An excellent use of the web

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Few organisations are putting more effort into getting their recruitment right than the US and British armies. If you have anything to do with recruitment, or you just like a good website, may I suggest you look at theirs? They are (in places) brilliant.

I was drawn to the US army site (www.army.mil) by Independence Day. My first impression was that it was an elaborate effort in electronic flag waving. So it is – but behind that is an impressive and subtle call to join up.

The home page is centred on a rotating slide show of images, each attached to a story. Some celebrate the success of army people (”Tony Schumacher, Best Driver award”), some explain why America needs its army (”N Korea threat cannot be ignored”, “Iran arming, training, directing terror groups in US”), some are just patriotic, “Independence Day 2007” is accompanied by a photo of a troops waving flags. A mix, but the overall message is strongly that – if you are young and American - your country needs you.

Most of the images lead to a video on the Pentagon Channel (www.pentagonchannel.com), where you can browse an array of features and news organised into sub-channels such as Freedom Watch Afghanistan, Freedom Journal Iraq and Tales of Glory. The videos are well-produced and often fascinating. Tales of Glory is not as gung-ho as it sounds – the latest one is a fairly straight report on how soldiers look for explosive devices in Iraq.

There is much more like this on the site. Relatively little of it is explicitly aimed at recruiting, but people who are wondering about joining up will find themselves drawn in by any number of features. Army Life tells them what it is like to be working there, while History, Heritage and Stories of Valor is an exceptionally well-produced “resource” on military history. The main feature this month, on the Battle of Gettysburg, is a lesson in how to use Flash animation to tell a story. Without many pictures to rely on, it uses maps, text and commentary to take us in detail through the three days of battle.

If they are stirred to find out more, potential recruits are directed to Go Army (www.goarmy.com), where jobs are marketed like washing machines (”New offer: More than $50,000 in new incentives available”), and there is great detail on the soldier’s life. Videos are well used here too, for example taking visitors through the basic training course. If they want to know more, they can ‘chat with a recruiter’ – click another link to read the biographies of the soldiers they will (text) chat with.

I turned the to the British army website (www.army.mod.uk) and was at first very disappointed. The Americans have realised the whole site should be a recruiting tool, the British have not. Much of the site goes into detail about what the different units do – too much detail, too fast. I clicked the first link on the main page, for Land Headquarters, then the first link on that page, HQ Land Command. This led to a page simply saying ‘Please use the navigation on the left hand side’. I did, to go to Army Information Services, and found a page that began ‘Army Information Services (AIS) within D CBM(A) are managed by AIS branch based in Blandford and Worthy Down.’ Fine for insiders who know the jargon, quite offputting for anyone coming to the site to find about the army, and maybe wondering about joining up.

I drilled down into the Divisions & Brigades section. None of the slickness of the US site here, and certainly no video. Some of the sections are quite nicely designed, like the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (www.army.mod.uk/lancs); but some are not, like the King’s Royal Hussars (www.army.mod.uk/the_kings_royal_hussars). With its pasted-in photos, thick yellow frames and crudely animated flag, this site would be shown up by many teenagers’ personal home pages.

But go to the recruitment site and you will be startled by the contrast – this is as slick as anything the Americans have. A panel on the Army home page leads to the site (www.armyjobs.mod.uk) where four film strips can be clicked to play a video. Each tells a story of an event (motorcyclist knocked off his bike, booby trap in Iraq) and shows how soldiers respond. There are several clever aspects to this. First, it is integrated with a television commercial campaign – the TV ad stops at the cliff hanger point, with a line that ‘this film continues at www.armyjobs.co.uk’. Second, a ‘blog’ link allows people to include the films in their blogs.

Third, and most intriguingly, the film ends with encouragement to click the Pathfinder link. This is a mini psychological test that flashes up 30 photo or text patchworks – each has a statement, and you have to click the box that works for you. “If I had some extra time I would probably …” is followed by 14 pictures of people reading a paper, playing football, watching the television, and so on. Click, and move to the next screens until you get to a description of yourself based on your choices and also a colour (green equals ‘real team player’). You can then look for jobs that might appeal to people in your colour group. I am suspicious that the colour really does anything, because the same jobs seem to be the same whatever is selected. But the process is intriguing and – most interesting for me – an excellent use of the web.

David Bowen is a website effectiveness consultant for Bowen Craggs & Co (www.bowencraggs.com). dbowen@bowencraggs.com.

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