When the strongest companies hire everywhere, here’s how you can compete
Image: Christina @ wocintechchat.com/Unsplash
On May 21, 2020, Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke announced that Shopify was a “digital by default” by company. A few hours later, The Verge reported that Facebook committed to making their workforce remote as well. These twin announcements came a week after Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the same of his company.
The implication for joining these companies is clear. Shane Parrish observes, “You no longer compete against the best person in your city or even your country for a job. Now you compete with the best person in the world.”
The inversion of this is also true as well; where geography may have used to be a differentiator, now Shopify, Facebook, and Twitter could soon be hiring in every city and town.
The Stakes of Recruiting
At the core of every company is a team of people that keep the business moving. Talent acquisition is zero sum; people choose to work for you, or for someone else. Recruiting is already a challenge for most companies. In 2019, First Round reported that 10.8% of founders would clear their schedule to recruit.
Many technology teams — for example, funded startups, corporate innovation labs, and services companies — used to only compete with other local technology companies for talent. With geography no longer a barrier, it’s going to be open season; Shopify, Facebook, Twitter, and who knows who else, will soon start hiring in their city too.
The solution to this challenge already exists. Some teams, based in San Francisco, have recruited successfully against these companies for years. More importantly, they succeed.
Making work better is a big part of the solution — more interesting work, improved lifestyle, better equity opportunity, competitive pay, etc. — but engineer Dan Luu highlights one of the key tactics: companies like San Francisco-based Cloudflare and Segment appeal to people they’re recruiting by “broadcasting their output to the world” through their team blogs.
Enter the Team Blog
A team blog is not the same as a corporate blog. A corporate blog is frequently owned by the marketing team, and based in conventional content marketing strategy (e.g., SEO, virality, engagement, etc.). It’s customer-focused, with a mandate to sell more product (either through lead generation or branding).
A team blog is the complete opposite — it’s employee-focused, a collective exercise in learning, and owned by the team (without marketing or communications stakeholders).
For example, Shopify has a corporate blog (as does Shopify Plus). But the UX team has a team blog, as does the engineering team. The product team and VR team have started their own blogs too (but seem to be inactively maintained).
A good team blog, most importantly, shows people how your company and your team works. In an age where every company claims that they value learning, because they know people want to hear it (and has a strong effect on retention), your blog can show people what your team actually does. Shopify UX managing editor Gene Shannon says:
“One of the promises we make to anyone who comes here is that you’ll learn a lot. You’ll get better at what you do. You will have time to dedicate to getting better at your craft and we will give you resources to do that. The blog is in many ways a demonstration of that. Our narrative is we’re doing interesting work.”
At the very least, an active, and thought-provoking, blog exists as a signal that the company values learning enough to spend time teaching themselves and the greater community.
The Potential Reach of a Team Blog
A blog, working at full steam, can reach a lot of people with nearly zero variable cost. For example, on average, the Netflix TechBlog gets 200,000+ pageviews per month. Airbnb’s engineering and data blog gets 130,000+ pageviews per month, and their design blog gets 90,000+ pageviews per month.
Basecamp’s blog, Signal vs. Noise, gets 100,000+ pageviews per month. As of May 31, 2020, they’ve got 56 people on their team. So a company with thousands of employees like Netflix and Airbnb can succeed with this, just like a company with 50 can.
If even 0.1% of each month’s visitors apply to a job post, that’s 90 applicants to Airbnb design, 200 to Netflix, 137 to Airbnb engineering, and 100 to Basecamp each month. All that, for writing a team blog.
And of course, that 0.1% is hypothetical, but it can also be optimized. For example, if you know you’ll be hiring for backend engineers, or UX researchers, you can write a series of blog posts and promote specific job postings to those readers.
The most important takeaway here is that, unlike referral bonuses or headhunting, the dollars are still being put to work. If you pay $3,000 for a successful hire, you could alternatively pay seven people on your team $400 as an incentive to write a blog post. (This incentive is a practice Shopify UX is considering; after all, your team members all have day jobs!) In other words, these blog posts serve as perpetual recruiting magnets.
The Team Amplifies the Blog
If you already have a team, one of the best ways to get attention for each blog post is for each team member to share it with their networks (at LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.).
This is a soft way of leveraging your team’s network, so that when you want to make a more direct play for referrals, each person’s network might have at the very least an impression of your company’s work and values. It also gets the team more bought in to recruiting efforts.
Even your team blog’s link at a profile page can get attention for your company’s work. For example, some of Netflix’s recruiters share their TechBlog’s links at LinkedIn.
The writing process for the blog can bring team members together too. Perhaps it’s with a system where colleagues edit each other’s work, or just virtually celebrating new blog posts inside a blog channel at Slack.
This is actually going to be a lot more important, as offices start to matter less and less. Having a cool office is no longer a talking point (and was only a nice perk at best). The blog will be the place where people go “to get a tour” of your company.
How to Start the Team Blog
Starting the blog doesn’t have to be a dramatic push. Like Gene of Shopify UX says, it can start with simply “interviewing prominent people, finding people who are really interested in contributing and are really good at it, and prioritizing their contributions to get things off the ground. You’ve got the nice pipeline of content and you can build up momentum quickly that way.” At the time of writing, Shopify UX has 46,000+ followers at Medium, and 6,000+ at Twitter.
Becky Kane, who leads content at Doist, suggests keeping an eye on people’s Twitter profiles for their thoughts and highlighting the ones that they could turn into blog posts. Internal communications can also be a source for good blog post ideas.
The key to starting a team blog is to have someone own it, make it manageable at first, and to make it fun for the team. Minimize the layers of approval, open the blog opportunity to everyone, and encourage people to write.
Unless you’re starting a marketing team blog, don’t abdicate this to the marketing or communications team. Have your team own it, as a fun, organic, writing exercise. If you don’t have budget for monetary incentives yet, celebrate first time writers with little gifts (mugs, silly slippers, etc.). Keep your eyes peeled for early results, especially love, appreciation, or awareness in the community.
Eventually, as the team’s blogging practice develops, the team blog’s owner will need to transition into an editor role like Gene did at Shopify UX, or hire for one. But until then, don’t worry about it too much; focus on making writing as fun and easy as possible for the team. That will start the competitive edge your company needs to compete in recruiting.