With hundreds of Marine locations across the US and millions of prospective recruits we look at how the Marine Corps are using social media to connect, engage and recruit new marines. Raphael Hernandez, Chief Marketing Officer of United States Marine Corps Recruiting Command and Marshall Lauck, Chief Operating Officer of marketing communications agency JWT will be doing a joint presentation at #SMWF North America next week but we caught up with them ahead of the show to find out more.
How important is social media to the Marines?
“Given that our audience for recruits is 17- to 29-year-olds, it is huge. Our social media footprint provides an unrivaled channel for engaging both our prospect and influencer audience. Facebook is a big force-multiplier for our recruiting efforts. Where else can we post a recruiting message certain that it will not only reach nearly 3.5 million people, but likely spark engagement with more than 20,000 of them? We also know that nearly half of our Facebook fans are in our prospect age group. That’s valuable. But equally valuable are all the veterans who follow our page, eager to help recruit the next generation of Marines. Across all our platforms we get a huge bump in engagement from Marines, both currently serving and those no longer in uniform. They are an invaluable tool for educating America’s youth about the value of serving their country.
Think about the fact that fewer and fewer prospects have a parent, relative or influencer who served in the military, let alone the Marines. So being able to harness our supporters and connect them with prospects is vital to our success.”
The Marines are the biggest Government brand on Facebook – how have you built that presence?
“Since 2006, when we stepped into MySpace (remember them), we have approached all of our marketing platforms with the same deliberate mindset; The Marine Corps conducts itself with the upmost of discipline, no matter what the environment. When it comes to the undisciplined world of social media there were challenges. But we have always made clear that our pages and accounts must rise to the same high standards, and people engaging with us must commit to that. You’d think that wouldn’t go over well, but surprisingly we’ve had very few problems. I think that’s the prestige of the brand shining through.”
How do you sustain that lead and interest?
“It helps when you have the quality and quantity of content that the Marine Corps has to offer. In terms of what we decide to share, we draw on what is called the Longer Marine Corps Story, the promise to Americans that the institution will make Marines, win our nation’s battles and develop quality citizens. In practical terms it means we have a wealth of compelling content that feeds the appetite of both our most eager prospects, but also the service-ethos of the millennial generation.
Each piece of content we share on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is aligned with one of those chapters and intended for a very specific portion of our audience. We are intensely data-driven so we know when to post, what to expect and, more importantly, when it is time to adapt our programs.”
How do you scale your national efforts to the local level and what lessons can we learn from how you do that?
“We have more than 3,700 recruiters out in the field talking with prospect-age young men and women. So we know firsthand how important social media has become in this group’s day-to-day environment. Our recruiters have to be well-versed on all the relevant tools. JWT has helped us keep on top of this with the establishment of local-level Facebook pages that can leverage national content. We’ve had JWT’s team conduct regular social media training with our recruiters and we’ve opened the door for our recruiters to share best practices back up the chain through a national-level social media work group.
If there are any key lessons it has to be this, social media, and mobile technology are constantly changing the landscape of how youth interact not only with each other, but also institutions. Staying on top of this requires that the organization recognize that critical insights can and will come from every level.”
How have you enabled a unified brand on social media and what are the biggest challenges you face in doing so?
“This may be where the Marine Corps has a couple big advantages over most brands. First is the Longer Marine Corps Story that Marshall mentioned. The Marine Corps message is firmly rooted in our 238-year history and not variable based on market conditions or current trends. It also helps that every Marine is trained the same way. We all have been steeped in the history and heritage that comes with the title Marine. That’s a really big deal to us. So even though we have something like 50 local pages and countless local twitter handles, every Marine knows what’s expected of them and how much responsibility we put in their hands. That’s not to say we don’t make mistakes, but there too our training is critical. Adapt, improvise and overcome is much more than just a mantra for the battlefield.”
By using social in your recruitment campaign you have had great success but how have you done that – what were the key factors?
“The single biggest factor has to be a tight integration of our messaging strategy. It doesn’t matter if you are looking at a TV commercial, a post on Instagram or a brochure at the recruiting sub-station, there is an unmistakable consistency in tone and message. That isn’t by chance. We have one team that works across platforms, off the same brief, leveraging the same pool of content. This is not an easy brand to jump into, so we also spend a lot of time training our team about what it means to work on the Marine Corps’ recruiting program. The people managing our communities know at a very visceral level the types of conversations that sustain the brand and those that have no place on our pages.
By the same token, our experience team spends a lot of time digging deep into every platform out there, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses, the audiences and the nature of the conversations. We want to know not only what to post, but what to expect, how it will advance a prospect from awareness to consideration and on to raising their hand to meet with a recruiter. We also realize that what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, so our strategies have to be strong enough to adapt to changes in the marketplace. Speed is important, but that cannot come at the cost of strategic alignment.”
Raphael Hernandez, Chief Marketing Officer of United States Marine Corps Recruiting Command and Marshall Lauck, Chief Operating Officer of marketing communications agency JWT will be doing a joint presentation at #SMWF North America. There’s still time to book! We’ll see you there!