Army plans new tech for recruiting site

While most of the federal government is cautiously testing the waters of online recruiting, the Army is jumping in headfirst., the service's 7-year-old online recruiting site, has become so successful at producing recruitment "leads," or seriously interested applicants, that its developers are planning to add the kind of revolutionary technologies that other divisions of the federal government have yet to even consider.

Since the beginning of the service's new $150 million recruitment campaign — "An Army of One" — in January 2001, for example, visits to the Web site are up 126 percent, and Web-produced leads are up 76 percent, according to Capt. David Connolly at the U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky.

The number of visitors to the site's RecruiterChat, an online chat room feature added to the site in 1999, has increased from about 3,600 in January 2000 to more than 27,500 in January 2002. RecruiterChat boasts a conversion rate — the percentage of chat room visitors who eventually sign an enlistment contract — of 10 percent, Connolly said.

The chat room includes hosts, who may only answer questions and don't have the authority to offer enlistment contracts. But the hosts "prequalify people as much as possible," said George Silva, a retired Army recruiter who, as a civilian employee of the Army Recruiting Command, now manages the chat room staff.

"When recruiters receive an e-mail from us on an individual who has expressed a lot of interest in the Army, the recruiters know they won't be chasing down somebody who's underage or overweight," Silva said. "This saves time and money."

However, keeping up with the Army's target recruiting audience — technology-savvy 18- to 24-year-olds — requires the developers of to stay continuously ahead of the curve in terms of the latest "new thing" on the Internet.

In the next six months to a year, for example, "we foresee expanding our use of video and other multimedia technologies such as Flash and Java applets as a way to allow our target market to experience Army life," said Gary Bishop, chief of Web applications for the Army Recruiting Command. "We recognize that not everyone has broadband access, so we will also offer alternative pages that use HTML, images and audio."

Other technologies that Bishop has on the drawing board for include:

* A greater interactive capability for RecruiterChat, including technologies that allow one-on-one chatting in text and possibly via the telephone or voice over IP.

* A two-way Web-based push-pull environment, which responds to a site visitor's push, or online request, by pulling a specific image or text onto the computer screen. "If you go to the Lands' End [Inc.] site and ask for a parka rated at below 50 degrees, the site pushes you the appropriate Web page with the information you want," Bishop explained.

* 360-degree iPix images provided by Internet Pictures Corp. of barracks rooms, bowling alleys, swimming pools and other sights, to give young people a better idea of what life at an Army post is like.

* Live Webcams that will provide a view of daily Army life.

* Personalization technologies that will collect a controlled amount of information from visitors and store it to provide them with customized information on their return visits to the site.

Silva, who was an Army recruiter for 13 years before he retired, says he understands why online recruiting might seem fantastical to traditional recruiters.

"I was kind of skeptical when I was still in uniform," Silva said. "I said nobody would 'go Army' that way. Since then, I retired and this opportunity [to join RecruiterChat] came around. I have to say I was proved close-minded."


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