Welcome to the Lead with Indeed podcast, a series of fireside chats with experts in employer branding, recruiting, HR and more.

Lead with Indeed logo, featuring Rian Finnegan.

In this episode, Bryan Chaney, Indeed’s Director of Employer Brand, chats with Rian Finnegan, the senior manager of employer brand and recruitment marketing at Instacart, about remote company culture and the skyrocketing popularity of the grocery delivery service during the pandemic. Finnegan has also worked as a concert producer for Pandora, and brings experience from their former work with bands to their current work with brands. This episode covers the importance of:

  • Fostering a remote company culture, especially when many employees are working from home 
  • Cross-collaboration among teams
  • Thinking and creating content like a journalist

More episodes:

Facebook's Camille Richardson brings a unique perspective to building a strong employer branding team

Chrissy Thornhill of Salesforce reveals the key to empowering recruiters to also be marketers

Emily Firth of truthworks shares her insights on competitive storytelling and the value of employer brand efforts

Alex Her of Informatica shares his secrets to managing as a team of one and his journey on the talent brand career path

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Bryan Chaney: Welcome to the Lead with Indeed podcast, where we chat with the experts in employer branding, recruiting, HR and much, much more. We'll hear how and why they do what they do, and expand our knowledge of how they’re driving results in today's world of work.


Bryan Chaney: Hi, I'm Bryan Chaney, Director of Employer Brand at Indeed. On today's show, Rian Finnegan of Instacart. Rian's worked in marketing roles, and led employer brand initiatives across many tech companies in the Bay Area and beyond. Most recently, they work as the senior manager, employer brand and recruitment marketing at Instacart. 

Now, with so much uncertainty in the labor market, the talent attraction landscape is constantly shifting, and it's important that professionals, like us, share thoughts and insights to solve these challenges together. Rian and I had a chance to chat about how to foster that shared-company culture when most of your employees may be remote; the importance of cross-collaboration with those internal teams; and why creating content, like a journalist, is just key to giving all employees and candidates a voice. Let's get started. 

Bryan Chaney: So, we're here with Rian Finnegan. Rian, what do you do and where do you work?

Rian Finnegan: Hey, Bryan. Great to be here. So, I am the senior manager of employer brand and recruitment marketing at Instacart, out in the Bay Area. I'm currently living in Oakland, California.

Bryan Chaney: Amazing. And my guess is that you have your hands full with all the things that are going on, Instacart's growing like crazy. What team do you work on at Instacart?

Rian Finnegan: So, I work on the employee engagement, employer brand and social impact team under the comms umbrella. So, a very busy time for all of us over here, yes.

Bryan Chaney: Out of all the things in the world right now, with the unrest and just … sickness, and caution, and fear, and all the things in the world, and stress, right? So, focusing on being well: What's making you happy lately?

Rian Finnegan: My kittens. I've got two little kittens — they're great. They just, like, cuddle. They don't know that there's COVID happening. They don't know that there's a civil rights movement happening. They don't know that, you know, things are what they are in the world right now. And they just want to be cuddling on my lap. So, that feels great.

Bryan Chaney: How did you get into the talent brand space? How did you start on this path?

Rian Finnegan: I came into the talent brand space through concert production. So, I used to be in the music business — music industry — and I was a concert producer at Pandora for a number of years, producing their live events for consumers. So, working with bands and brands to connect to fans. So, that was my jam for a couple years, pun intended. 

My boss at the time, who is coincidentally my boss now, she was the live events/consumer events director. She moved over to start the talent brand and events teams, and I followed her. I was, like, you need someone to run recruitment ads and recruitment events, and employee events — we can up-level these, and like, I don't know what this work is called, but I want to do it. So, that's really when I got my foot in the door with the talent brand space. I didn't know what I was wading into, but so glad that it happened. I definitely found my calling.

Building company culture among a remote workforce

Bryan Chaney: When you think about communicating a culture outside of office walls — like especially now, right? So, especially now during a pandemic, when a lot of us are working from home, or working with a mask on, or both, and just understanding that: How do you think about communicating a culture in a time like that?

Rian Finnegan: Yeah, it's definitely a unique time to be alive, and especially, a unique time to be in this space. And I think, for us, and the way that I do it, is really helping our employees know what to say, where to share, how to share it. You know? Because our employees are eager to talk, and they're eager to talk about what we're doing, and talk about our culture. They just need some guidance, in terms of like, ‘Where is the best place to post this? What is the image we should post? What events do we have coming up?’

Bryan Chaney: But how do you encourage employees to share that content? To actually be external advocates?

Rian Finnegan: Yeah. So, one of the ways that we really encourage our employees to share … it's so important to tell folks what is okay to share, what isn't okay to share. But I actually defer more to the, what is okay, because if you give your employees the things to share — like, ‘Here are the top stories of the week,’ versus saying, like, ‘Don't do this. Don't do this. Don't do this,’ — but you're instead, like, ‘Here, please do this.’ We do that once a week with an email digest called Share it, Carrots. Again, we love puns. We love food. We love carrots. We're Instacart. 

