Firebrand successful blog

Firebrand Talent: Anatomy of a popular Australian blog on a budget

In Examples by Peter Gearin

Firebrand Talent’s Carolyn Hyams explains why big resources aren’t necessary to create a successful industry blog. But you do need patience.

Firebrand Talent is not your average talent recruitment agency. For one thing, it specialises in the digital marketing and creative fields, connecting would-be employers with suitably gifted editors, graphic artists and social media specialists. For another, it relies almost entirely on content marketing to disseminate employment advice, information and influence.

Firebrand Talent has developed a way of communicating with its target audience that is successful and repeatable. Its strategy revolves around a blog, updated twice a week with military precision on the site, featuring the thoughts of leaders and specialist writers. The careers advice they offer is occasionally controversial and personal, and it’s delivered in a voice that is distinctive and entertaining. Every article carries a fun and colourful illustration.

The Firebrand Talent “Ideas Ignition” blog reaches almost 50,000 readers per month. It has recently expanded to include non-written pieces, too – video is becoming an important part of its content arsenal. Other content tactics include a monthly subscriber newsletter and regular events.

Social media remains its major mouthpiece. Firebrand Talent has launched 64,000 tweets since joining Twitter in September 2010 and amassed 35,000 followers. Just as crucially for the brand’s crucial professional audience, its LinkedIn page and group has more than 12,000 followers.

Carolyn Hyams is marketing director of three related recruitment entities – Firebrand, Aquent and Vitamin T. She is now considered a thought leader herself – someone who knows how businesses can use content to engage and influence an audience. In true content marketing tradition, she wants to pass on her knowledge to anyone keen to produce a successful blog.

Valuable content

Hyams says necessity forced Firebrand Talent to get serious about content marketing back in 2010. “We literally had no [marketing] money to spend,” she says. “We sort of did marketing on the smell of an oily rag. Our only choice was to deep-dive into social media marketing and content marketing.

“At that time I think it was all about experimenting and seeing what worked and what didn’t. We were the only recruiters who were doing that and it just took off. It was absolutely amazing.”

Hyams says the No.1 goal of any blogging exercise is to provide content that is valuable for readers. “We want to make sure that we’re sharing content that’s valuable, helpful and educational to the industries that we recruit in,” she says. “That’s the whole point of the Firebrand blog. We want to be industry experts.”

Hyams says it’s relatively easy to know what stories belong on the site. Each article must fit snugly within one of eight categories (business, career, digital, future trends, marketing, personal branding, recruitment and social media). Anything else goes onto the spike.

Hyam says that some of blogs are written by Firebrand Talent’s staff, including herself, but at least four out of five articles are by long-term guest bloggers, not freelancers. This means Firebrand Talent has never had to pay for a blog. “I personally develop relationships with industry influencers and offer them a guest blogging opportunity. No money exchanges hands. I explain the benefits to them and the answer is usually yes.

“Obviously the benefit for us is industry-leading, amazing content. The benefit for them is our integrated marketing is so good that we help them build their brand globally.”

Thought leadership

Hyams says when seeking “thought leaders”, brands need to find people who aren’t scared to offer opinions. “They need to lead the way and challenge people,” she says. “They need to challenge conventional thinking and talk about what they think is coming up, even if they’re not entirely sure they’re absolutely correct. [You need] fearless people who don’t mind saying what they really think and don’t need to get it past the whole PR and legal teams before it’s actually published.”

She nominates her former boss, Greg Savage, as a “fearless thought leader”. “He’s always ahead of the game, but sometimes he can really piss people off and that’s OK, too. He once wrote a piece called ‘No, you are not “running late”. You are rude and selfish’. It’s a cracker, and it went completely viral. It was picked up by Good Morning America and the BBC.” It’s had 140,000 Facebook shares and counting.

So what makes a good article for the Firebrand Talent blog? Hyams says it must be focused, helpful, valuable and educational. It needs to have a headline that is clear and SEO friendly. It should be easy to read, not carry jargon or excessive acronyms and be easily broken up with crossheadings, bullet points and quotes.

