Americans love to share online, and a particular favorite platform is TikTok. From song and dance challenges to silly stunts, deep thoughts, and shameless self-promotion, we love to reach out to our online community, hoping the short message will get a good reaction from our friends.
Often, the video goes viral. For some, that means 15 minutes of online fame. For others, it can mean a negative impact on their lives, their career, and their company. The question for business — should employees be allowed (or even encouraged) to TikTok on the clock?
Social media is a powerful marketing tool if used correctly. Most businesses find that without a strong social media presence, they lose market share and applicant interest. The professional business line can be blurred when employers give up some control over the social media narrative to their employees. Whether it happens intentionally or not.
TikTok failures riddle the internet: workers who share how little (if any) they do while on the job may get a few ‘good for you’ responses. However, they may be setting themselves up for criticism and disciplinary action in the larger picture. While the employer may be thrilled to have an employee tattle on themselves, it’s not a good look for your organization.
Starbucks recently fired an employee who posted how he and his colleagues would like to respond to demanding customers. While no customer was in the store during the taping, and the responses were never used, the brand felt it suffered, and the employee lost his job.
Brand damage doesn’t just mean lost customers. It can mean lost talent, as well.
One tech worker bragged about getting a new job at a higher salary on the platform. She went on to post several additional videos about how she got the new job. The National Labor Relations Board protects workers who discuss their salary, even online. Still, the new employer rescinded her job offer nonetheless. Their concern was that if she was willing to share her private information, she might post some of the company’s.
…and their fallout
Your brand is your livelihood. Bad social media posts can damage a worker but can also hurt your company’s reputation irreparably. Even the slightest negative post an employee thinks is only shared with friends can go viral quickly. Once it’s out there, it puts your organization on the defense for something an employee said or did, even if it was contrary to your mission and policies.
The fallout can be quickly managed, or it may have long-term repercussions. Often, otherwise, good employees are fired immediately in the name of damage control. There may need to be repeated apologies to customers, shareholders, and colleagues to mitigate the impact in the marketplace.
Brand damage doesn’t just mean lost customers. It can mean lost talent, as well. Applicants will shy away from companies with a negative online reputation — even for jobs that pay higher than the going rate. Some estimate a negative online brand, either through reviews or damaging videos, can cost an organization 10% more for every hire they make.
On the other hand….
Some businesses are encouraging employees to post to TikToks as a means to boost their brand.
- Make-up companies may ask staffers to post tutorials
- Video game companies ask workers to walk through new games and systems
These influencers can net tens of thousands of followers.
Some employees are so joyfully executing their duties they simply cannot contain themselves from sharing their exuberance with the rest of the world. They may:
- Love the new window dressing just set up
- Be inspired by a new line of products
- Not be able to resist a post about an amazing coworker or customer
These organic brand ambassadors could give your business a big boost, provided the messaging is positive.
For every employee who posts about a colleague who saved a customer from a carjacker, there are 10 posting videos about rampages and thefts in stores. While employees and the company are victims in these videos, the public may shy away from shopping at those locations in the future for fear of their safety.
What’s your biggest 2022 HR challenge that you’d like to resolve
Answer to see the results
Simplify benefits administration
Improve our virtual onboarding experience
Automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks
Controlling the narrative
For most businesses, TikToking on the clock should either be prohibited or carefully monitored to ensure posts are aligned with the company’s messaging. Your social media policy should be clear and communicated frequently.
The company’s brand is its livelihood. You’re within your rights to prohibit videos created on the clock or on-premises. You may want to be flexible in the event of positive posts, but require these are approved by someone higher up on the corporate ladder before they’re sent into cyberspace.
Pay to say
In some cases, posting is driven by management, either with a social media team or through employee influencers. If an organization encourages employees to brand-promote on their personal social media pages, it’s probably a good idea to compensate the staffer for doing so. If staff members are paid to promote, you should have a broader range of control over the published content. You may suggest items for them to sample or demonstrate or allow them to do so organically within limits.
If you are paying internal influencers, you’ll want them to disclose they’re being supported for their promotional efforts. You don’t want to mislead the buying public into believing employees are spontaneously posting about a new product when they’re being asked and paid to do so.
If you’re considering outsourcing TikTok influencers, buyer beware. Some estimate that many of their ‘followers’ are rented, fake, or bots. TikTok influencer fraud cost businesses over $1 billion in 2019 alone.
The consequence of a TikTok presence
We want our employees to be happy and have fun on the job. We also know there’s a benefit to them sharing their joyful workplace experience online. While we’re in awe of the server who can deliver a dozen beer steins to their table at once, they might not appreciate the video if they’ve tripped and fallen on the way.
You may encourage employees to participate in certain TikTok challenges, like song and dance or mannequin videos to post. You’ll probably want to discourage them from the milk crate or cinnamon challenges — especially on the job.
While there may be positives to TikTok videos, the downsides can be significant.
A post about a stand-out employee is great. One that might embarrass a colleague isn’t. The person posting may believe it’s all in good fun, but the person who’s been taped obliviously snoring away at their desk might disagree.
Protect your brand
Businesses have a right to protect their company and an obligation to protect their employees. While there may be positives to TikTok videos, the downsides can be significant. Your social media policy should:
- Outline the risks versus rewards
- Ask employees to use good judgment when creating a video
- Ask for permission (at the very least) from their immediate supervisor before the content is shared
Train managers and supervisors to view any potential online content with an eye toward protecting the company and staff. Have them consider the following: Does the video…
- Align with the company’s values and mission?
- Portray workers and customers positively?
- Represent the business in a positive light?
If the manager doubts that the video will be anything short of a net positive, they should run it up the management ladder for additional advice. Remind managers they may be held liable for the content they approve. If it comes back as a negative, they may be accountable.
Should you allow employees to TikTok on the company’s behalf or not?
Even the most innocuous-seeming content may be problematic. Some of the savviest marketing professionals have had content come back to hurt the company when the wrong term has been included or the incorrect graphic has been used.
The internet is forever. No matter how quickly you take down the video, it’s out there. And if it goes viral, it grows exponentially.
The bottom line about TikTok on the clock
When protecting your business and staff, it’s a best practice to prohibit employees from creating or posting social media posts while on the job.
Unless posts are very narrowly protected as ‘concerted speech’ as defined by the NLRB, most companies agree TikTok on the clock should not be allowed unless the content is expressly approved by management.