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Why the British Army is turning to digital to attract recruits

Why the British Army is turning to digital to attract recruits

By UTalkMarketing Senior Reporter, Claire Weekes.

If there is one industry in which the process of recruitment has changed dramatically over the years, it’s the British Army.

In the last century, an iconic poster of Lord Kitchener declaring  that “Your Country Needs You” plus a few strategically placed doses of compulsory national service were pretty much enough to keep new recruits coming through the doors.

Nowadays the process of army recruitment couldn’t be more different; with recruitment success relying on the same metrics measured by many a marketer – namely brand awareness and emotional engagement.

Traditionally, the army has invested money into high profile direct response TV ad campaigns. It’s still doing so, but for its latest recruitment drive is embarking on its first ever digital only campaign.

“We've only ever used digital as a supporting media, so it’s a really interesting test for us,” explained Colin Cook, Director of Marketing for the Army’s Recruiting Group. Cook and his team are embarking on a big social media push to encourage “high quality” candidates, graduates especially, to its Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2011. The aim is to find 750 recruits to next year’s programme, which begins in May.

The crux of the concept is to have existing soldiers communicate with potential graduates, answering any questions or concerns they may have about the rigorous processes involved in army training. The army already has a policy of only ever using real soldiers in its TV ads – a policy that it is to stick as it moves increasingly into the online space.

The Army Jobs Facebook page, started around nine months ago, has over 40,000 followers to date and represents an active community. Potential candidates have plenty of questions they want answered – a quick scan of the message board reveals anything from ‘how do I get an application form’ to ‘I suffer from hay fever, will this affect my application?’ – with dozens of these questions answered daily.

In fact the recruitment process the army is currently undertaking is two-tier, because on top of finding Sandhurst pupils, Cook is keen to find within the army more “social media pioneers” who can get involved in promoting roles online.

“We’re keen for more soldiers, who know about the parameters of social media, to be part of the voice of the brand,” he said. “There are obviously some security issues – for example with certain roles our staff can’t mention where they are based. We obviously have to adhere to some rules and regulations,” he said.

The social media strategy has been borne out of what started as an online chat facility on the website – people could submit questions to a team of four or five trained officers tasked to answer them. Now that it is using social media to host these question and answer sessions, the process of online conversation has much more flow to it.

The Facebook page advertises set times during which queries from the public will be answered – logging on between 12 and 10pm on any weekday or 12 – 8pm on Sundays means that trained army staff are on hand to chat to.

It’s not just eager recruits who have questions either. For anyone under the age of 18 looking to join the army, parental permission must be gained. Naturally, a proportion of the questions about army life actually come from concerned parents. “You have to be honest about both the risks and the upsides,” said Cook.

“Overall, we want to put across the message that soldier and officer roles form a fantastic place to start your career with the training and development and skills that you acquire. This current campaign is all about teaching interested candidates industry skills from the people who wrote the book”. (The campaign itself is called 'Leadership: From the people who wrote the book').

 “It’s all about reinforcing the notion that we are a first class trainer and developer, and whether you choose to work for the army for four or for 34 years, you'll pick up skills that will help you in your career for life.”

On top of its social media push, the army is using display, search, use of rich media and presence on digital job sites such as Total Jobs and Monster to spread the word about its recruitment drive.  Display ads are running on “sites that typically attract young men and women” such as eBay. MSN and Talk Sport.

“We’re just making sure we keep our eyes on the way consumption is moving,” said Cook, who mentions also having previously done promotional tie-ups with MTV.

This new digital push follows last year’s ‘Start Thinking Soldier’ campaign, which looked to boost recruitment levels amongst 16-24 year olds and especially amongst groups who might not ordinarily consider joining the army. That online campaign, launched across a range of media, attracted 604,038 site visitors, 52,336 registrations and an average dwell time of 9-10minutes.

“We know that digital works to draw in numbers,” said Cook. “What we are interested to see with this new campaign is whether digital works as well as some of our more classic media strategies in enhancing our reputation as an employer brand.”

The campaign is running until February.

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