Tennessee military recruiters use social media to reach a new generation

By Emma Demonbreun, Studio M staff //

Military recruiters in Tennessee are taking to the internet to attract a new generation of tech-savvy millennials.

According to Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Walter, the public affairs officer for Navy recruiting district Nashville, approximately 10 recruiting stations have closed in the Nashville district in the past few years and more closures are possible next year.

“We’ve taken several stations that were in far-flung regions, and we’ve kind of collapsed that responsibility to a few people,” Walter said.

The closures are part of a plan that began In 2015. The plan, called “optimization,” involved consolidating recruiting stations into the most productive markets. Recruiting stations in many rural areas were closed in order to focus resources on more densely-populated communities. Once this transition was accomplished, the areas that had been covered by a rural recruiting station fell under the responsibility of the newly formed Virtual Division, which conducts recruiting remotely.

Navy virtual recruiting is currently a team of three to four people that conduct paperwork, interviews, and mentoring online rather than in a recruiting office. The team uses phone calls, video conferencing, and text messages to interact with recruits.

“One of the benefits is that the recruiters who do deal with these people, because there’s no face-to-face contact, have to try really hard to get to know the person and instead of just superficial chit chat in the office, they have to really work over the phone to try and understand the motivations and fears people have and deal with them,” Walter said.

The Navy presently operates a Facebook page and plans to launch Instagram advertisements in order to reach a younger demographic.

The Nashville Army Recruiting Battalion has also began transitioning online, forming a two-member virtual recruiting team in September to increase the Army’s social media presence and attract new recruits.

Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Lindt, who has been recruiting for the Army for almost 14 years, is a part of the virtual recruiting team. He says social media has had a big role in recruiting since the days of Myspace.

“But now we’re becoming more focused in it, more targeted,” Lindt said.

Through their efforts on social media, Lindt and his team member Sgt. 1st Class Craig Olsen are able to reach out to and connect with young people in new, more effective ways.

“We’re trying to cast a bigger net to the people who may not see a recruiter in the high school every day or may see a recruiter once every two weeks,” Olsen said.

Lindt says that social media is the way this generation communicates and interacts and that communication through social media is more effective than calling phone numbers from a list or visiting schools or shopping centers.

“Phone calls are pretty much worthless because nobody has a home phone, and even if you have their cell phone number, the majority of people, if they don’t know you, are not going to answer your phone call. That’s why social media has been a lot more effective in order to get in touch with people” Lindt said.

According to Lindt, this generation of recruits faces unique challenges such as higher ADHD rates, obesity and higher marijuana usage than in past generations.

However, according to Olsen, potential recruits are also well-informed and eager to learn about what the Army can do for them. He says many recruits seek instant gratification from their service, which influences their central messaging.

“We try to create something that will make them stop scrolling and just take two seconds to read our message,” Olsen said.

According to Capt. Erin Ranaweera, public affairs officer at Air Force recruiting headquarters, today’s youth lack a familiarity with military service. In 1995, 40 percent of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 had at least one parent who had served in the military. Today, that number is down to 15 percent.

However, Ranaweera adds that the younger generation has a strong desire to join an organization and have a career where they can truly make an impact.

“They like to plan ahead—look ahead—at what a career will offer, and also want to make an impact. So they’re definitely people who want to join an organization and have an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. They want to be able to see the fruits of their labor,” Ranaweera said.

To reach America’s youth, Ranaweera says the Air Force must engage potential recruits on multiple platforms including social media, television, radio, billboard advertisements and face-to-face events. The Air Force currently operates a Facebook page with nearly 1 million followers and hosts online weekly live chats and monthly career-specific chats. However,

Ranaweera says that youth are more likely to use the official Air Force website and blogs to learn specific information about enlistment, benefits, and specific careers.

“We provide opportunities to answer questions, ask questions. So we engage them with dialog throughout the day, but we also host once a month live video forums where people have a chance to ask questions from somebody who’s in a career field that they may want to join,” Ranaweera said.

Emma Demonbreun is a public relations student at Middle Tennessee State University. You can reach her at ecd2x@mtmail.mtsu.edu.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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