“Word of mouth is the biggest thing for a driver” evaluating a company, says Steve Fields, a driver for Overland Park, Kan.-based YRC and an America’s Road Team captain. Low-tech messaging such as the driver-centric slogans on Crete Carrier’s trailers – “Our most valuable resource sits 63 feet ahead” – can be effective in spurring CB conversations on the road.
But such conversations increasingly are taking place online. That’s where more direct recruiting ad dollars are going, as fleets look to broadcast their company culture through a variety of media and methodologies, from online job boards, social platforms and search engines to sophisticated online remarketing and retargeting.
“I’ve been in advertising for 13 years now,” says Rob Hatchett, vice president for recruiting and communications for Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Covenant Transport. His past four in trucking have been eye-opening throughout the industry as the focus has changed.
“The whole goal of anybody marketing or advertising – how to get your product in front of people’s eyeballs,” Hatchett says. “When I came to Covenant four years ago, we were spending 50 percent in digital and the other 50 percent in print media. We are now 92 percent digital and 8 percent print.”
That’s a big and rapid shift that recognizes how and where drivers spend their time. “It’s easier and cheaper to get your product in front of more truck drivers,” Hatchett says. When he came to trucking, driver smartphone use wasn’t exactly an unwritten rule, but today, “it’s the norm,” he says. They “have apps, social media, they’re on Google, they’re watching YouTube videos.”
Attracting experienced drivers to your fleet among stiff competition is a matter of recognizing trends, getting in front of waves of new technology and practices and allocating resources where they’ll be the most effective. Increasingly, those areas involve optimizing drivers’ online experiences on mobile devices and, perhaps most importantly, devising an effective strategy for social media as a first point of contact.
In this edition of CCJ’s Tech Toolbox, we look at technologies and services that some of the nation’s largest fleets are using to find drivers that may inspire your path to do the same. Be sure to visit CCJTechToolbox.com for other installments and multimedia content and to sign up for special Tech Toolbox webinars and newsletters. Next month: Technology’s role in keeping drivers.
CCJ parent company Randall-Reilly has played a prominent part in driver recruiting’s digital revolution for years, serving to help facilitate the carrier-driver connection online, says Nick Reid, vice president of digital services.
Among the company’s data-driven digital recruiting campaigns conducted for a variety of trucking clientele, “81 percent of the traffic generated [in Q4 2016] is now mobile,” Reid says. For company driver- and owner-operator-focused media brands, respectively, 75 percent and 65 percent of the traffic was mobile-based, with another “9 to 10 percent” in each case representing mobile tablet traffic.
Technology can help generate positive word of mouth and build a fleet’s brand in many ways. Key in today’s world is being present and optimized for mobile users, Reid says. Referencing CCJ’s Top 250 list of the nation’s largest for-hire fleets, “one out of every three of the Top 250 fleets don’t have mobile-friendly websites,” he says.
While many of those fleets do target recruits with custom landing pages that are mobile-friendly and designed to provide a trackable place for candidates to fill out applications and/or express interest otherwise, Reid calls a non-mobile-friendly corporate home page a big missed opportunity. A “major thing we use to measure branding success is brand search volume,” or how often the company name is searched in Google, he says.
When a Google search on a company leads to “the corporate page that’s not a mobile-friendly landing page – the interaction with your brand creates a first impression that’s hard to change,” Reid says. “People are used to the immediacy of choice. If you don’t deliver, they’ll go somewhere else.”
Beyond branding, decision-making around application form design always should be mobile-centric, says Priscilla Peters, vice president for marketing and training for Conversion Interactive Agency.
“Focus on applications being user-friendly and quick and easy – mobile-optimized.”
– FedEx Freight driver and America’s Road Team captain Don Logan, on trends toward drivers’ use of mobile devices that have accelerated quickly in recent years
“If you have a long application online that’s not easily filled out from a mobile device,” it’s not going to perform as well or generate the volume and quality of leads it should, Peters says. Make it a short form or a form that auto-advances or gives users the option to autocomplete. “The mobile shift has been really big,” she says.
Lane Williams, director of recruiting and retention for Alsip, Ill.-based Carrier One, speaking at Conversion’s annual Recruiting and Retention conference, spoke to the necessity of an active Facebook presence in his company’s branding and growth strategy through recruiting. The Carrier One Facebook page demonstrates an engaged sense of customer service for the all-owner-operator flatbed fleet.
Williams said the company has provided a platform for its own leased drivers to answer questions that come up in comments under online posts. With their smartphones always at hand on downtime wherever they are out on the road, “a lot of them are on Facebook answering questions before I can even get on there,” he said.
“Yesterday’s recruiting phone call is today’s social media comment,” says Priscilla Peters, vice president for marketing and training for Conversion Interactive Agency. “Their initial inquiry used to be to call the recruiting department. Now it’s to go to the company Facebook page and ask a question.”
Devoting staff to monitoring Facebook comments to look for opportunities to engage can generate plenty of solid leads and leave good first impressions. Asked what tool had yielded the most recruiting success lately, Brad Vaughn, vice president of recruiting for Little Rock, Ark.-based Maverick Transportation, names the social network. “Social media has taken off way more than I thought it ever would,” says Vaughn, who recently found out firsthand what the tool has done for direct driver engagement.
“Our folks that manage it were out of the office and asked me if I’d do it,” he says. “It was literally answer 10 questions, refresh and answer 10 more.” Vaughn describes generating leads this way as a matter of moving a conversation in comments under a post to a private message session, “then having a call” to continue the conversation.
Among smaller fleets, this kind of mobile technology-facilitated recruiting process is becoming the norm. Though Fleenor Bros. gets plenty of mileage out of 800-numbers on its dry van trailers, co-owner Kyle Cousins has had success via an expanded social media presence.
The Joplin, Mo.-based fleet grew by around 33 percent between mid-2015 and mid-2016, hiring more than a dozen new drivers for its 40 mostly team-driven trucks. When Fleenor was half the size it is today, “we heavily relied on referrals,” Cousins says. “After a while, those kind of dried up.”
After several high-profile custom-truck beauty show wins, Fleenor devoted time and effort to ramping up its social media efforts via a company Facebook page. “That generates a lot of traffic,” Cousins says, adding that numerous conversations have been initiated there. Drivers messaging the company via the page are encouraged to call direct for one of the few conversations that typically precede any prospect’s visit to headquarters.
It’s a clear case of “strength capitalization,” says Lane Williams, director of recruiting and retention for Alsip, Ill.-based Carrier One. For his fleet with around 150 owner-operators, that means messaging that emphasizes the personal first-name-basis treatment of company contractors.
“We’re a small carrier,” Williams says. “That’s a good thing – if a driver calls into operations and talks to the director over there, it’s on a first-name basis – not truck number such and such. We allow an open door before they show up.” Close monitoring of and quick replies to questions on the carrier’s Facebook page is part of that strategy.
From an advertising perspective, Facebook is now the second overall source of leads in Randall-Reilly recruiting campaigns, says Nick Reid, vice president of digital services.
“When we talk to fleets” looking to implement social media strategies in recruiting, “some believe it’s too much work or too dangerous for their brands,” Reid says. “There’s a spectrum, but this is where you need to challenge your partners. There are so many tools and services out there that can help, with targeting and with data, to work with you for some of that heavy lifting on the social side. The benefits you get from a recruitment standpoint far outweigh” the disadvantage of not doing anything.
Lori Furnell, vice president of communications for Clayton, Ala.-based Boyd Bros. Transportation, says the flatbed carrier in recent years has “really found our social-media presence [to be] totally integral to everything we do.” Either from the perspective of capturing driver leads or as “a total recruiting tool,” there’s no denying its importance, she says.
Through its Facebook page, Boyd communicates the company’s family image and more, with a goal toward branding and engaging drivers over questions that inevitably arrive. The company’s most-viewed video features Gail Cooper, chief executive officer and once a proud high-school cheerleader, leading a cheer for Boyd’s million-milers at an in-house banquet for the drivers.
“We took an internal video and launched it out there,” Furnell says. “Then we had a lot of people asking about our company,” mostly questions about hiring area and home time. “All of that video mix can contribute to your corporate personality.”
Boyd’s social media advertising strategy involves specific targeting of drivers according to company preferences and needs. “We know who we’re after, where they live, what they do and what their interests are,” Furnell says.
“As much as we’re targeting them,” she’s found, drivers also certainly are “targeting their research” when thinking about where to apply. Furnell frequently asks new recruits about social platforms that they use, and the conversation inevitably turns to how they use the platforms to conduct their own research. One thing she’s heard repeatedly from drivers about such research: “The first thing I did was go to their Facebook page.”
Online job boards remain part of the marketing effort, where Boyd can conduct more targeted marketing and do “better at finding an exact fit.” The company uses Tenstreet’s applicant tracking system to follow up on responses to leads and allow recruiters to know exactly what sorts of communications have been made with any individual recruit.
“We can create a variety of emails and texts and all kinds of things to ensure” the conversation continues with any lead that hasn’t followed through to formal application, Furnell says.
Rob Hatchett, vice president of recruiting and communications for Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Covenant Transport, says he gets “pitched day in and day out” by companies offering a variety of new recruiting-related products, from software to online platforms and more.
“You’ve got to be wise about your spend,” Hatchett says. “Ultimately, it has to turn into applications that turn into hires.” When it comes to new recruiting products on the market, “I’d love to be the first person to the party,” he says. “Sometimes, though, you end up being the only person that came to the party. I like to be the third person to the party.”
With most recruiting campaigns now conducted digitally, proving efficacy is easier than ever. “Sometimes you have to try stuff,” Hatchett says. His department sets aside a certain amount of dollars a month to experiment with new tools and strategies “to see what’s going to work.”
