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Army Leverages Social Media to Promote Recruiting

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 27, 2009 – When young people began flocking to MySpace about two years ago, the Army recognized social networks as a whole new way to reach its primary recruiting population.

So Army recruiters and accessions staffers, too, are establishing an Army presence in the growing array of social networking forums, Suzanne Nagel, Army Accessions Command’s media and Web chief for Army advertising, told American Forces Press Service.

They’re using them to connect with 18- to 24-year-olds who regularly use social networking sites, to direct them to the primary Army recruiting Web site, and to help answer their questions about Army service in a nonthreatening, no-pressure environment.

“In essence, our philosophy is that we want to fish where the fish are,” Nagel said. “For us, the fish are the prospects -- the person who might be interested in joining the Army.”

From its first corporate sponsorship page on MySpace -- which now boasts more than 90,000 “friends” -- to a comprehensive plan being developed for fiscal 2010, the Army is expanding its social media presence to better reach these prospects.

Many potential recruits might never go to the www.goarmy.com recruiting Web site on their own, Nagel conceded. They’re more likely to do so, she said, if steered to the site through a MySpace, Facebook or other social networking contact.

“The people we want to reach are spending an awful lot of time in social networking sites,” she said. “So you have to be in those environments to be able to talk to the people you want to talk to.”

The goal, she said, is to help people understand the Army experience. “The more people know about the Army, and the more they know about the reality of the Army, the better they will be equipped to make that decision to join,” she said.

Nagel calls the men and women in uniform whose unfiltered voices tell the ups and downs of their Army experiences the key to the Army’s social media efforts.

“There is no better way to tell the Army story than to get it directly from the mouths of soldiers -- the people who have experienced it every single day,” she said. “With all of our social networking ventures, we are looking to leverage our soldiers and to make them the spokespeople.”

Real-life soldiers representing every rank and a variety of military specialties and backgrounds provide an unfiltered perspective on daily life in the military through blog entries, photos and videos posted on the ArmyStrongStories.com Web site.

“As people go on our site and ask questions about joining, and should they do it, we want our soldiers to be on those sites, giving them the answers from their own perspectives,” Nagel said.

The Army monitors the discussion to ensure material posted doesn’t violate security considerations or include political commentary and isn’t offensive. But otherwise, the discussion is straightforward and uncensored, with soldiers calling things as they see them.

“We definitely don’t want them giving canned answers that we have prepared for them,” Nagel said. “The people who are on the discussion board and our social networking site can cut through the propaganda really, really quickly. They know what’s real and what’s canned. So it’s important that the conversation be real.”

Recruiters are generating similar conversations as they set up Facebook pages and develop networks of friends to talk about Army opportunities.

Another Army discussion board launched late last year links former and current ROTC cadets. “The whole goal is to keep people interested in ROTC and to allow people who have been there to talk to people going there, to share those experiences,” Nagel said. “We’re seeing some interesting results, and looking to possibly expand it.”

The Army is making plans to expand its full range of social media networking, getting more soldiers to contribute videos for the Army’s YouTube site, and sharing comments on its Facebook page.

Meanwhile, a social networking plan being developed for fiscal 2010 will build on that headway while looking to what’s ahead in the quickly evolving medium. The Armywide plan will help the service tap into the new opportunities these tools provide.

“Social networking is changing on almost a daily basis,” Nagel said. “So we’re trying to take advantage of the things out there, and to identify emerging sites and take advantage of those as they come along.”

As these social networks develop, Nagel doesn’t measure their success through the number of friends or followers, or visitor hits alone. “We are looking at it to see what kind of conversations are going on, and the number of people driving back to the [goarmy.com] site,” she said.

What’s developed so far already vastly exceeds what many Army officials expected, she said, which was little more than an Army fan page. But they quickly noticed another phenomenon as dialogue grew to include more than just potential soldiers, she said.

Applicants who had already signed up, but hadn’t yet shipped off to basic training, began using the site to stay connected. “I’m getting ready to ship to basic in three weeks, and am looking for somebody who is going to be at Fort Jackson, [S.C.],” a MySpace friend might ask.

These connections help reinforce the applicant’s decision to join the military, Nagel said. “With recruiting, it’s not just about getting people to sign up,” she said. “It’s about keeping the people interested in joining so they don’t drop out before actually shipping to basic training.”

Meanwhile, as applicants began connecting, their parents began using the site to connect with each other, too. Teachers, coaches and other adults who influence young people’s decisions to join the military began joining the conversation.

The Army hopes to generate more of these conversations through its social networking efforts.

“We want to make sure people can understand the Army experience,” Nagel said. “Our goal is to change perceptions and convince people who maybe wouldn’t otherwise think about the Army in a positive way.”

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Related Sites:
Go Army Web Site
U.S. Army Accessions Command
Army on MySpace
Ask Army Discussion Board

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