ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Garrison Public Affairs and garrison leaders are making it easier to take part in the Community Action Council by getting council information out while it is in session and opening feedback channels so community members can participate even if they can't attend.

The next council meeting is set for 9:30 a.m. Dec. 16 at the Edgewood Chapel. Testing is underway to ensure the event can be broadcast live over the post TV channel. An announcement
will be made via e-mail, Facebook and MilBlog before the event takes place. Garrison leadership and staff will present information and answer questions from the community, as they have done at previous council meetings. This format has worked well in the past, according to garrison officials, but U.S. Army Garrison APG Commander Col. Orlando W. Ortiz felt it was time to open up
the meetings.

"The need for information always goes up during times of change," Ortiz said. "We are in the middle of a lot of change at APG, so we need to find a way to get more information to more
people. We have a high-tech population, so we need to find new ways of communicating."

Garrison Public Affairs and visual information officials saw that as an chance to put some of the new communications capabilities they have to use.

"No matter when or where we have these meetings, they will never be convenient for everyone who would like to attend," said George Mercer, Director, USAG APG Public Affairs. "We have expanded what we can do with Channel 97 fairly recently and are double-checking our ability to
broadcast the meeting live."

Ortiz, however, wanted more feedback from the community, so the Public Affairs staff looked to the social media revolution for answers.

"We know it would be best if we have a way to get feedback from the community while the meeting is taking place," said Mercer. "There's the obvious way - by telephone - but social media not only gives people another choice, it adds some capabilities you can't get elsewhere."

The Public Affairs team researched how similar events are handled and found television news shows, podcasters and others using the social media site Twitter. The garrison already has a Twitter site, so the decision was made to try it.

"Twitter allows you to post short updates, but it also allows people to reply to those updates," Mercer said. "What we hope to do is send out tweets as the meeting progresses, and then people
can reply to those with comments or questions. So if someone were listening to the council meeting at home or at work, they could type in a quick question and we would see it pretty much
instantaneously."

The social media site offers some other benefits during the council and after, he said. Because the replies stack up as they are made, the person monitoring them may be able to notice trends that would not be immediately apparent to a person taking phone calls one at a time. Also, anyone following the garrison's Twitter stream can see the trends and reply to other people.

"It really can be interactive," Mercer said. "Also, unlike phone calls, the Twitter updates and replies stay there. Anybody who wants to see them later can go to the site and search through them at their leisure. We can also put what they call a hash tag on the updates so that, if we continue to use Twitter in the future, people will be able to search through all past community action council streams to see what went on."

Whether the garrison will conduct future council meetings this way will depend on the staff's ability to pull it off and the community's response, Mercer said.

"We're not going to try to kid anybody that this is going to go perfectly the very first time," he said. "We're doing at least three new things at once: broadcasting the meeting live, opening it up
to questions from outside the room, and updating an interactive social media site during a live event. Any one of several things could go wrong, or all that activity could be too much for us to make sense of during the meeting.

"Nor do we know if the community is interested in this kind of thing. We know we have a community that is more high tech all the time. But is this how they want to hold their community action council meetings' Are the people interested in the council the same ones who are interested in Twitter or even calling in a question to a meeting you're watching on TV' We don't know.

"What we do know is that we have these technologies and a desire to give as much of the community a voice as we can," Mercer said.

People who would like to follow the meeting on Twitter can visit http://twitter.com/USAGAPG to watch the stream of posts. Those who want to reply during the meeting will have to join the social media site and log in on the day of the event. Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters.

"Of course we're going to recommend that people join and follow us on Twitter," Mercer said. "All of our Facebook postings are repeated on Twitter, but Twitter seems better for use on cell phones, which makes it a good site to get out important alerts.

"We thought about doing this on our Facebook page, because it allows for longer posts," he added. "We also have almost 3,000 people signed up to follow us on Facebook versus only about
300 on Twitter. The problem is, when you post a status update on Facebook it shows up on the page of every one of those people. If we have a lot of updates and replies, it could dominate the Facebook news stream for all the people who like us. With Twitter people can go to our page and see what's going on without it taking over their social media stream for hours."

Event details are still being settled. Changes will be announced in the APG News, MilBlog, and the APG Facebook and Twitter pages.

Page last updated Wed December 15th, 2010 at 16:56