What Makes a Blog Work?

Blogs are hot. Recruiting blogs have sprouted up on a regular basis for months, and competing writers now vie with each other for readership and “followership.” The majority of readers of blogs are Gen Yers, and they are the influencers and indicators of what the future of media may look like.

A survey published last fall by Forrester’s Charlene Li indicates that “24% of Gen Yers read blogs, which is twice as often as the 12% of Gen Xers (ages 27-40) and three times the 7% of Young Boomers (ages 41-50) that read blogs.”

What makes blogs so compelling?

It’s not hard to understand. We live in a sound-bite era. Over the past two decades, people have increasingly turned away from long books and in-depth writing toward short, action-oriented pieces. Books such as Who Moved My Cheese, that are written at a high-school level or lower, are wildly popular. Television led the way by nurturing a generation that reads little and watches video a lot. Hence the popularity of YouTube and magazines such as Discover, BusinessWeek, Fortune, and Fast Company. They have made the short article almost a requirement. Only a handful of publications with small circulations such as The Atlantic or The New Yorker offer readers in-depth articles longer than a few thousand words. Don’t get me wrong, here. I am not complaining (well, maybe a little), I’m just describing what is a reality.

Given this, the Forrester survey findings are not surprising. Gen Y and the younger portion of Gen X are the prime target audience for blogs. And, when they are well written, blogs are a powerful way of reaching younger employees, candidates, and fellow recruiters.

Our industry has a lot of great blogs that are, again not surprisingly, written by Gen X or Gen Y recruiters.

RecruitingBlogs.com recently published the results of its annual readers’ ratings of recruitment blogs, sponsored by ZoomInfo. Here are the winners of that contest in 10 categories, and I urge you to take a look at each one of them. They all follow the rules for an effective blog that I outline below.

  1. Overall Recruiting: Six Degrees From Dave
  2. Recruiting Blogosphere: Recruiting Animal
  3. Third-Party Recruiting: Hiring Revolution
  4. Best Recruiting Technology: I, Donato
  5. Job Hunting: Wired & Hired
  6. Corporate Recruiting: WirelessJobs.com
  7. Sourcing/Research: CyberSleuthing
  8. Group: Xtra Cheezhead
  9. Recruiting Industry: Six Degrees From Dave
  10. HR: Gautam Ghosh

Effective blogs are tuned to their readership in many ways, including their tone, style, and even their look and feel. But the following four critical elements have to be in place for a blog to gain the traction that it needs to get a high level of consistent readership.

Short and Fun

First of all, each posting must be short. Entries longer than 500 words are not going to be read, probably not even skimmed, by the average reader. The best entries are most likely 200-250 words and contain lots of white space and breaks. Once in a while, a longer post can be effective if the writer is telling a story about something exciting or has the ability to maintain some level of suspense. But even then it may be better to break the story over a few days to bring readers back.

Pictures and short videos are also useful. Jim Stroud, a recruiter at Microsoft, publishes a fun blog filled with humor and videos that exemplify what I am talking about.


Blogs gain a great deal of power when the writer is a real person. Heather Hamilton at Microsoft pioneered the idea of writing naturally and honestly. Good blogs are not overly edited or sanitized by the corporate PR department. They may have mistakes or reveal personal facts about the writer that lead the reader to feeling some identity with him or her.

Here is a great example from a recent post by HeatherLeigh: “Marketing plus potty humor.”

Article Continues Below

“If you don’t appreciate potty humor or clever marketing, don’t watch this.

And, can I tell you how proud I am that this was referred to me by my mother? Yeah, sometimes moms rock, even though I am sure they prefer to remain anonymous (and, right now, she is thanking her lucky stars she has a different last name than mine).”


Tell a story. We are all more likely to become engaged when there is a personal connection, some incident that arouses interest and hooks us into continuing to read.

Here’s an example from Bob Sutton, Stanford professor and author of the best-selling book The No Asshole Rule. As I read this, I want to find out what he said and what happens in the end. Here’s an example from Bob Sutton:

“I was listening to a great show on the other day on Fresh Air, where Terry Gross interviewed Bob Sullivan, the author of Gotcha Capitalism. I started getting quite agitated by the interview, as Sullivan talked about all the ways that credit card companies, hotels, and especially, cell phone companies ‘get us’ with hidden charges and related sleazy practices (listen to it here).”

We all tell stories, relate past incidents, and build relationships around shared experiences. The same applies in writing a blog.


Many blogs gain authenticity simply from their personal nature. We all tend to believe people who have a face, a personality, and are, to some degree, known to us. But, on the other hand, it is also useful to link to other blogs, websites, people who reinforce the posted message. If you look at the example above from Bob Sutton, you can see the links to the NPR show and to the book itself on Amazon.com.

Really good blogs use lots of links and associations to add depth and credibility. By doing this, the author builds trust.

Dave Mendoza, in his award-winning Six Degrees from Dave blog, illustrates all of these points. He uses video very effectively, links widely, uses humor, and introduces personal information in a way that makes him a real person.

Writing a blog is not hard, but it requires understanding these basics. It also requires the author to be engaged, have fun, and reflect his excitement to the readership.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.


4 Comments on “What Makes a Blog Work?

  1. Kevin:

    Your article is quite helpful and insightful! We will put your suggestions and ideas on blogs to work immediately.

    Thank you.

  2. I am coming to believe that blogs are also an art form. Some are more ‘interesting’ to look at than others. I’d like to see an art category added to the competition.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *