Employee engagement ~ 20 min

POET: Harnessing Employee Advocacy to Recruit Top Talent

Unlock employee advocacy's recruitment potential with Wendy Alexander from POET. Valuable insights await!

On “Masters of Comms,” host Lamar Williams from Sociabble had the opportunity to speak with a true expert in the field, from our client company POET—Wendy Alexander, a talent scout for the biofuel leader who has seen firsthand the vast potential of employee advocacy in the world of recruitment. In this interview, she shares her unique insights garnered through years of experience on the frontlines of talent acquisition.

MOC: Hello, Wendy, and welcome to “Masters of Comms.”

POET: Hello, thanks for having me.

MOC: Thanks for being here. Wendy, would you mind taking a minute just to introduce yourself to our listeners?

POET: Sure, I’m Wendy Alexander, I am a talent scout at POET. I arrived here two and a half years ago, and really my role is kind of a mixture of all the things I’ve done in my past. I’ve been an HR manager, I’ve been a social media manager, I’ve always worked very closely with marketing and I joke all the time—I probably should have gotten into that. I used to do a lot of employee relations training too, but I’ve been in the talent acquisition space for over 20 years. And that is my true passion…

We do a lot of PR marketing and talent acquisition in my role, and I definitely support the talent acquisition partners. So they truly are the recruiters, and my role is an extension of them. Building relationships with schools and different groups, helping teach leaders and team members about pipelining and networking, and how to use marketing and communications to, you know, get in front of all those great people. So very fun role. It’s the sort of role that I would build for myself if possible, and so I was excited about that.

MOC: Fantastic. And before we get started, could you tell us maybe a little bit about POET itself?

POET: POET is an amazing company. I’ve known about it for years, but never really realized all the wonderful things we do. We were founded in 1987, so we just had our 35th anniversary, which was amazing. We grew from a single humble bioprocessing facility in Scotland, South Dakota, which is not too far from our headquarters here in Sioux Falls, to world’s largest biofuel producer and a global leader in the sustainable bioproducts.

You’ll notice, especially with younger generations, a key term is sustainability, and that’s what we’re all about. We love farmers. We work with a lot of agriculture. A lot of our schools bring us candidates, and we have programs with them, but we’ve been in many of the Midwest states. We’re constantly growing. Last year we actually purchased a Savannah marine terminal to help with shipping. I believe we are the 36th largest shipper in the USA and we do have different departments here. But what I did not know about POET until I came here was that we do much more than just ethanol.

We actually take the corn and we use all parts of it. We do not like waste. We work very hard to have renewable products. So we actually have plant-based alternatives to petrochemicals…and we also are building out different products all the time, and we have a ton of researchers here. So we have purified alcohol; we have an asphalt rejuvenator. During COVID, we needed to pivot when everyone had to stop driving for a while and we created a hand sanitizer. So we’re always working on new things. We even have pet food; we have animal pellets. There are so many different cool things we’re working on.

MOC: Sounds like you’re doing quite a few things, which is great to hear. Could you describe some of the challenges that you’ve encountered when trying to build a recruitment advocacy program and how you’ve addressed those challenges?

Well, in around 2016, I noticed a major uptick in ghosting.

POET: I kind of joke about ghosting, saying it isn’t just for dating anymore. It’s definitely a theme in talent acquisition. So I’ve given a lot of talks about this. It is a huge issue because it can happen at all levels of the process.

To combat that we really do work very hard to communicate constantly. So ghosting, just for anybody that isn’t aware in talent acquisition, that’s where maybe a candidate applies for a job. And when you go reach out to them, even if it’s a very quick lead, sometimes they don’t respond to you. They just ghost you. They go missing.

And because technology has allowed candidates to apply very quickly, usually via their phone, they can apply for multiple jobs easily, usually with a click of the button. Therefore, lots of applications are going out.

Sometimes candidates don’t even know where they applied because based on AI alone, they’re applying for roles.

Well, more roles are getting marketed to them, and they’re applying, applying, applying. And the company that really moves the fastest still won’t necessarily win that candidate, but may have a leg up. So to combat ghosting, you have to not only move very quickly, you have to be engaged. You have to woo them. And so those interactions are very, very important.

