The Content Puzzle

My son came bursting into my room: "Mom! One of my puzzle pieces doesn't fit!" A typical three-year-old crisis, but he was right. There were a few frayed and broken pieces that just didn't quite fit. They had similar colors and looked like they should, but they didn't. He was frustrated he couldn't see the whole scene. Understandably so! When you can't see the puzzle in its entirety, you can't see the whole picture.

Puzzles tell a story--from the first to the last, each piece matters, a journey of complexity that leads to the bigger picture. A journey every content marketer is on every day. And yet in recruitment marketing, it seems as though we care more about the pieces than how they fit together.

Content marketing started as a game of volume. And as is true with pretty much everything in employer brand and recruitment marketing, we react to the successes our peers have in marketing. So when social media started infiltrating recruitment marketing almost 15 years ago, it began as a content game. Recruiters spent the next decade writing as many blog posts as they could. Tweeting jobs at a rapid clip and pushing out content. In 2011 I joined Steve Boese to talk about how strategy and technology have to work together, with a "push content strategy" as a major misstep. Fast forward almost a decade and organizations are still stuck in the "let's push content rut."

With COVID already driving an increase in content consumption and the upcoming holiday season which will see increased online traffic, it's an important time to revisit your content strategy. Consumers are already so bombarded with content, volume only adds to the noise. For consumer brands, sometimes more just means more customers. But for candidates, it often means more confusion.

Recruitment marketing demands authenticity and focus. It should clearly reveal key realities of the employment experience and target your audience at the same time. That's a hard thing to do. An employee's career story should be compelling, specific, and honest. It's not the high-level buzz words or sound bytes that resonate. It's the inside intel, the reality, and the experiences employees have at a day-to-day level.

Every aspect of your employer brand should be embedded in strategy. That includes your recruitment marketing content.

Strategy doesn't mean months of planning or complicated matrices or charts. It does require a simple foundation, a place for your execution to rest, to strengthen and to grow. I'm no expert in puzzle making, but I do know a puzzle maker doesn't start by simply crafting pieces. You need a vision, an image first and then have to determine the elements like size, color, and materials.

Your recruitment marketing content strategy should be no different. While many organizations have well-stocked content calendars, they tend to be reactive: promoting events, checking off boxes of organizational representation, sharing what seems new and cool, or re-sharing organizational content. All of that is well and good, but do you have a common thread? Does your content take the audience on a journey that is connected? Before you jump to writing some employee testimonials, consider the maturity of your strategy:

BASIC: Audience: do you know who you want to consume your content?

The answer shouldn't be everyone. You have to know who your target candidates are, and who are your key influencers. Their needs, habits, and interests should drive your strategy.

PROFICIENT: Themes: have you defined key messages?

Defining what you want to say is just as important as who you want to reach. Brands are built on consistency so having a foundation of key themes is essential. It helps to catalog content to ensure you're focused on a diverse but structured group of themes. You can cross reference these with your audience, and measure resonance of content.

ADVANCED: Litmus Test: can you quickly vet ideas as strategy aligned?

If you are willing to create any careers-related content, it's a good sign you don't have a strategy. Creating a litmus test for content--the ability to assess if a content idea aligns with your strategy--is challenging but important. You can create that list of what the content has to achieve. And no matter the form it takes, copy, blog, video, or otherwise--you're focused on your strategy, and not sharing a piece of content just because an executive suggests you do.

EXPERT: Story arc: how will you tell the story over time?

Even if we have our audience and our themes, we often neglect the journey. Recruitment marketing is famous for the 'look back' -- those retrospective testimonials that reflect on a career or an experience to date. And while those are valuable, they come at the end of the journey. The real storytelling hook comes from when you bring the audience with you to feel what you're feeling, while you're feeling it.

Exceptional recruitment marketing content really digs into the journey itself, telling the stories as they are happening, as employees are feeling those real emotions and wondering what lies ahead.

These aren't the only elements to a comprehensive content strategy, but they're a good sampling of what should be included as part of your larger plan. If you start by thinking about each piece of content as a puzzle piece, you can envision what you want the finished piece to look like at the end. Just like the most challenging puzzles I've ever done, the content puzzle isn't an easy one. But once you do your first one, you'll find the rest follow the plan.

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