And so, we'll basically have each social media platform called out within that email digest, and say, ‘Here's the copy, here's the link to share. Here are the hashtags to use. Put your own spin on it if you want, but here is a sample." And so, that goes out once a week with the top stories that we really want our employees to be pushing. Additionally, I have a whole, separate chain with our recruiting team about, ‘Here's what to share, here's the background information, here's what you need to be telling candidates. Verbally — here's what you need to be telling candidates. That's okay to be written,’ etc. 

So, yeah, just making sure that there's that constant, steady drumbeat. With our top social sharers, we do have some incentives, swag — everyone loves swag. And so, quarter by quarter, the top sharers in our company — you know, we make sure that we're incentivizing them with carrot swag, for our carrot store. So, that's like, dollar values that people can use in our carrot swag store.

Bryan Chaney: Nice. I love that. I was just going to ask you two things: How do you incentivize it? Which you covered — carrots. And everybody has lots of Vitamin A at Instacart. [laughs] 

And the other thing is: How do you measure that? Like, what do you look at when you're thinking – obviously, you measure by how many views, engagement, on your channels, those kinds of things, but what do you look at numbers-wise?

Rian Finnegan: Yeah. So, we'll check in on those employees on a quarterly basis, and just say like, ‘Okay, have you shared recently?’ And we can check out their social presences. And, yeah, just make sure … it's the number of posts, is more what we're looking for, rather than the reach. 

Because we might have some incredible brand ambassadors that just love Instacart, but they have a total of, maybe, a thousand followers across their platforms, or a thousand connections. But they're really on it. They're really engaged, and we want to reward that behavior, too, and not just like, ‘Oh, this person was a musician in their last life, and they have 10,000 followers,’ — but that doesn't really matter in this circumstance, you know? And they share one post every three weeks versus consistently. So, for us, it's — the number of posts shared, is really important to us.

Bryan Chaney: Yes. But when you think about the EVP, or employer value proposition, the thing that you're offering as the carrot — right? I know. [laughs] — to people thinking about why they want to come work at Instacart, is really: What is that experience going to be like? How do you think about that as a perk or benefit? 

So, for us, it's … the office experience is one of those things that is part of — it becomes part of — the culture, right? So, it’s not culture as in how we relate to each other, but it's definitely an environmental part of the culture. Do you just take that out of your arsenal? How do you think about that?

Rian Finnegan: Yeah, that's tough, not having the office space when it's such a big connection point with everyone. And especially with Instacart, too. You know, we love sharing meals together, we love eating together, we love spending that time together. It definitely was a part of our culture for lunch, especially, across our different offices. 

And what we do now is we have, you know, events as much as we can. Not to ‘Zoom-fatigue’ people, but things like … we call it ‘virtually social.’ And we have like, a bunch of different social events — from mediation to yoga, to speaker sessions — that are really focused on not just the connection points, but also, mental health. Right now, especially while people are quarantined at home, that's really important for everyone at Instacart; from the leadership, from the top down, really focusing on like, ‘we have to take care of ourselves in order to show up for others.’

Collaborating cross functionally

Bryan Chaney: Now, one of the things — as we're in employer branding and recruitment marketing — it's important for us to talk about brand ambassadors, advocates, people who share content. Because, we can make the most amazing stories, and create videos, and podcasts, and web pages, and all of this content, right? But if people don't share it — if people aren't willing to put themselves out there and say, ‘Hey, this is the company where I work,’ then it's like the whole thing: you can build it, but no one's going to come. 

That's a really long and wordy way to say: How do you encourage people to help share that story externally?

Rian Finnegan: What's really helpful is I sit with internal comms. And internal comms is such a critical piece of employer branding. So, we need to be constantly informing our employees about what's happening at the company. You know, from the personal story levels, to the product roll-out levels, to the new hires, to the executives talking about what's happening in the world around us, to giving off additional holidays, mental healthcare days — things like that. So, internal comms has to be a part of the strategy if you want your employees to be your brand ambassadors. 

You can't just be like, "Hey, share this thing." And they're like, ‘I don't, like … one: Who are you? Two: What is this thing? Three: This is like the first time we've heard from you, and you want something from us.’ So, it has to be that consistent drumbeat of the internal messaging strategy for employees. Who is it coming from, what leader? You know, what team? And what is the message that we really want to share, and what are the values they we really want to get across with that. From there, then we're sort of like building up that repertoire with our employees … or that rapport, rather, with our employees — which really helps encourage them to share on their own.

Bryan Chaney: How do you think about ensuring that what you're able to deliver (as a company, right — not you, personally, but as a company,) the employee experience matching up with what you’re selling? Which is the candidate experience, as well as that whole process between candidate, to employee, to alumnus?

Rian Finnegan: The way that we talk about our employer brand, and talk about our employees, has to be relevant to our employees, and resonate with our employees. And to do that, we have to constantly be in communication with our employees. And so it's like, that internal comms, that internal experience becomes the external brand. And it always has to be this cycle of everything informing everything else, constantly. And then, as it starts to evolve, you're not so distanced from the employee experience when you're building out your employer brand, that you don't actually know what the heck is going on. 