There has to be a lot of touch points to keep those candidates engaged because it used to be that candidates would just ghost you in the process where they applied, and then you could call them, email them, or text them for an interview. That’s where most of the ghosting happened.

Now, over the last few years, we’ve seen it happen at all stages of the process. It can happen after you had a great interview, and they’re excited to come in for a second interview, or maybe they got an offer and accepted the offer, and then they ghost you after that.

Sometimes even people will start jobs and not show up the next day and ghost you that way.

I really do believe it has something to do with conflict avoidance. And maybe just our society in general, there’s a lot of online technology going on, so rather than having to look somebody in the eye and say, “I’m sorry, I actually ended up getting a better offer,” or “This group was more interesting to me, I know originally when you reached out, I seemed excited, but then right after I got a call, I’m so sorry,”—well, that doesn’t always happen because when you’re behind a screen, you’re able to just disengage and not have to feel the guilt of that. So it’s become a huge issue. And we train our managers and talk about this constantly, about speed and engagement, speed and engagement.

MOC: Interesting. How do you encourage and empower employees to become advocates for your company’s recruitment efforts? And maybe what strategies have you found to be effective in building a dynamic sharing culture around recruitment?

POET: It’s also true just for marketing in general, getting the word out there and using all the tools you have. In the past, I was a social media manager as well for a different company, and was able to spend a lot of time building out that content. And I had to say, you know, we need more candidates. Well, you can’t just go out and get more candidates. There’s a lot of things you need to do first.

One of them is your culture and marketing that out there, getting it out, communicating it. And with social media, it makes it a little bit easier. So you’re constantly trying to grow your groups, your followers on all different platforms, but also, to get more candidates you can’t just put out ads. You really need to get your brand out there. You really need to get a feel for the culture and that sort of thing. I always kind of joke, you know, religion’s a great approach to use as an example. You don’t usually bring someone to an idea by forcing them to do it. You usually put something out there or you act a certain way and that draws people to it. So that’s how I feel about social media.

With Sociabble, I wish I would have had it at the last two companies I was at because it really makes it a one-stop-shop.

We can put all of our different ads in there, our culture stories. We put a lot of different content out there. Our communications team is amazing and does a great job. So they’re putting out a constant contact of content about our culture and different fun things. I’m usually having a team that’s putting out job-specific ads, with a nice, beautiful graphic because we all know people click on graphics more than just a yucky social media post, and we’re able to then have our team members share. And so they’re really champions, and with Sociabble, it’s just a click of the button. They can quickly share it to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Schedule your demo

Want to see Sociabble in action?

Our experts will answer your questions and guide you through a platform demo.

And depending on our role, we kind of tell them what to do and where to go, but it has been so helpful. Not only do we share out our jobs with links for people to easily apply, we have the culture stories going out or history about POET, too. And so all those things we do, it’s a great way to get our brand out there, and our people help us do that. And you know how social media works. If you get even five people to share a Sociabble post, they may have thousands and thousands and thousands of contacts in their network. So it’s just an amazing tool. I just can’t say enough about it.

MOC: How do you encourage and empower your employees to become advocates for your company’s recruitment efforts? And what strategies have you found to be the most effective in building a dynamic sharing culture around recruitment?

POET: Luckily, a lot of our people are super engaged, so they already do it without us asking. So that’s great. That’s what happens when you have a great culture and they want to help. They’re so excited and they’re so proud that they’ll often share culture stories or roles that are fresh and posted. Our culture is that sort of “open culture.” So that helps us quite a bit.

But to help out even a little bit further, it’s really about basically marketing and awareness. So I’ve spent a lot of time since coming here, working with managers and anybody that’s on a hiring team to help remind them we have Sociabble. This is a great tool that will keep you engaged. Because in my past, when I was an employee relations manager, the main reason people will leave is well, a lot of times because of their leaders or a team member that they don’t mesh with. But a huge, huge reason is feeling like they are not in the know, and Sociabble combats that. So I always say Sociabble is killing multiple birds with one stone. And oftentimes, if leadership has invested in software or a technology, there’s usually a good reason why, and you should probably use it.

