Social media marketing reached a level of prominence a year or two ago and was widely proclaimed to be the new lifeblood of businesses. Sadly, most who tried to use social media came up against brick walls. Some made it through and reached a certain level of success, such as Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuck, but many who tried to put the methods in place got really frustrated with a lot of effort resulting in very little reward. Very few managed to get 20,000 subscribers within just a few months.
Enter Carolyn Hyams – the founding director of Marketing at Firebrand Talent, an Australian recruitment agency that specialises in digital marketing roles. They were starting from scratch: no mailing list, no social media following and a barren website waiting to have some life breathed into it.
With Firebrand’s initial position being one of having zero budget for advertising or traditional marketing they realised they had to take an effective digital approach using a well-crafted content marketing strategy. The only other promotional activity they engaged in was job board listings; an expense that they were able to reduce by 90% over the first two years.
On the surface the success they were able to achieve looks like just a skilful execution of a stock-standard content approach. Rather than outlining how a social media/content strategy should be crafted, we are going to highlight how Carolyn and her boss overcame the common limitations and frustrations that most organizations hit.
The bare bones of the strategy:
In the simplest description of the strategy, Firebrand wanted to create a brand presence, gain readership and build relationships with prospective candidates and clients throughout the industry. The aim was to produce three blog posts week and promote them as effectively as possible. The key metrics would be website traffic and subscribers. Again, this isn’t so amazing.
Where did the content come from?
It was the company’s CEO, Greg Savage that created the content in the early stages. His vast body of knowledge and conversational writing style meant that the material being produced was high quality. Firebrand deliberately stayed as far away from SEO targeted content as possible, putting much more faith in interesting, unique headlines. They saw a lot more value in getting meaningful traffic through well-written blog pieces than optimized content and playing the Google Lottery.
Firebrand believed that the best way to deliver value to people was to create headlines that grabbed attention and then delivered on the promise. They could have worked towards optimized articles but felt it would dilute the blog’s ability to attract the right kind of traffic to their site. Additionally, recruitment keywords are highly competitive and a skilled copywriting approach was a more accessible option.
Another thing to note about the content is that it wasn’t all about the industry they were in (recruitment). Although they had the knowledge and expertise to speak extensively about recruitment they focused more stringently on information that would be relevant to their client’s industry. Because their clients were typically marketing agencies and marketing departments of larger organizations, they wrote articles about marketing trends, social media trends, skills that hiring managers are looking for in new marketing recruits, etc. They didn’t completely exclude recruitment content, but it was always related to marketers.
It was a client-oriented focus that made the material much more relevant, interesting and sharable. Specifically, they focused on delivering trend-based information, based on their own research and findings from major research bodies. Examples of this are:
- 4 important hiring trends you should know about PR
- 10 marketing and advertising trends to watch in 2013
- Exciting digital & innovative trends happening in the retail industry
- Hiring trends in Europe and Asia Pacific – Market update from Firebrand July 2011
It set them apart from the ‘3 ways to …….’ opinion based content that was saturating most people’s news feeds.
Content marketing at the exclusion of all other tactics
Interestingly, Carolyn decided that no other avenues of promoting the business would be pursued. No industry events, no advertising, no direct mail, no affiliate programs, no SEO. Just blogging and social media. This gave her the focus and time required to really perfect a strategy and monitor the performance closely. As mentioned earlier, they did post job listings on the major job marketplace sites, but the requirement for this reduced dramatically over time.
Company-wide buy in to the approach
Carolyn will readily admit that without the support of the CEO and the company’s recruitment team (team of 4) that this strategy would have been much less effective. With their support in focusing entirely on social, she could put all of her effort into testing, refining and improving. What we found really interesting about this approach is that it runs against the advice we give in the Preneur Hierarchy framework. The preneur hierarchy notion is simple: you should be putting your efforts towards the most responsive customers. Social media and content will resonate with people in the ‘procrastinator’ or ‘ignorant’ levels of this framework. Basically, it’s communicating with people who are not even looking to become customers at that point in time, but Firebrand successfully created that platform, which reduced their spend in other areas.
How do you build an audience from scratch? That’s what we really want to know!
This is where it starts to become a bit clever. Of course Firebrand created social media accounts for Twitter, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn, but all of those accounts were starting off with zero followers, likes and connections. Crafting an audience from zero is very difficult and it is the reason that most people who embark on a social strategy end up getting off before the plane has arrived.
So they looked at their person profiles of each recruiter, as well as Carolyn and Greg (the CEO). Between all employees of the company they had a reach of approximately 20,000. That is the total sum of Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections of everyone involved in the company. (Although Facebook was used to promote, the personal Facebook profiles of employees weren’t used for promotion). This changed the starting point from 0 to 20,000. Carolyn refers to this as an advocacy approach. Having employees actively promote and schedule content shows that they enjoy the company, and it extends the reach dramatically.
In terms of the 7 levers approach, the first lever is traffic. Carlolyn knew that zero audience would be a terrible starting point, so she found an accessible audience through the company’s employees. This opened the door for a lot more traffic to come into the site.
It’s just such a simple way to leverage the ‘social’ aspect of social media. It completely spared Firebrand the expensive effort of creating their own audience.
