During a five-year period that ends in December 2017, 1.2 million US military personnel will transition to civilian life. Veterans often struggle during and immediately after this transition phase. A 2013 government study reported that 44% of all veterans have had trouble integrating into the non-military world.
The wellbeing of our nation’s veterans has always been a priority for this multinational defense contractor. The company’s largest customer is the US government and many of its core products (e.g., military planes, missiles defense systems) and services are purchased by the military.
The company is also interested in recruiting veterans. With veterans already comprising nearly one-fourth of their workforce, transitioning individuals have the potential to form a talent pipeline for the company, particularly as many possess the STEM skills and security clearances required to work there.
Given the company’s longstanding commitment to the military as well as the need to bolster its talent pipeline, a talent acquisition team with a focus on outreach to the military began planning an initiative for transitioning military several years ago.
From the outset, the initiative and the subsequent community were designed as vehicles to help as many men and women as possible who served this country. It was to be about the community. In terms of building a talent pipeline, the focus would be on developing long-term relationships from the community over the next 10 to 15 years. As this case study will show, by successfully putting the community first and subsuming the company’s brand to it, the initiative has been able to achieve its goals.
The company partnered with BraveNew in early 2014 to build an online community steeped in the principles of knowledge sharing and collaboration. The vision was of an interactive group of individuals engaged around mutual topics of interest, passions, and affinities. The community aimed to help not just those in the job seeking stage (though that would be a major part of it) but those veterans in any stage of their civilian lives.
This company also outlined a number of challenges to BraveNew: Those 1.2 million veterans hail from different branches, ranks, educational backgrounds, economic situations, professions and geographic locations. They represent a diverse set of skills, professional interests, ages. Some would be looking for jobs, some simply to survive in the civilian world.
The community’s primary mission was to offer a wealth of content resources and counselling services to facilitate the transition for members. Given the breadth of backgrounds and interests that would be present in the community, the demand for on-going fresh content would be overwhelming. And there would be no one individual who could answer all of the questions and queries.
In the months leading up to the launch, the company and BraveNew teams began solving for these challenges through the feature selection and community design.
The community design leans heavily on the segmentation and stratification capabilities of the platform. Multiple pre-determined topics – pre-transition, mid-transition – were identified ahead of time so that the site could quickly accumulate content in a range of interest areas. A team of “mentors” from across the company was assembled to seed the site with content and answer member questions. These mentors hail from different functional areas (e.g., HR, Engineering) and company levels (e.g., Manager, Program Flying; Chief Engineer).
The customer and BraveNew teams spent about three months “priming” the community with posts and content (e.g., blog, articles, slides, videos) on the preselected topics as well as embedded resources, such as eBooks. To keep the community filled with fresh content on a daily basis, the team began working with the Curata Content Curation tool, which uses artificial intelligence to source, aggregate and curate resources on pre-selected topics across the web. Finally, using the campaign invitation tool, the community was launched in June 2014.
Today the community boasts 4900 members. It has grown to this size through a series of thoughtful design and structural choices that have mastered the many challenges laid out in the planning phase.
Recognizing the importance of visual imagery in a community, the banner image at the top of the home page is a sleek graphic of military and business individuals in profile. It does not feature the name of the company nor does the abstract logo. Likewise, throughout the community, the organization’s personnel are identified in their posts and comments with a photo and their name but not by company name (although their full profiles feature their affiliation). The community is always put first.
This company worked extensively with BraveNew’s dynamic page capabilities to tackle the need for stratification and segmentation of topics, issues, mentors and content. A menu on the left-hand side of the home page lists a series of sections with dynamically built pages that are at the heart of the community.
These sections can be divided into three areas:
The Question area sits just below “Home” on the menu and provides a place for members to ask their most pressing questions. While some of the queries are pointed requests for information regarding jobs at the company (“I’m a seasoned EHS man looking for a new opportunity ”), many others are on a range of non-company related topics (“Does anybody have any connections/contacts in the San Diego area that I can reach out to for help?”, “Can anyone help me find a job as an instructor for the AFATDS system used in Field Artillery?”)
The Mentors’ section contains boxed, brief profiles of each mentor with their title, photo and location. (e.g., Sara Walker, Council Bluffs, IA, USA, Program Manager). The team has now grown to 32 individuals. A member can follow any mentor to ensure that the individual’s posts show up in his feed. Or he can simply click on the link, view a more extensive profile as well as all of the mentor’s posts and begin interacting with him. This area is also facilitating the start of the desired long-term relationships with talent.
The Members section has similar profiles of fellow members (Aaron Adams, Executive Officer, MCAS New River) with the same functionality of following and viewing all posts. These profiles are key for community members as they enable the identification of fellow members of a similar rank, functional area or geographic location.
The Career Advisors’ section has profiles of the five members of the community management team who are available to all members for advice and counselling.
The Topics section has nine pages of titles, each in a box, each with the same functionality as Mentors and Members. The topics are diverse (“Building a Personal Brand,” “Emotional Intelligence”) and a member can add a topic with his own tag in a post. When you click on the box, you can see everything that has been posted about the topic as well as a list of who has contributed to it and who “follows” it. Again, this enables the member to find like-minded individuals quickly.
The Library and Resources Sections answer the challenge of organizing and storing relevant content to aid the individual in transition. The Library contains the posts and conversations archived by the member; the Resources Section offers a selection of embedded evergreen content (eguide) and other resources (e.g., organizations that help veterans.)
The Events Section may be the most practical area in the community. Using BraveNew’s event gathering tool, the dates and locations of job fairs (e.g., Recruit Military Job Fair, Richmond, VA) and other events (e.g., Hiring our Heroes, Colorado Springs, CO) are listed.
Thus, when a member arrives at their home page for the first time or the fifteenth, they can quickly locate the individuals, content and events of most relevance to them. While their home page has a feed of posts from topics and individuals whom they follow, the menu on the left hand side of the page can take the member to the area of most importance to them that day. An Air Force Officer in aerospace can find and ask a question of a fellow officer about life on the other side. A military truck driver living in San Diego can learn of the job-related events near him.
Over the past fifteen months, the community has grown to 4900 members. The returnee rate is 71% within 90-days. Visitors consume more than 7,000 content items each month and engage in more than 250 conversations. The first time visitor stays for nine minutes; repeat ones for 20. Every day lively yet meaningful conversations are ignited.
The community management team monitors these analytics through BraveNew’s self-view portal and reviews the conversations. They are able to refine the selection of topics, posts and content with increasing precision through the ability to measure the consumption and contribution habits of members.
Organic growth now drives over 700 new member registrations each month, as members send the community's branded URL to colleagues and friends.
As each day passes, it becomes clearer that the community is achieving its vision of serving as a place for transitioning military and the customer company personnel to interact around common interests, passions and affinities.
And what of the goal of building a talent pipeline? With the company taking a long view of 10 to 15 years for the full realization of the pipeline, it is still in its early days. However, there already have been job connections made in the community. More important, communication and trust have been engendered by putting the community first in their planning and design.
Launched: June 2014
Size: 4900 members (Aug 2015)
Returnee Rate: 71% over 90-days