I think that consistently being in touch with your employees, and working with your employees, I think is the best way to go. And I think being employer branding professionals, or in the employee experience space, as well. Your teams might not be massive, but they're intentionally that way because your team is the company. You know? Every time that you're working on something, every time you're launching something, you're going to be working with, essentially, a new team, you know? And whether you're working with the design team to tell that story, or you're working with the engineering team to tell that story — it's like you should always be in the know of what's happening with people in your company and the teams in your company.

Bryan Chaney: How did you set about learning that? Because some people are like, ‘Oh, I need six months, and $200,000, and I need to go do all these studies and research,’ and all that. And a lot of times, you don't get that. You're lean, you don't have the budget for that. You just have to go do, right? And I've been in organizations where you don't have time to do the proper research. You're really just saying jump in and start selling, right? 

When you started at Instacart, I know you had a relationship of trust with your boss. So, obviously, you have that relationship, and you're like, ‘Okay. I know, I trust you. I believe you're going to help me develop myself, and I believe you're going to give me the air cover that I need to be able to do a good job and succeed.’ Then what, right? So how do you then say, ‘Now, I need to make sure that the read that I'm getting on the culture in all the different micro-cultures, is true.’ How did you go about that?

Think like a journalist

Rian Finnegan: One of the big benefits of working on the team that I work on, is we're a pretty large team of communications professionals, but we're a communications team that is incredibly embedded within a company. And so, I get to lean on my teammates to say, ‘What do you think is going to be a good story here? What's happening over here? Can you help me with this? Can you help point me in the right direction?’ And then, I'll start to do some digging and investigating, and meeting with people. 

Of course, I'm always meeting with people across the company, just to hear about, like, what they're up to, what they're doing. I can't do that every hour of every day, but I can space it out. I can lean on the knowledge of the people that have already been at the company. I can also lean on my recruiting team. We have a large recruiting team — very capable, awesome, helpful recruiting team — that they're also really invested in telling the story. And they know exactly what's happening within their orgs that they're recruiting for, and all the changes — everything's that happening, you know? What the cool stories are. And so, you know, I lean on my trusted peers to help point me in the right direction. 

Because, so many of them have already done the footwork, and the detective work, and the journalism, for lack of a better word. You know, we have to act as journalists within the company in finding the stories and having the … 

Bryan Chaney: It's totally journalism.

Rian Finnegan: Yep.

Bryan Chaney: It's absolutely journalism. So, you're finding stories, you're digging in. You understand the backstory. ‘Okay, who's a credible source?’ And, like, just digging into all those different things. I love that you said that. 

So, what else would you want to share about candidate experience? What's something that you feel like is a surprise to some people, as you're thinking about that?

Rian Finnegan: There's a lot of low-hanging fruit and quick wins that people can have right now, even just with their applicant tracking system. Like, going in and looking at the messaging and adding some human speak, instead of robot speak, to the automatic kickback messages that come from something like Greenhouse, or whatever applicant tracking system that you're using. 

Rian Finnegan: Yes, yes. I have this practice of, everything that I write, I read out loud — just to see how that flow is. And I'm sure other folks do this, too, but it really helps me to just be like, ‘Does this make sense? Do I sound like a person with this?’ Or, do I sound like alien-speak, of, you know, ‘Take me to your leader,’ sort of a thing. And I have to make sure that I don't fall into that. 

I also get really flowery with my writing sometimes, so I'm just like, ‘Wow. This one sentence was like five sentences in a line, and there's like, a lot em dashes. I don't talk that way.’ And so, I'll have to go back and edit it. It's like, that's just something I have to do personally. But I think it's always really good to talk things out. And if you can, talk them out to another person.

Bryan Chaney: Rian, thank you so much for sharing, for talking about your kittens. What are your kittens' names, by the way?

Rian Finnegan: Cheddar Biscuit is a tabby cat, and then Apple is the little brindle one. Sometimes, she's Apple Pie, sometimes she's Apple Turnover. It depends on how she's acting that day. [laughs]

Bryan Chaney: Thank you so much for sharing, and just kind of letting us peek inside your mind and your thoughts about candidate experience, and employer brand. Always, always a treat. And thanks, everybody, for listening in, and we'll see you soon.

Rian Finnegan: Thanks, Bryan. Thanks, everyone.


Bryan Chaney: I'm Bryan Chaney. My thanks to Rian Finnegan and a big thank you to you for listening. I think there were some good takeaways for us all, like: creating an experience is universal, whether you're promoting a band or a brand, succeeding in an HR communications or talent attraction team is possible, and most importantly, how to battle COVID with kittens. 

Sign up for Lead with Indeed for more content, episodes, and to meet more independent thinkers and doers from the evolving world of employer brand. Up next: Camille Richardson, the head of the global employment brand creative team at Facebook.