So our team members do use it. They use it a lot. When we struggle with getting some shares for, let’s say, a specific job, we create a contest. So I may post a job on Monday, for example, and I may send out a blast to a team or leaders in a certain area, or even, you know, maybe the whole company gets involved. But it’s a great way to then ask them to share. I always remind them how easy it is; it takes one second, just a click of a button from Sociabble, to share to wherever they want to.

But we always remind them that this is not a requirement. This is just an ask. And then we do a contest. So we usually just gamify it, make it super fun, and say something like, if in the next four days you take a second to share this post out to your network, you will be entered into a drawing. And then we do something fun and simple, like maybe some POET swag, or a lunch, or a coffee, just something fun. It’s more about bragging rights, and it really does drive up our numbers and get our reach out there.

MOC: And so with that, you are able to capture an audience externally that then clicks on the various posts that you have available at POET, correct?

POET: Yes. And oftentimes even people in the network then see the post, and may share to their network. So, as you know, social media is just ongoing. The reach is ongoing. I put visuals in a lot of my contests that show how just even a couple people sharing can expand out and grow to the network.

And I’m always reminding people, it’s not necessarily about getting this post in front of the exact right candidate because you could get it in front of a dad, a mom, a grandpa, a grandma, a sister, a brother, or a friend that knows somebody, who is the perfect fit for this role, but would have never seen it otherwise. So it’s just so important to market your roles, and this makes it really easy.

MOC: Well, that’s great to increase that sharing. You create contests and you reward them for their activities. And you do all that with gamification that makes it fun and interactive. Great to hear that. But how do you ensure that your recruitment advocacy efforts align with your overall employer brand and company values. Do you have some examples of what works best?

POET: Oh, we have so many different great things. We have lots of videos, lots of culture stories, again, our comms team does such a great job. We are on so many platforms. And they’re constantly creating great content that is interesting. Not only that, but I’m doing a lot of education too around biofuels because that’s so important, to make sure people understand the value, and even with agriculture and how our process works—and how our people are really truly changing the world. So that’s a great story.

I’ve noticed in the last few years as well, when I was in charge of learning management systems for training, anytime I vetted out a new system, all of the vendors would talk about how the attention span of humans has gone down quite a bit. So we find short little videos do help us. We have our comms team helps us with some of our most-filled roles. Maybe we have some more entry-level type of roles, we do videos that are usually about two minutes in length, and then we can share those on Sociabble—and then have our team share those out as well. They’re a nice “day in the life” type of video for the roles.

I think we have four right now and plan to add more for different roles. It’s just such a great way to tell candidates what the job is really like, what they’ll be doing day to day, what the people’s background is, and why they like the role. So it’s just another great avenue for us to share with.

If we didn’t have Sociabble, well, we’d have to individually do that some different ways.

MOC: Is there a way that you leverage technology to really support your advocacy efforts? And also, what are some of the communication channels that have provided you the best results?

POET: Sure. In the past, it was really email. Email was kind of the way to go. Over the years—I guess I’ve been doing recruitment marketing for almost 20 years—and in the past, it was a lot of emailing and then even, you know, intranet, to get your internal team members aware.

Referral programs also have been added in over the years. So our teams do a great job with our referral program here. We do pay a bonus and we try to pay it immediately. Very helpful that way, but to get the word out, it’s always been email.

But in 2012, candidates weren’t responding to emails anymore.

And certainly not responding to phone calls anymore. So now I feel like we have a shotgun effect where not only are you using email still, you’re also using phone a little bit, you’re using video messages, you’re using Zoom or whatever other technology you’re using. I do a lot of mini-videos for people to explain the process.

You have your intranet, you have often platforms like an HRI or an ATS system. Contracting systems, you have different worlds for that as well, and you can have tools like Sociabble, and that is really a way to hook up to your social media. So social media got added in years ago as well, but this is another “one stop shop” to really push that out.

