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Fort Meade has seen an explosion in the growth and usage of social media services for installation information during the past year.

Since DoD authorized employees access to social media hubs such as Facebook and Twitter, Fort Meade has joined sites used by millions while at the same time defining its own online community.

While Fort Meade's Twitter account is used primarily to advertise news of upcoming events, pages on Facebook have shown the potential for more detailed communication.

Since its start last July, the Fort Meade Facebook page has garnered nearly 3,000 fans -- making it the largest of Fort Meade's social media outlets.

The page began as a one-way conversation with upcoming event postings. It has since emerged into a swirling and ongoing conversation. Now a day on the Facebook page could feature a post from a community member inviting the public to an event off Fort Meade and end with a question on how to classify a parent as a dependent.

"It's like a constant town hall meeting," said Harry Lockley, the Fort Meade chief of command information who helps oversee the Facebook page.

Sprinkled among those comments are notes from the installation's PAO and other Fort Meade offices that guide readers to resources both on and off post.

Social media, though, can serve a serious purpose. When snowstorms battered the region earlier this year, Facebook and Twitter were used to notify the public of information on closures and other conditions.

When a Feb. 28 fire swept through a Potomac Place residence, leaving Sgt. Eric Arellano, his wife, Victoria, their three children and pets without a home, the community offered donations through Facebook.

"It was amazing how people on Facebook were saying they were going to collect this or that," Victoria Arellano said. "The majority of the things that were given, we have no idea where they came from."

The rush of support was overwhelming. Arellano didn't become a fan of Fort Meade's community and join the conversation herself until recently, she said. Now Arellano says she visits Fort Meade's Facebook page once a day and has been able to make both online and offline friends through the website.

"I really love it," Arellano said. "It gives us an instant idea of what's going on."

While the public affairs' page might be the most established, it is not the only Fort Meade page on Facebook. The Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation has its own Facebook page that regularly posts news of upcoming programs and event photos.

Other offices on Fort Meade are looking to build even more online communities. In March, Army Community Service launched a Facebook page specifically for Survivor Outreach Services, the program that supports families of fallen Soldiers. As of this week, the page had about 16 fans. But Matthew Palmer, the website's organizer, sees the page growing as a venue for hundreds of area survivors to connect.

"It's difficult, obviously," he said. "An Army survivor is a very specific person. It's a lot smaller constituency. We owe it to them to try and put it out there for them."

Beyond the community-building aspects of Facebook, the website also brings other benefits, Palmer said.

"Budget is a big issue for ACS," he said. "We may not have the money to print a huge amount of flyers like we used to. This is a good alternative."

Fort Meade's presence on Facebook continues to grow. For example, new Facebook groups dedicated to the residents of Heritage Park and Midway Commons neighborhoods were advertised Monday.

The Fort Meade Facebook page also helped lead several people to join Fort Meade's Enlisted Spouses' Club, said Katherine Moore, the club's recording secretary. When ESC installs new leadership in June, a Facebook page will probably be in the works.

"It's helping us get the familiarity out there so that other people can find out [about ESC]," Moore said. "I do think it will be something we discuss and start up."

To join Fort Meade's social networking community, go to www.ftmeade.army.mil and follow the links under "social networking."

For more on how social networking sites are used throughout Installation Management Command, visit the IMCOM website at www.imcom.army.mil/hq/ and follow the link for the latest "Defender 6 sends."

Send comments or questions to amccombs@patuxent.com.

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