Our National Guard protects and serves our country in a different way than the other branches of our military. They have the special mission to protect their home communities as well as our country. The scores of tradition and protocol guide the structure and organization in ways only military personnel can appreciate. In an constantly evolving online world it was no small task to bring the Guard up to par with their website and social media.
As the Interactive Creative Director for the National Guard, my team brought the brand from an obscure flash, hard to navigate website to a responsive, standards compliant web presence. We crafted their social media presence from a few thousand to over 1.2 million likes. Their applicant conversion, in time to complete plummeted and number to complete, quadrupled.
We built trust with the Guard leadership with thoughtful creative processes, and in turn they allowed us to direct the entire online brand of the National Guard.
The need for “Current & Future”
By 2009 the National Guard had a website for many years. It was built with flash and served the required purposes well. As our web evolves so did the need for a website that could do much more.
Content Management was a priority, along with the ability to work on more platforms and screen sizes. The User Experience industry was making an impact with some of the work from Apple, and Google. The Guard was curious how their own site was performing in regards to user engagement and education.
The Guard command wanted a “current & future” site that delivered content (both depth and width), stats, and a easy to use experience with a focus on helping recruits. The solution would need to serve many masters and need to be built with an eye turned to the future with expansion.
Laying the ground work
My team had to begin with a simple plan for the web presence, outlined by largely 3 main points.
- Create a tool that many Guard vendors will be about to use to produce and publish content.
- Craft a website with an appropriate tech stack that will withstand the foreseeable evolution on the web. Meaning it will work on smartphones and tablets, or whatever might become a significant portion of market share.
- Design workflows, funnels, and user engagement points that will crescendo with conversion. Get more recuits to the right pages, then influence them to take action.
The long-short of the approach
For obvious reasons we started with an HTML foundation, with responsive CSS queries, and an asynchronous approach to database connections. With a quick overview of the 2009 web landscape it was clear the future was going the way of HTML and Responsive design.
The use of responsive layouts meant that my team had to approach content and layout on a fundamental level. We had to create a workflow language that would help the diverse team not only understand the layout and content, but the thinking behind the decision.
Conversion across the site would need to be built out of a marriage of data and instinct. The Guard needed an education in analytics and user intent. The history of user interaction data needed to make most decisions was missing, and there was no culture of user experience to help guide leadership into understanding the users experience through the process.
The welcome to recruits
Because I am a User Experience Evangelist and not an engineer, I am going to elaborate on the experience and design sections of this process.
We needed to ensure that the potential recruits were attracted, informed and motivated to act.
The home page was cleaned up with a clear drive to motivate the recruits to apply for more information. We used exciting imagery and the color blue to guide the workflow. Through user research, we found that many recruits responded well to 2 types of imagery. Action & excitement, and humanitarian aid. We created a content system that allocated for beautiful images throughout the site.
Results: Applications jumped by ⬆︎73%, phone calls dropped ⬇︎54%.
Content and Search
The navigation was consolidated in to a mega-nav with a prominent search. This allowed for users to quickly discover the many aspects the Guard has to offer, or jump directly to a section.
Time on site increased ⬆︎8min/user.
Our custom built CMS allowed for Guard vendors to create, draft & publish content directly to the site. We created a user security system that allocated for different vendor permissions and approvals.
Content change requests drops ⬇︎86%, allowing my team to then turn our resources to building the social media brand not recreating content.
The Application Process (pre-boarding)
Before a recruit can enter the enlistment process they need to be screened by a recruiter. The previous application was more than 48 fields, with many of them optional. The recruiter could not sort through the 73% increase in submissions. After the show of expertise, driving traffic, the Guard leadership began to loosen the grip on process and content. This allowed for the negotiation of what the form needed to entail verses what the Guard leadership wanted it to entail.
We set a few rules for the creation of the new form. These rules would set many chiefs on the same path.
- Only required fields.
- Create tools to help recruits self qualify.
- Remove from view conditional content. (that what is triggered by qualifying answers)
- If it doesn’t affect a recruiter’s decision to process an applicant, remove it.
Overall user dropout increased while, qualified applicants increased over ⬆︎56%.
Building an online community
The Guard was relatively new to social media. Facebook was the main thread in a fragmented collection of profiles and pages. Leadership gave us 2 main initiatives for the social presence. First, better engagement from the users and the Guard (real conversations and real response). Second, 1 million likes (“Fans” at the time).
It was clear that a qualified, prepared team would man the ship. We created a Social Media Response Team that was composed of prior Guard service men and women stationed across all timezones to react to any legitimate social interactions, as well provide direction and support.
Referrals to ng.com increase ⬆︎56%. Chats rose ⬆︎183% (meaning more discussion). Total Likes increase ⬆︎11% in the first 30 days.
1 Million Likes
User research had show that the majority of social interaction was from potential recruits and once removed Guard members. Those that are friends and family would quite often reach out to the ARNG Facebook page for a connection, a thankfulness, or support.
Throughout the year, many Facebook apps were created to help our audience engage through participation in games, contest, polls, and message boards. One of the most successful apps was “Show Your Support”. It was based on the old concept of sibling rivalry. Each state has it’s own respective Guard. The app allowed each state the opportunity to show which of them had the most pride.
Show Your Support garnered 15,909 votes in only the first week. Totaling over 600,000 votes in the next 12 months.
With the help of SMRT (Social Media Response Team) and the many Facebook apps the Army National Guard was the first military branch to reach 1 million likes.
Facebook likes rocketed from 200k to 1.2 million over 15 months.
Not many clients can be more stuck to tradition and regiment than a brigadier general in the military. They have spent a lifetime within a rule set and structure meant to protect and serve. Many clients will not understand the creative process or the need to experiment and test ideas. As Creatives we can draw upon common ground for any type of client.
Focusing on logical steps, building thoughtful concepts, and demonstrating expertise in our field by getting results will build relationships with clients that extend far beyond a pretty visual.