It truly is killing multiple birds with one stone by sharing with your team members. We also send out a weekly email. That’s a great tip. I used to send it out for every new opening at my last company, but at this company, we do a summary every Wednesday of any new roles that have been opened in the last week. And we share that out.

And a lot of our internal team members have said, you know, we know these roles are posted internally to our portal and externally to our portal, but this little tap on the shoulder via email really helps us to go look. And a lot of people have promoted jobs based on just communication of the role. So there are lots of different ways you can do it. I’m always looking for the best avenue. And also podcasts! Great way to get the word out.

MOC: With all of those techniques, and the more channels that you have, how do you measure it all? How do you measure the success of your recruitment advocacy efforts? And what metrics or KPIs are you using to actually track the impact?

POET: That’s a great one because of course leaders do ask that. It’s really about ROI. So sometimes that’s a little difficult. Our analytics track where we get our candidates from for the most part, which job board channels, what social media, if it was a referral, that sort of thing. So we have a lot of tools in place to track that. But also, the way you measure the success, your goal is always to get that down, the time to hire or the time to fill stat. So that is basically, you know, you can look at different definitions, but loosely, it’s when you know about the role and you get it posted and then when it is actually filled.

And often, companies will have a goal they’re trying to meet there. What will slow down your process? Even if you have great marketing and great tools in place, if you are not actively engaging and moving quickly in this day and age, you will absolutely market to more people and you will bring more people into your system to apply for jobs, but then they will actually drop off because they didn’t get talked to. They didn’t get communicated with. Doing that has really helped.

So you want that window to shorten. And then another metric I would like to talk about as well is really how many referrals we’re getting. We have a lot of locations that are in very rural areas. There’s just not a lot of people. That’s one of our challenges; our challenges in our headquarters office are very different from the challenges out in our bioprocessing facilities.

Oftentimes, it’s really about numbers and amount of people in the workforce, and that sort of thing. So having a referral program and being able to track that really helps us too. And again, Sociabble will let you do that. I do the contest and then I’m able to pull stats. I can see my reach. I can see how many people clicked. I can see how many people started the application process and I can see who shared and how many people they potentially got the post in front of. So it really helps us praise people and drive that behavior to help them help us.

MOC: Perfect. I bet there are people out there who are in your position that would love to understand the three key recommendations that you would provide them to start their own recruitment advocacy program. What would they be?

POET: Yes. Okay. So communication and training are key. That’s step one. You need a solid foundation helping your teams that are involved—that could be a hiring manager, it could be a support person, whoever’s touching this process to help you with your recruitment efforts, your talent acquisition effort, they have to be trained. That’s very, very important.

And so make sure you’re training on best practices, something I’m obsessed with, and probably because of HR and my DISC profile. I’m a DISC-certified person, which is definitely helping them understand that not every personality type gets it right away. So one and done training does not work. You really need to constantly remind and communicate and train and market. So best practices have to be driven home. So that’s step one out of the three.

The next one would be a really easy and quick thing you can do: create a referral program. So you’re going to want to train your hiring teams on how to network, how to pipeline. Networking doesn’t have to be painful, right? It can be networking online.

Pipelining is so important because you want to always be thinking in the future. Talent acquisition is very future driven. You shouldn’t think about, you know, my team’s full today. You should always remember that you could lose some team members because it’s a different kind of market right now. The people sometimes don’t even want to leave your company. They’re just forced to because it’s so tight out there. The people are getting offers and they feel as though they have to go. So hopefully your company will try to retain them and do a great job. But something to think about is always to be pipelining and networking so that you are ready if you have an opening.

And then the third is to truly help them see the big picture. You can’t just go out and get more candidates and spend money and market. You can’t, that doesn’t just fix it. You really need to figure out what the big picture is and talk about brand awareness and the candidate experience and why marketing helps you and how you treat your candidate. So even the very worst candidate that maybe is not a fit at all needs to have the best experience from you because they’re out talking. And by the way, they’re out posting things to places like Glassdoor and Google, and they’re talking about your brand and their candidate experience. So make it as good as possible.

Discover more Masters of Comms episodes here.