Bosses are training employees to be influencers—after long discouraging social media posts about work

Leadership

For years, companies established social media policies and guidelines on what workers could and couldn’t say online, reminding them their social media presence should be separate from their employer’s. But as TikTok has become Gen Z’s LinkedIn—the platform of choice for many young workers to share their personal and professional lives—more companies, including Cisco Systems, Ericsson and United Airlines, are recruiting employees to act as in-house corporate influencers.
The hashtag #corporatetiktok, used by creators posting career advice and videos about their job, has more than 3 billion views, according to TikTok. Image: Getty

After Emily Durham detailed her “day in the life” as an Intuit recruiter on TikTok and her career advice podcast began climbing Apple’s podcast charts, she grew nervous about what her employer would think. She had talked about controversial topics like salary negotiation and racism in the broader job market.

“My first thought when my podcast started blowing up was, ‘I’m getting fired,’” says Durham, who has more than 345,000 followers on the short-form video platform. “I was fully prepared for [management] to say, ‘Shut it down and call it quits.’”

Instead, she says Intuit encouraged her to do more, recommending that she keep posting videos and publishing podcast episodes, and now encourages other employees to post about their work experiences, too. (Intuit did not respond to an emailed query from Forbes.)

For years, companies established social media policies and guidelines on what workers could and couldn’t say online, reminding them their social media presence should be separate from their employer’s. But as TikTok has become Gen Z’s LinkedIn—the platform of choice for many young workers to share their personal and professional lives—more companies, including Cisco Systems, Ericsson and United Airlines, are recruiting employees to act as in-house corporate influencers.

In doing so, they hope to put an authentic face on the company—providing an insider’s view that goes beyond bullet points on a job board—while taking on the risk that some workers could feel burdened with unpaid P.R. work or post complaints about perceived workplace injustices.

“It’s a little bit of a balancing act,” says Neil Costa, founder of recruitment advertising company HireClix, which helps companies promote job postings and reach job seekers. Companies, especially in healthcare and financial services, he says, need to ensure employees aren’t sharing trade secrets or violating regulations, for example. “Lawyers love stepping in at that part.”

Still, recruitment experts say building in-house influencers is a smart strategy at a time when companies are being challenged to tell their story in authentic ways. “The days of a three- to five-minute video from the CEO on why it’s great to work there are over,” Costa says.

The strategy only works at companies with a strong culture, says Rita Men, a professor at the University of Florida who studies employee advocacy, corporate communications and emerging technologies. “If a company has a really bad culture, it’s hard for them to expect employees to be strong advocates,” she says.

Fifty-seven percent of job seekers are using social media in their job search, according to job search website Zippia. The hashtag #corporatetiktok, used by creators sharing career advice and videos about their job, has more than 3 billion views, according to TikTok, while the hashtag #worktok has 1.4 billion views.

On LinkedIn, Cisco is offering training to its 83,300 employees to act as talent influencers, providing them with guidance, for instance, on how to use their LinkedIn profiles to attract candidates. Such employee-created posts are “so much better than any content we would curate from a branding standpoint,” says Chief People Officer Kelly Jones, who also occasionally lets employees take over the company’s social media account for a day. “It’s not corporate-generated content.”

More from Forbes Leadership

United Airlines created an in-house team of some 50 social media influencers, the Chicago Tribune reported in 2020. The airline tapped employees ranging from flight attendants to bag handlers to share messages online about their jobs and use a platform that gives workers pre-approved, recommended posts to share, according to the Tribune. “We can’t help it that our employees are low-key influencers, too,” the airline wrote on TikTok in February. United declined to discuss the initiative further with Forbes.

At global telecommunications company Ericsson, director of social media and advocacy Anita Veszeli says the company first created leaderboards that would track the highest-performing social posts that were made and posted by employees. But that became too “spammy,” Veszeli says: Workers overloaded on “liking” each others’ posts, even recruiting friends and family to “like” them, and became too repetitive in the types of posts they shared. Instead, her team trained workers on topics such as how to gain followers and get started with creating videos.

At Ericsson, Veszeli says it also built an “employee advocacy platform” to help workers surface industry insights, find Ericsson-branded content they can share or submit posts the company can approve for co-workers to share on their own accounts.

To be effective, employee-generated content shouldn’t be blatantly promotional, Veszeli says, such as including profile photos that are plastered with corporate logos. When workers share their work-life balance via a day-in-the-life vlog, “it’s an earned opportunity for us,” she says.

Platforms that communication teams build with ready-made content for employees to post are common, University of Florida’s Men says, but should only be a starting point. If workers are sharing the same messages over and over, social media users will become immune to the message, she says.

Meanwhile, employers need to ensure workers aren’t sharing company financials or security operations, HireClix’s Costa says.

In Durham’s case, she says her boss suggested she meet with Intuit’s legal and ethics team as a precaution before getting the green light to keep posting. “Of course there are policies I’m mindful of,” she says.

Another risk companies take on, Costa says, is that employees become so widely followed that they start earning enough paid partnerships to take content creation full time, he says. “Or, will they get scooped up by another company who’s in the same industry?”

Still, companies can’t try to control too much of what workers say online, says University of Florida’s Men, as it risks sowing distrust. “Employees are on social media, and they are talking about [their] companies anyway,” she says, “like it or not.”

This story was first published on forbes.com and all figures are in USD.


Forbes Australia issue no.4 is out now. Tap here to secure your copy or become a member here.

Look back on the week that was with hand-picked articles from Australia and around the world. Sign up to the Forbes Australia newsletter here.

More from Forbes Australia