‘Tis the season.
No, not that season.
If you work in the veterans space, you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s that fast and furious 15% of the calendar year that holds roughly 60% of the mil-vet holidays.
During the two months between September 11 and November 11, the nation will have its eyes trained on the work you do all year long. With the media lens focused on veteran issues, it’s important to have your communications ready to go. This blog will help you prepare to share meaningful content and capitalize on the attention this sometimes solemn, sometimes celebratory time brings to veterans and the work you do to support them. (For a primer on the importance of these holidays and days of remembrance, check out our Thorough Compendium of Mil-Vet Holidays).
Not all of these dates will appear on your standard calendar, so go ahead and mark them on yours now:
Sept 11: Patriot Day
Sept 18: U.S. Air Force Birthday
Sept 20: POW/MIA Recognition Day
Sept 29: Gold Star Mothers’ and Families’ Day
Oct 13: U.S. Navy Birthday
Oct 26: National Day of the Deployed
Nov 10: U.S. Marine Corps Birthday
Nov 11: Veterans Day
Now that you’ve got your calendar marked, it’s time to mark your editorial calendar with plans for these holidays, days of recognition, and days of remembrance. There are five components of a social post you’ll want to consider.
“Copy” is simply the words you use to convey your message. It should typically be one to three short sentences written in plain English. When writing copy for a social post marking one of these dates, consider the following:
Reflect before you create. How does this day impact the veterans you serve? Your community? Your collaborative work?
Tell a meaningful story. This is a chance to tell the story of the veterans in your community, and the work your collaborative does to support their well-being. Consider letting veterans tell their stories in their own words; you can pass the proverbial mic to veterans in your community to share what the day means to them, why they joined the military, or something they wish their community knew.
Educate your community. You have a chance to educate your community on the amazing strengths and unmet needs of the veterans in your community. Use these days to highlight statistics, success stories, and struggles that depict these strengths and needs.
Avoid partisan messaging. Seasons like this bring out all kinds of patriotism, and politics. Avoid tying your message to partisan politics, which can alienate prospective supporters, stakeholders, and even the veterans you serve. Veterans’ issues are community issues. They’re national issues. And, importantly, they are bipartisan issues.
Consider adding a call to action. Clear calls to action help you build engagement; they don’t always have to be an “ask.” A call to action can be something like “learn more” if you’re trying to build awareness and visibility, or “tell us what today means to you.” Or, your call to action can be a specific ask, like “join us,” “volunteer,” or “donate today.”
Posts that include photos perform better on social media than just text or links. Video posts perform even better. Imagery, for our purposes, could be photography, video, infographics, or illustrations. Sourcing unique, meaningful imagery is tougher than it sounds (and poring through veteran-related stock photography will make you want to poke out your eyeballs), but it’s not impossible. Some things to keep in mind:
Think outside the flag. The flag is hugely important to us as Americans, and particularly so to servicemembers and veterans who deeply understand the sacrifices made for our freedoms. While it’s both patriotic and meaningful, it’s also ubiquitous during mil-vet holidays. To stand out in a sea of patriotic posts, you’ll need something a bit more unique. Pick photos that tell a story.
Vet your mil-vet imagery. Have someone with military experience buddy check your selections. The keyword search “veteran” on both paid and free photography sites will surface all manner of nonsense. Some of the problem is uniform weirdness: ACUs velcroed up high like turtlenecks; covers worn smashed down on heads like baseball caps...indoors; loose ponytails; foreign military insignia. Some of it is unrealistic scenarios. Some of it is harmful stereotypes. These errors can undermine the credibility and trust you’ve built with veterans in your community.
Make sure you’re authorized and licensed to use any imagery you post. That means either purchasing a license, or sourcing imagery that has been released under Creative Commons. As most collaborative budgets don’t have a lot of wiggle room for photos, the resources I share below are all free; check attribution rules to make sure you’re crediting the artist if required. If you’re using personal, original, or DoD photos, keep in mind that regulations prohibit commercial use of photos containing of military insignia and emblems. And commercial use includes nonprofits.