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How HR Is Using Visual Storytelling to Build Brand Awareness

Companies are leveraging visual storytelling tools to build brand awareness and recruit top talent.

An illustration of a phone and a tablet with the words apply today.
Illustration by Michael Korfhage for HR Magazine

When the recruiting team at MailChimp considers the best ways to capture the attention of prospective employees using social media channels, it doesn’t turn first to Facebook or Twitter but rather to the video- and photo-sharing site Instagram. Recruiters for the Atlanta-based marketing automation company believe that the fast-growing site boasting 1 billion users provides the best platform for telling MailChimp’s story in an unfiltered, highly visual way that will resonate with potential recruits. 

“We want our recruits to know exactly what they’re getting into, so we share photos and videos on Instagram that are true to who we are, what we care about as a company and what our employees are all about,” says Courtney McAtee, MailChimp’s director of recruiting. 

The company uses an Instagram business account to target candidates who align with its values of humility, creativity, independence and diversity, she says. One way recruiters do that is by using Instagram’s Stories feature to present a “day in the life” video series featuring MailChimp employees in their work settings talking about their jobs.

“Employees discuss what makes it exciting, fun and challenging to work here,” McAtee says. “We pin these stories to MailChimp’s Instagram profile, so anyone looking at our social media has a chance to learn more about what we do on a daily basis and catch new job postings.” Candidates intrigued by what they see can use Instagram’s “swipe up” feature to connect instantly with MailChimp’s jobs page. 

Recruiters also employ Instagram to showcase innovative projects employees are working on and to share video from a featured “coffee hour,” where employees gather to listen to curated guest speakers. “The speaker series is designed to challenge our own thinking,” McAtee says. Guest speakers have included movie director Spike Lee, U.S. congressman John Lewis and University of Houston research professor Brené Brown.

Brand Awareness 

Best known as a site where users display photos of family, friends or vacations, Instagram is increasingly being used by recruiters to build brand awareness and give candidates a look behind the curtain for a sense of what it’s like to work at a company before they apply. 

Cisco has used Instagram and the photo-sharing site Snapchat to appeal to prospective employees in its search for highly skilled technical workers. “Your vibe attracts your tribe,” says Jason Phillips, vice president of digital HR and global chief of staff for the San Jose, Calif.-based company. 

“Using our @WeAreCisco Instagram channel helps in our mission to make personal connections with future talent,” Phillips says. “We do that primarily by featuring employee-generated content.” 

Cisco’s recruiting team monitors the #WeAreCisco hashtag on social media, where current employees talk about why they love working at the company, and then recruiters amplify what is said through their own efforts on social platforms, giving credit to those employees.

Using Instagram drives results at all stages of Cisco’s recruiting funnel, Phillips says, including:

Building awareness of the company.

Engaging talent (when prospective employees “like” the recruiting team’s efforts and start a relationship). 

Decision-making (candidates clicking links to apply to jobs). 

Advocacy, where recruits refer Cisco to others in their network. 

Katrina Collier, an expert in social media recruiting who runs The Searchologist, a London-based recruiting consultancy, says transparency and authenticity are the keys to recruiting effectively on visual storytelling sites. 

“You can’t simply tell prospective employees what your values are or what your culture is like; they won’t believe you,” Collier says. “You need to show them your own employees living those values behind closed doors with visual content like videos and photos. Instagram is a good medium for that.”

But Collier cautions against pushing messages too hard or using overly polished videos on social channels. “Whatever visual medium you use to deliver content, it needs to be real and believable,” she says. “People want genuine, gritty, peer-to-peer content.”

Marriott International is another company that uses Instagram to increase awareness of its employment brand around the globe. “Social media is a key part of our channel mix to reach job seekers in an authentic and meaningful way,” says Kristy Godbold, a global human resources officer at the hotel chain who oversees talent acquisition, HR analytics and finance.

The company’s careers team actively manages Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube channels to communicate the company’s story. Employees are invited to co-create videos, photos and other content with Marriott’s careers team to show what it’s like to work at the company’s various properties. 

“It gives us a scalable way to broadcast relevant stories about our culture and work experiences in an unfiltered, inspiring way,” Godbold says.

Tactical Takeovers

One tactic some companies believe has particular value in appealing to potential recruits is allowing employees to “take over” an Instagram account for a day to showcase their work lives. HubSpot, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company that provides inbound marketing and sales platforms, believes such takeovers not only are a morale booster for employees, they also give candidates an invaluable behind-the-scenes look at what makes the organization an attractive place to work.

“We give employees full access to our Instagram account to capture and display what their lives are like at HubSpot,” says Riley Stefano, a culture content creator on HubSpot’s employer brand team. “They become a living demonstration of our culture and provide full transparency about what it’s like to work here.” 

HubSpot employees receive tips and ideas for creating Instagram content as well as do’s and dont’s for conducting the takeover, Stefano says, before the employer’s branding and recruiting teams turn them loose on the site.

Cisco also is a believer in Instagram takeovers. “It’s OK to take risks,” Phillips says. “It wasn’t easy at first giving over social media passwords to non-social-media experts in the company. But we savor the 99 percent of the time that things go right during takeovers and plan for the 1 percent where they might go wrong.”

Focus on Visual Storytelling 

Here’s a snapshot of some visual storytelling tools that HR departments are leveraging to build brand awareness and engage with top talent. 


Demographics: 1 billion global users, with 41 percent age 24 or under.

Features: Free mobile social network that allows users to post photos, videos and other images. Recruiting teams can create business accounts to post visual messaging targeted to prospective employees. The Insights tool allows recruiters to learn more about followers and how they engage with content.


Demographics: 1.5 billion global users; 73 percent of U.S. adults regularly access YouTube online or on cellphones, according to the Pew Research Center.

Features: Free online video platform with dedicated business channels for employer branding and recruiting purposes. Day-in-the-life videos give prospective recruits a behind-the-scenes look at corporate culture before applying. 


Demographics: 188 million global users, including 78 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

Features: Photo- and video-sharing app originally built to share photos for a limited amount of time before they become inaccessible. Recruiters can create stories, slideshows and filters to promote corporate culture or showcase specific jobs and link that content to the employer’s careers site.

Sources: Statista and Pew Research Center.

Measuring Return on Investment

Recruiting functions use a variety of ways to gauge the impact of visual storytelling on recruiting goals. 

HR leaders at Cisco measure how the organization’s social media channels influence all phases of its recruiting funnel. “We use metrics like ‘reach’ and ‘impressions’ to assess whether we are getting awareness about our culture and our job opportunities,” Phillips says. Recruiters also track engagement rates, or how many followers are interacting with the company online. When using the Instagram Stories feature, Cisco measures viewer completion rates to determine which content is resonating with audiences.

“Of course, we also want to drive the number of viewers who apply,” Phillips says. “We’ve just started tracking how many job applications come through our social channels with a new tracking capability on our careers site.”

Godbold has seen strong results from a recent Instagram campaign designed to find candidates for food and beverage jobs. A series called #DiaryOfTheCraft spotlights employees in food and beverage roles and the innovation happening in Marriott kitchens and bars around the globe. 

The campaign points viewers to Marriott’s careers website to learn more about job opportunities. Since the series launched in early 2018, it has received over 2 million views and over 14 million social impressions, she says.

For Marriott’s talent acquisition team, that all adds up to a pretty picture.  

Dave Zielinski is a freelance business writer in Minneapolis. 


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