tools to improve their lives is the mission of Fast Forward, a technology training center in the military community of Columbia, S.C. And now, the center has something new in its arsenal: A website that provides veterans access to information, resources and support.
As of October 2008, VetVenue.org has hosted two live audio Webcasts, mainly to find out from vets what they need from the site and what they most want to learn. The site’s blog has generated 415 visits, including posts about job openings in the region.
“We are really focusing on vets talking to vets right now. And we’re taking away some of the preconceptions about who vets are,” said Dee Albritton, the executive director and project leader. “They aren’t all 24-year-old men. They don’t all know how to use Skype. One of our vets, Laura, is 50, and she deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Simplicity and functionality weighed heavily in the design of the black-and-white site. “We are tech nerds here but we had to pare down the site to meet the needs of our clientele. Once they are not afraid of it, they will be more inclined to use it. We are facing the digital divide. We have some people in their late 20s who have never owned computer.”
Plus, Albritton said the site needed to be fully handicapped accessible. “We’re seeing a lot of vets with vision problems from TBI (traumatic brain injury) and they respond more to a simpler format.”
FastForward has hired a tech-savvy college student to manage the site in-house.
Albritton said the next big step for the site is to incorporate video. Her team has learned how to use closed captioning software to make those videos more accessible, too.
Promotion is also on the agenda. Albritton had the opportunity to talk the project up on a local radio showcalled “UNeed2Know” and in a keynote address she delivered at a recent Combined Federal Campaign/United Way event. She also said the new service is mentioned on a lot of military e-lists around the country.
“What happens with military - they stay in contact with each other,” says Albritton. “We are hopeful that [VetVenue.org] will market itself.” With five military bases within a 45-minute radius and a Veteran Affairs Hospital, the outreach possibilities are endless.
“I’m hopeful that people will begin using the site as a means of communication to share employment information. Finding employment, transitioning from military life into civilian life, developing a supportive community” are the key goals, Albritton said. “The news part is going to come later.”
New Voices is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism. J-LabTM is an incubator for innovative, participatory news experiments and is a center of American University's School of Communication in Washington, D.C. New Voices is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.