Hyams is “the end of the line” when it comes to content approval at Firebrand Talent. “My assistant, Danielle, sets up all the blog content,” she says. “She is first in line, so if something is submitted that just isn’t right for our blog, she’ll flag it with me and we’ll decide what to do. Most of the time, we’ll write back with feedback, whether it is a complete rewrite or whether the content needs editing.”

She says most blog ideas come relatively easily to her, although she is happy to refer to content discovery platform BuzzSumo for inspiration. “You need to pay, but it will show the most widely shared content based on any topic I search on.”

“Brands are too scared to show the numbers on the social sharing buttons – I think it’s absolutely crucial.”Carolyn Hyams
Consistency and effectiveness

She admits that a large part of Firebrand Talent’s success is its consistency – publishing articles when people expect to see them. It’s why a content schedule is a must. “We try to adhere to [it] as much as possible,” she says. “We’re really organised and have strict deadlines as to when content is due – usually seven days before it needs to be published. This gives us time to edit, proof and make it SEO friendly.

“Occasionally a guest blogger or internal blogger may miss a deadline. Because we’re really organised, we can easily swap posts around. Most importantly we ensure that we always post every Tuesday and Thursday, at the same time.”

Firebrand Talent relies on evergreen content – not publishing material that might date quickly. To emphasise this, blog articles don’t carry a time or date stamp. “What we want is constant readership,” she says. “It doesn’t matter whether [a story] was published last year or this year or whatever. As long as the content is relevant to the reader, that’s the most important thing.”

This helps with Firebrand Talent’s social media strategy, too, because posts can be scheduled a long way into the future. Firebrand Talent’s Twitter schedule, for instance, is worked out six months in advance.

Hyams says it’s important to track content effectiveness, and always ensure the blog is having a positive impact on Firebrand Talent’s business objectives. “We track how many people contact us through the blog and how many visit the ‘find work’ section of our site and if any leads come through.”

Social proof

She says the stories that work best are those that attract the most page views and social shares. That’s why she believes it’s important for all blogs to display how many times each story has been shared.

“There are many brands that are too scared to show the numbers on the social sharing buttons – I think it’s absolutely crucial,” she says. “They need to be brave. For me, the social shares prove what works and what doesn’t. If the numbers are low, it hasn’t really struck a chord with people. As soon as people see a number next to the social media icon, it’s kind of like a third-party endorsement.

“The shares are social proof. People don’t share unless they want to, although by showing the social sharing numbers, it’s a subtle reminder to share the content.”

The biggest content mistake she sees other brands make is talking too much about themselves. “I just don’t think that people are that interested,” she says. “The only people who are interested are actually the people who work for that company. I think they need to produce content that’s interesting to their viewers, to their customers – not to them. You’ve got to ask, ‘What do they want? What’s useful or helpful for them?’”

The other thing brand marketers need is patience. “[Content marketing] is a long-term game. There’s no overnight success with this. You really just need to be absolutely consistent with producing great content in order to be top-of-mind with your customers.

“I would say for someone starting out now, you want to dedicate at least 12 months to really building your content hub. Then you will start reaping the benefits if you’re consistent and make sure that quality’s fantastic.”

Next steps

Events have become part of Firebrand Talent’s marketing mix and will continue to play a role in spreading the message, Hyams says. Every three months in Sydney and Melbourne, Firebrand Talent hosts Digitalks – free lunchtime events where an industry leader speaks to 250 customers and peers, topped off with networking opportunities. It also runs very industry-focused panel format events every couple of months. “They are a deep-dive into a particular topic,” she says. “Those are very social and well attended.”

Video is becoming a necessary marketing tool as well. “2017 is the year of video marketing for us,” she says. “I really feel that video is very important and is going to be even more important in the future.”

Hyams’ four points for blogging success:
  • Consistency is key with content marketing.
  • Always make it easy for people to share.
  • Don’t expect people to simply arrive at your content hub – you need to amplify your content through email, social and any other possible way.
  • Make your subscription offer really obvious. If possible, offer something of value for the subscription. Capturing contact details is really important.

Links & references

Firebrand Talent’s Ideas Ignition blog

Greg Savage’s blog piece about people who run late

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