If you don’t have employees or access to several existing social media accounts you can start to think about who to approach in order to systematically help you promote your content. Doing it on your own can be effective, but it’s a slog. Working on an advocacy basis gives you such a head start!
Okay, so we’ve got the reach now what to do with it?
If someone gave you an empty stage in front of an audience of 20,000 people you still have to provide something in order to turn that exposure to traffic into something valuable for the business. That conversion between traffic and opt-in (the second lever of business) is what determines the success or failure of any social media campaign. Getting the audience is hard enough, but delivering something in a way that converts is essential to nailing the tactic.
There are several tools and tricks that Carolyn employed to improve this conversion:
Scheduled each blog post for promotion on Twitter and LinkedIn for a period of six months
This seems excessive, but as we all know if your tweet doesn’t achieve a click in the first 7 minutes of it being posted then it probably won’t happen. Same is true for LinkedIn updates. However, if the updates are cycled through such that the followers are much more likely to see it (or, see it multiple times) then the chance of opt-in to a website visit increases dramatically.
You can imagine, with 3 posts per week, there was a massive amount of posts being scheduled, discovered and clicked on by these 20,000 followers. It caps out at around 75 different posts being promoted within any given week across multiple social media accounts and platforms. That is a huge exposure to a starting audience of 20,000.
Twitter also played a hand in increasing the following. When you follow someone on Twitter the platform suggests other people you should follow. Due to all the employees tweeting the blog updates, when one was followed the others were recommended. It was a nice, unintended consequence of this coordinated approach.
Social Oomph and Buffer were the tweet scheduling tools used
While many people who work with a large volume of social media accounts will typically recommend Hootsuite, Firebrand preferred to use Social Oomph to coordinate all the accounts being used. The staff members were also given tuition and support from Carolyn on how best to schedule and promote updates. The idea was to make it as easy as possible for the team members to be advocates.
Buffer was especially useful at timing the posting of tweets at times that were relevant to the most recent 1000 followers of a particular account.
Exactly how much traffic was this approach generating?
We all know that creating content is great, but getting it discovered and using it to drive traffic is an entirely different challenge. Firebrand currently average 19,000 visitors per month to their website. (This is separate to the blog traffic, which ranges between 15,000 and 29,000 per month, with the occasional spike that is much higher).
Share buttons at the top or side of an article
It seems logical to place share buttons at the bottom of an article, right? People read it, love it and then you trigger them to share it with their friends. Wrong! It seems that placing share buttons at the top of the page dramatically. Jeff Bullus provides some potent data on this, although has changed to using side-of-page share buttons now.
Seeing these buttons before the reader has even read a word of your post plants the idea that this article could be shared. As they read through they have this hovering idea that sharing the article might be a good idea. Then, if they do like the article it all becomes automatic.
Other blogs, (such as this one and Jeff Bullus’) use a hovering side row of share buttons. This achieves the same effect – a constant, subtle reminder that if you like this post you should be sharing it.
Prominent RSS/email subscribe buttons
In terms of the 7 levers, the social media scheduling all contributes to increasing traffic. It brings more people to the site in order to read the articles. This can’t be the end of the line though – the traffic needs to multiply. This is where having a prominent RSS/email subscribe field helps. If your website visitors need to scrounge around for this then you’ve lost them, so the prominence of this button means there is potential to maintain regular contact with that traffic. Keep it where people can see it and you create the opportunity for the traffic to reinforce itself with repeat visits.
Keeping people in the loop
In order to magnify the reach of the brand Carolyn realized that she had to encourage everyone who engaged with her content to become advocates for that content. Having the employees distribute content was great, but having readers of the blog content do it would be so much better! To this end, subscribers weren’t just delivered every blog post as it was written, they were given the top 5 ranked posts of the week, based on page views.
Again, this tapped into the notion of social proof. Employees broadcasting content is a moderate form of social proof. The share buttons at the top of an article were examples of social proof and now, the most-viewed articles of the week also provide social proof. There is an unwritten suggestion here that it is good and normal to be sharing these articles.
So what’s next?
There are two main challenges that people have with content marketing. The first is what has been addressed in this article, the second is converting readers into paying customers. This content strategy has had Firebrand bursting at the seams for both clients and job candidates approaching them. This is an awareness tactic that has ensured that they are top-of-mind for many (20,000+) people within the digital marketing industry. In an industry such as recruitment, where a client makes only a few purchases per year, staying relevant in the between times can be a huge challenge.
So far, Firebrand and Carolyn have it covered.
The specific numbers of subscribers, followers and traffic:
Firebrand Twitter account: 33,056
Firebrand Facebook followers: 3,153
Firebrand Linked In group: 2,595
Firebrand Linked In company Page: 3,328
Subscribers to the blog: approximately 22,000
It’s a really neat measure of how effective their efforts were at corralling the audience that their employees had before the content marketing approach kicked off. This is now an earned audience for Firebrand who get significant traffic to both their blog site and their main business site without any deliberate SEO approach or online advertising.
The key take away here is that Firebrand was able to extend its reach and initial audience by using a brand advocacy approach. They took a significant shortcut on the effort involved in trying to carve out an audience and it continues to pay dividends.