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HR Innovators: Instacart Employer Brand Leaders Marta Riggins and Colleen Finnegan

Tips for creating memorable candidate experiences from HR Innovators.

Before they were creating a memorable experience for job candidates, Marta Riggins and Colleen Finnegan were curating unforgettable concert experiences for music lovers. As part of the event marketing team at Pandora, the two were more accustomed to filling opening acts than job openings. As they both transitioned into the employer branding space, moved onto different companies, and partnered again at Instacart, Marta and Colleen have witnessed firsthand just how important a good experience is, regardless of who the audience may be.

In this joint interview, we cover everything from how these HR Innovators got into employer branding, the value of the employer brand to specific employee groups, and how they’re using social media.

Now let’s get to know Marta Riggins, Instacart’s director of employer brand & employee engagement, and Colleen Finnegan, Instacart’s senior manager of employer brand & recruitment marketing.

You’ve both previously worked at Pandora in the event marketing space and transitioned into employee experience from there. Why and how did that change came about? 

Marta: On paper I had a really sexy job of doing event production and marketing with artists at Pandora, but inside I was just miserable. I had a baby, was traveling every week, and was exhausted. When the head of HR pulled me aside and asked me to help with recruiting events and marketing the company as a great place to work, I jumped at the opportunity. I left our team, which Colleen and I were on together, and moved over to lead what was called talent brand and events at the time under recruiting. I built out all of our marketing channels the way you would for B2B marketing, but with candidates as the audience in mind. 

However, the more I started doing the work, the more I realized that we had to invest in culture as well and really help create an employer brand from the inside out—again, in the same way that you think about marketing and content. And so, I made a case for investing in programs to support culture and expanded my role. I eventually led a team called employee experience and marketing that focused on employee experience, employer brand, recruitment marketing, and giving and social impact for the company. Colleen saw what I was doing and was curious about it, so I brought them over to this new team. 

Colleen: Before I was doing concert production for Pandora’s advertising clients, I had a background in concert production and music and worked at Twitter doing sales and account management. When Marta moved over to create the new team, I was heartbroken—I missed working with her terribly. I also loved Pandora and thought to myself, I would really love to let people know how great of an opportunity it is to work here. That was the work Marta was doing and so I stalked her for a couple months while she saw if she could bring me on the team. It ended up working out and we worked together there for a number of years.

However, the more I started doing the work, the more I realized that we had to invest in culture as well and really help create an employer brand from the inside out.

Marta Riggins, director of employer brand & employee engagement, Instacart

It sounds like you both were able to jump over what can be the biggest hurdle for some companies—the simple understanding that there is a need for employer branding.

Colleen: If you’re a company and don’t see the value in employer branding and recruitment marketing, that’s just going to be more painful to reconcile down the line. It’s really difficult to reverse-engineer.

Marta: At Talent Connect, Colleen and I presented how employer branding is tied to employee engagement, and I shared the results from Gallup’s State of the American Workplace study: 67% of employees are disengaged at work, 51% are actively looking for a new job, and 63% actually believe they can find a job as good as the one they have. The fact that people are disengaged, don’t love their job, are looking for something new, and believe they can find something better means it’s open season and anybody can be swept up and recruited. So I think that the disengagement piece is a big factor to why companies are focused on employer brand now more than ever.

Colleen: If anyone’s ever struggling with how to make the case for it, I think the marketing and sales comparison is a really good one. If you have a sales team, you probably have a marketing team to arm your account executives with collateral that helps them to sell. In that scenario, you’re selling to people who are spending their company’s money—not even their own personal money—and that still requires a team to help position the value prop across channels and convince someone to commit. 

With recruitment marketing and employer branding, you’re trying to convince someone to literally change their entire life—including who they spend most of their day with, the product/service tied to their name, their benefits, and potentially location. This is something that impacts their families as well. It’s a huge investment to be spending at least eight hours a day with a new company. Why shouldn’t you be invested in “selling” people on your company and mission? It’s a huge investment—aka a huge sale. No one’s just going to go blindly join a company—you need to have marketing that backs up what your company is doing.

Speaking of marketing, employer branding is marketing to both an external and internal audience. Would you say there are any differences in marketing to these two groups at Instacart? 

Colleen: There isn’t a big difference between how we talk internally and externally—the only thing that changes is the nature of the content. Obviously there’s just a little bit more transparency with our internal employees. That’s something facilitated through our Ask Me Anythings with execs, company meetings, internal emails, and screens that display content across our offices. 

What candidates see on our LinkedIn channels are shared internally as well. Our hot jobs are displayed on screens in the office and across social, we recognize our Carrot of the Month during our company meeting and externally on our LinkedIn channel. Our marketing stays pretty consistent because we want it to be easy for employees to also act as brand ambassadors. 