“I spend a bunch of money with ad partners sending me leads, then I take my applications over the past 12 months and constantly work the whole database.
Rob Hatchett, vice president of recruiting and communications for Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Covenant Transport
In analyzing your digital spend, he says to always “make sure you are portraying the right message” through whatever avenue you’re using to market to drivers. For Covenant, which employs team drivers for long-haul freight, “I want to make sure that if someone is calling, they already know they have to come in a team. In digital, you’re paying per click or paying per application – why do you want someone to click on you and have no desire to do what you do?”
Hatchett’s department recruits for two affiliated fleets in addition to the Covenant teams – Southern Refrigerated Transport and Star Transportation (regional dedicated dry van). He’s seeing the most success working through the company’s in-house prospect database.
“I spend a bunch of money with ad partners sending me leads, then I take my applications over the past 12 months and constantly work the whole database,” Hatchett says. That’s accomplished through a series of “basic email campaigns and through remarketing and retargeting,” he says.
This map shows the residential location of total 2015 commercial driver’s license-holding applicants per capita, by state, according to BestDriverJobs.com and associated network sites owned by CCJ publisher Randall-Reilly. The sites offer trucking employers access to driver leads to initiate conversations about potential employment.
“We get around 11,000 applications a month,” says Chip Aldridge, Randall-Reilly Digital Services director. Many come from initial points of contact through job searches, Google-served ads, Facebook and ad aggregators such as Indeed.com. Trucking companies then purchase leads based on geographic need or by lane.
Customers include many of the largest truckload fleets but also smaller carriers with targeted needs. “We have about 200 clients per month purchasing this type of service,” says Aldridge. “Half of the 200 clients are 150 trucks or less. I’d say 10 percent are in the 50-truck range.”
Deep South states are perennially among those most densely populated by CDL holders treading the waters for employment. Mississippi ranked the highest in 2015, but Wyoming further afield was not far behind. Vermont and Massachusetts showed the lowest per-capita density of applicants.
Brad Vaughn, vice president of recruiting for Little Rock, Ark.-based Maverick Transportation, has seen a lot of change in his 15 years with the flatbed fleet, following work as a recruiter for the Natural State’s IT professionals.
“When I started, you had to be in the magazines, have an ad in the digests and do a lot of newspapers,” Vaughn says. “My first or second year, we started trying online applications. It’s interesting to see how that’s changed. I can remember sitting in meetings where people would say, ‘If you pull out of the magazines, everybody’s going to notice.’ We didn’t do a magazine ad in 2016.”
Everything is happening digitally, from ad buys to applications. What Vaughn believes now is gaining Maverick the most attention from potential recruits are YouTube videos combined with the company’s Facebook social platform. A couple of dozen videos are available via the MaverickTransLLC YouTube channel and the company’s website. “They’re a huge tool for us,” he says.
Maverick hired its own in-house videographer after realizing that working with an agency was “jaw-droppingly expensive,” Vaughn says. “After we priced three or four, we sat down and made a laundry list of all of the videos we could do. We lucked out and found somebody from an agency here locally who is super-talented.”
Vaughn also lauds the video blogs of three or four of Maverick’s drivers who publish almost daily, noting that driver Dale Clay’s YouTube channel is followed by thousands of viewers. “We get a decent amount of hires from our drivers, but we haven’t hosted driver videos directly yet,” he says.
For years, we’ve always said we’re a family company and that we treat people like they’re family members. Every company says that, but how else can you do that? You’ve got to prove that to them. Get them on the phone, and then do what you say you’re going to do. It boils down to the golden rule.
Brad Vaughn, vice president of recruiting for Little Rock, Ark.-based Maverick Transportation
The company also uses geotargeting in particular regions through a variety of means and data services. “When I first started and we had a dedicated job opening in this little town in this rural area of the country, we might try to run a newspaper ad or do local radio,” Vaughn says. “Often, I would end up sending somebody or go myself and set up in a hotel room or banquet hall to recruit. Now, with these tools to identify and market to specific people, it’s all changed the way I do business.”
The ability of recruiting service providers to track data and verify the effectiveness of their strategies has greatly improved Maverick’s own in-house efforts, allowing for more effective use of marketing and advertising dollars, Vaughn says. “We’re able to see pretty early on” whether something is working or not, he says. “If it’s not producing, let’s reallocate these dollars somewhere else.”
For applicant tracking, Maverick’s targets on leads “stay live with us for a long time,” Vaughn says. An applicant tracking system database from EBE Technologies enables the fleet to follow the touch points a driver has had with the company, including “text blasts, robocalls, mailers, advertising,” he says.
There’s also still a lot of traditional recruiting that plays a role. “I don’t think that the bedrock things that attract people to the company have changed,” Vaughn says. “For years, we’ve always said we’re a family company and that we treat people like they’re family members. Every company says that, but how else can you do that? You’ve got to prove that to them. Get them on the phone, and then do what you say you’re going to do. It boils down to the golden rule.”