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The Navy’s newest recruiting strategy: YouTube influencers

File image of the USS Theodore Roosevelt arriving in San Diego at Naval Air Station North Island in November 2015. (Peggy Peattie/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

William Osman appears thrilled that he’s about to perform an egg-drop experiment.

The challenge is the same one that generations of students have done before: Engineer a way to stop an egg that’s dropped from a high elevation from obliterating on impact.

But Osman is no student. And the location of this egg drop is anything but typical.

Osman is an engineer and professional YouTube influencer who was invited aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt to compete in an egg-drop competition against a pair of sailors while cameras — lots of cameras — captured every moment on the aircraft carrier.

The entertaining videos that resulted were never intended to appear on television but were targeted at Osman’s 1.3 million YouTube subscribers. He’s one of a trio of YouTube influencers the Navy chose for a series of “sailor vs.” videos that showcase various jobs in the Navy to millions of subscribers focused on niche topics. Each video ends with a link to a Navy recruiting website that features other videos in the series.

The use of paid influencers is a first by the Navy. It underscores the service’s strategic shift away from traditional media as it works to find a new generation of recruits for jobs like cryptologic technicians, nuclear machinist mates and explosive ordnance disposal technicians. The jobs are plentiful in Hampton Roads and are among the most difficult to fill because the standards for them are among the highest in the Navy, prodding the Navy to try new tactics to reach a new generation of recruits.

“They are consuming a large amount of video content digitally online, mostly through their smartphones. So we had to adapt and provide our content to the audience really where they live,” said Capt. Matt Boren, director of marketing and advertising for Navy Recruiting Command.

“So it was a natural collaboration for us to try to find those creators that we think would work well with sailors, so we can show that we’re relatable and to help perhaps reach a new audience to show what a day in the life of a sailor is. And just to try to, maybe demystify, some of the things we do.”

In one video, YouTuber Kevin Lieber, known as VSauce2, deconstructs the algorithms used in the board game “Battleship.” Lieber, who has 4.1 million followers, played the game with a submariner aboard the attack submarine USS Pasadena. As they played, Lieber explained mathematical probabilities.

Those who visit Lieber’s channel can find a link to a Navy-produced video in which he details what “nukes,” like the submariner he played “Battleship” with, do aboard nuclear-powered vessels as well as see a behind-the-scenes video.

Boren declined to say how much each influencer was paid for making the sponsored videos. But a few weeks into the campaign, he said the results look positive.

Osman’s egg drop video was viewed on his channel more than 1.5 million times in its first two weeks, generating 98,000 “likes” and more than 7,700 comments. Meanwhile, a Navy-produced video of Osman’s visit had been viewed about 142,000 times on the Navy’s channel.

There are already similar results for the other videos.

Jake Koehler, a diver who chronicles his treasure hunting adventures on his channel, produced a video where he works with explosive ordnance disposal divers to locate simulated bombs on the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Midway.

The 16-minute video has been viewed more than 2.1 million times in just a few weeks. The only two official Navy recruiting videos to ever get more views are one about boot camp, which has been online for eight years and viewed 4 million times, and one about SEAL training, which has been viewed 3.3 million times in 12 years.

But while the initial view counts are impressive, Boren said the ultimate goal is to entice people ages 17 to 24 to consider the Navy as a career option.

“It’s trying to relate to an audience that’s very unfamiliar with the Navy, or even opportunities in the military, just so they can maybe pique the curiosity and maybe encourage them to look into it a little more,” he said. “And if we’ve reached an audience that we otherwise wouldn’t have, that’s kind of a success measure for us.”


© 2019 The Virginian-Pilot

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.