Small area estimation (SAE) tackles the problem of providing reliable estimates for small areas, i.e. , subsets of the population for which sample information is not sufficient to warrant the use of a direct estimator. Hierarchical Bayesian approach to SAE problems offers several advantages over traditional SAE models including the ability of appropriately accounting for the type of surveyed variable. In this paper, a number of model specifications for estimating small area counts are discussed and their relative merits are illustrated. We conducted a simulation study by reproducing in a simplified form the Italian Labour Force Survey and taking the Local Labor Markets as target areas. Simulated data were generated by assuming population characteristics of interest as well as survey... sampling design as known. In one set of experiments, numbers of employment/unemployment from census data were utilized, in others population characteristics were varied. Results show persistent model failures for some standard Fay-Herriot specifications and for generalized linear Poisson models with (log-)normal sampling stage, whilst either unmatched or nonnormal sampling stage models get the best performance in terms of bias, accuracy and reliability. Though, the study also found that any model noticeably improves on its performance by letting sampling variances be stochastically determined rather than assumed as known as is the general practice. Moreover, we address the issue of model determination to point out limits and possible deceptions of commonly used criteria for model selection and checking in SAE context.