How to Recruit Within the Generation Z

Many European defence organizations are struggling with a recruitment problem. They are unable to fill in the required workforce strength with a sufficient number of young recruits. A poorly executed recruitment campaign is often at the origin of this problem.  But how can a recruiting campaign work? Bridging the generation gap is hugely important to develop successful communication campaigns.  There is a significant amount of research that points to a generation of young people – the generation Z, the new workforce born after the year 2000 – who want to belong.  Armed forces can offer a huge amount to young people; meaningful employment, lifelong education and skill development, adventure, a family, values, shared goals and empowerment of individuals to achieve goals.  This offer is synonymous with the images and stories captured in most of the current campaigns in our countries.  So why do they often flounder?

Put simply: the message is sound; the platforms are wrong.  The military needs to increase the number of social media platforms it uses and deregulate its approach to social media so it can really take advantage of this powerful tool.

Our armed forces need to take their message to their audiences, not sit back and expect the audiences to come to them; a proactive information push approach, rather than a passive information pull approach.  One way to do this is to take advantage of apps like Snapchat, an app which allows people to quickly share their experience with a huge audience.  Snapchat is by far the most used social network by teenagers (it’s even pulling users away from Instagram) in Western Europe, and the fact that some defence organizations do not take advantage means they are neglecting a platform that its target audience is communicating on.

Currently it is easier for a young person to find out what is going in Taylor Swift’s life, than it is for them to find out what the day to day life of a soldier is like.  Whilst risky, if armed forces promoted some soldiers’ Snapchat accounts, young people could follow these.  They would thus understand far more what it means to be a soldier and to ‘belong’, than by following the armed forces on Instagram.  Whilst regular images on Facebook and Instagram may be effective to some extent, allowing young soldiers to use Snapchat as a platform to promote the military could be game changing. For many teenagers, video is far more attractive if it is gritty and raw.  Videos which seem authentic, rather than something of ‘movie’ quality, get more attention. POV style Vlogs, recorded on a phone can be more effective at getting a story across than a perfectly edited masterpiece.

For this method to be its most effective, the military must practice what it preaches: trust.  Young soldiers must be given some basic training, an intent, some clear boundaries and be allowed to get on with it.  They must be trusted to broadcast their message, trusted to tell their story.  If you want to reach young people, why not do it on a platform they use, in a language they understand, with someone they can relate to pushing out the message?  At present, our defence organizations publish a huge amount on Twitter; not the platform of choice for young people.  They use acronyms and complex language in their social media posts, language which is not accessible to the target audience and will often post content that doesn’t appeal to the target audience rendering the activity redundant in terms of recruiting effectiveness.

Often, our military recruiters are answering questions that no-one is actually asking – i.e. “Do I have to be a superhero to join the army?”. Literally no one has ever thought this, everyone knows it doesn’t take an athlete or a genius to be a soldier. An add recruitment should be just something that actually answers useful questions like what can I do in the military, what’s it like, what do I get.

Recruiting campaigns need to roll back on the politically correct-multiculturalism focus and actually relate their content to the job and opportunities the armed forces can offer. We all know that you can be in the military no matter your ethnicity, religion, orientation, or gender. We don’t know the opportunities.

Our defence organizations need to accept some risk.  To accept there will be the occasional slip up, the occasional diversion from the official lines to take from a tired soldier, posting about what their life is really like. But what there will be is the opportunity to connect, the opportunity to really engage.  Whilst it may appear hugely risky to senior and general officer, allowing soldiers to have Snapchat or Instagram accounts, the benefits could be significant.  Enabling young soldiers and officers to post on Snapchat and Instagram their day to day activities, unfiltered, and uninfluenced by the chain of command gives a fantastic opportunity for young people to gain a real understanding of what it means to belong.

Roger Housen

ACMP-CGPM, the Belgian military union

With thanks to: Henry – Army Recruiting: right message, wrong platform. The Wavell Room

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