From fundraising to volunteering, troop-support groups are taking full advantage of social networking Web sites to reach out and gather support for troops at home and abroad.
"We created three MySpace pages a few years back and a Facebook page this year," Andi Grant, president and founder of Give2TheTroops, said. "We update our pages daily, running current events, group news and photos. These Web sites have helped us quite a bit in gathering support and organizing."
Operation Gratitude, a California based troop-support group, has long believed social Web sites are a "great" tool for keeping in touch with supporters and sharing troop information. On its official Web site, Operation Gratitude urges all visitors to join the group's Facebook "cause" page and invite more of their Facebook friends to join as well.
"Our Facebook page was set up a month ago," Carolyn Blashek, president of Operation Gratitude, said. "The 'cause' page was set up about two years ago. We have seen an increase in volunteers and supporters through our Facebook networking. We started using Twitter about a month ago. The two have provided a mechanism for us to publish updates easily and recruit volunteers. I can honestly say keeping up with the two has enhanced our efforts, but also caused more work!"
Leaders of both groups agree social networking sites have allowed them to "get the word out" more quickly about different activities and events because of the high volume of traffic on these Web sites. It also allows for online conversations with prospective volunteers and supporters through chat rooms and forums, and direct supporters back to their official Web sites to collect funds for troop-support activities.
"By utilizing these Web sites, we have been able to introduce more people to who we are – our goals, our mission and why we do what we do," Blashek said. "We've also received a lot of positive feedback and ideas from supporters who didn't know we existed."
Grant, whose troop-support group is based in Connecticut, acknowledged some possible drawbacks to social networking.
"You need to have the time to maintain the Web site, answer questions and monitor responses and comments," Grant said. "There is plenty of competition out there, so if you don't have designated people updating and monitoring your page, it can have adverse effects."
Grant said he had to delete inappropriate remarks and, on occasion, links to other causes which other supporters wanted his group to endorse. "Bottom line – you have to patrol it often," he said.
While both leaders recommend social networking Web sites to other troop-support groups, they still value the success of their official Web sites.
"It's still too early to tell in comparing our Facebook page with our Web site," Blaschek said. "Our Web site is still a vital part of who we are. I would definitely recommend these other social networking sites to other groups. The more people know what you do, as it relates to supporting the troops, the better. I look at this as just another way of communicating with supporters."
By Sharon Foster
American Forces Press Service
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