Marta: Yep, I totally agree. In my opinion, there should be no difference in the voice and tone of your internal and external employer brand. 

Current employees are often also the ones who are broadcasting your brand and potentially recruiting candidates, so at this point the lines are already so blurred.

Colleen: Totally. One of the big things that we did when we first started was put together this really easy-to-read, easy-to-recite deck that’s shared internally about how to talk about Instacart externally. Essentially, it’s the narrative of Instacart’s history, where we are now, where we’re going, the different departments we have, our culture, benefits, etc. Things like that go a long way in terms of educating your employees, who are essentially de facto recruiters, on what to say if they’re asked.

As a social recruiting company, we’re always curious to see what role social media plays in your employer brand. Are you using social media as part of your strategy?

Colleen: I think social media is a great way to enter into light-hearted conversations with potential candidates. LinkedIn is our biggest platform right now. This is one of our highest priority channels because the audience is one that’s looking for career-related content. Instagram is another one. We soft-launched that this year and we’re going to be investing more in that next year. 

Marta: And internally, our most used social channel is Slack. We have a really heavy Slack culture here.

I sure hope you all are taking advantage of the Giphy function!

Marta: Oh, of course. I love to communicate via Giphy.

Haha, nice! Do you have a separate employer branding effort for different offices and teams, or is everyone folded under one big employer brand effort?

Marta: When we think about employer brand, we think about it holistically because we want to tell the story of all of our employees across North America. As far as the recruiting efforts, there’s a different layered approach based on the group that we are hiring for. So I would say recruitment marketing is a little bit different for everyone.

And now for the age-old question: how do you measure the success of your employer branding efforts? 

Marta: That’s a great question. Social engagement rates are helpful to see how people are engaging with your content (i.e. liking, commenting, sharing your content on LinkedIn). We also think about recruitment marketing campaign metrics. Are you converting that engagement into leads and hires? Things like best-of lists are good, but you have to make sure they’re the right ones for your company. Organic lists are also amazing. Employees becoming advocates, resharing your content, and being involved in the recruiting process—those are all measurable. Employee survey data is a great way to measure certain initiatives. So there’s lots of different qualitative and quantitative ways to help measure your efforts. 

Colleen: The underlying theme of all of that is how you measure probably depends on what internal team you’re communicating with. When you’re working with recruiting, the measurement is going to look differently than if you’re working with HR on engagement scores and the company survey that goes out—and it’s important not to let one metric drive everything. For instance, if you’re on the employer brand team and are held to how many hires get made out of a particular campaign, that’s a tough position to be in because what happens during the course of the interview, comp bands, and more are out of your control. You need to be careful that your measure of success isn’t on something that isn’t in your wheelhouse.

You want to be aligned with whatever part of the business you’re working on how you’re measuring success. Is it engagement rate? Is it how many applicants you get? Is it how many people come to an event? Is it the engagement score? Is it how many people are sharing content to LinkedIn that work at your company? Being really clear about that with any particular campaign in the kickoff is important.

Well I’m sure you two have heard that there’s the rumblings of impending recession. I’m curious to know if you believe employer branding will be just as important when the market is no longer candidate-driven.

Marta: My view is yes, because if that happens, that’s when you can heavily focus employer brand to engaging your employees. Even in a recession there might be turnover and you need to make sure that people are engaged, doing good work, and feeling proud. There’s data that shows that if employees are feeling proud of their company, have strong relationships with their coworkers, achieving their financial and health goals, and feel tied to their community, they are 5x more likely to stay at a company when the economy picks up again. So it’s something that shouldn’t be shut off completely—it’s equally valuable in my opinion.

It’s not just during a recession either. Sometimes, you go through highs and lows at your company and you have to think about how your employer brand can keep you afloat during those hard times. Strong employer brand professionals don’t only have tactics during a hiring surge or when everything is perfect at their company.

Colleen: Tying back to the tracking piece—that’s why it’s really important to make sure you’re not pigeonholed and tracking only the ROI on hiring from direct marketing campaigns. If you do that and then hiring stops, there goes your job. If your role is more holistically focused across employer brand, you’ll weather the storm. 

A thoughtful, accurate, articulate employer brand that has a positive sentiment can only be good for your company. It’s 100% worth the investment from the start.

Colleen Finnegan, senior manager of employer brand & recruitment marketing, Instacart

Not to mention the ethics of being a company that is there for their employees both through the good times and the bad. 

Marta: Yes, when I was asked to join Instacart, I was clear with those on my interview panels that employer branding has to be authentic. If you want to do it right, you have to be internally focused in order to tell an accurate external story.

Colleen: A thoughtful, accurate, articulate employer brand that has a positive sentiment can only be good for your company. It’s 100% worth the investment from the start.

Do you know a HR Innovator? If so, send in your nomination to Joanne Chu at, as we will be featuring employer brand trailblazers all year long!

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