Date posted: 08/11/2023 5 min read

TikTok’s in business

Organisations are entering an age in which their brand is out of their control and instead in the hands of employees and customers – and for all to see on TikTok and YouTube.

In Brief

  • Public perceptions around employer brands are now in the hands of employees and customers, as they post on social media such as TikTok and YouTube.
  • Businesses with an authentic, people-first culture and a healthy, relevant social media presence will cope far better with negative coverage by disgruntled employees and/or customers.
  • The age of radical transparency, where all organisational data is visible to everybody, is just around the corner.

In one of thousands of organisational videos that have gone viral on Tik Tok and YouTube for all of the wrong reasons, a CEO is speaking with staff on a group video call to ask that they return to the office. Part way through, after challenging “any one of you to outwork me … but you won’t”, he then goes on to “honour” a manager for making the sacrifice of selling the family dog, so they could come back to the office.

It makes for strange and uncomfortable viewing, which of course is exactly why it has gone viral. And it’s a perfect illustration of the fact that organisations no longer have control of the narrative around their external branding, says Aaron McEwan, vice president, Research and Advisory, at Gartner.

“This is a fundamental shift,” McEwan says. “Historically, organisations have been able to control the narrative to a degree, around their employment brands and their employee value proposition. We’re now entering an age of radical transparency where every employee has got a smartphone with highly sophisticated recording equipment. They can broadcast what they’re experiencing in the workplace.”

Aaron McEwan, GartnerPictured: Aaron McEwan, Gartner

“…every employee has got a smartphone with highly sophisticated recording equipment. They can broadcast what they’re experiencing in the workplace.”
Aaron McEwan, Gartner

The large volume of content published under the r/antiwork subreddit, McEwan says, is “full of horrific stories of employees being exploited.” And many of the videos published under the #worktok hashtag, he adds, are similarly scathing.

“It’s people filming themselves quitting their jobs, filming a crappy boss being hostile, or taking their camera through their workplace to show how boring and soul destroying it is,” McEwan says.

Lisa East, founder and managing director of Auckland-based social media agency Matter, agrees that brands can no longer control perception. Now, the sentiment comes from employees or customers or, as in the example above, from own goals scored by their leaders.

“For a number of reasons, people have been reticent until recently to talk openly about their employment experiences,” East says. “But [members of] gen Z are naturally very open. They’re digital natives. They’ve been brought up with social media and they’re used to living in that forum. So absolutely, organisations can no longer afford to be complacent about employer brand.”

Lisa East, MatterPictured: Lisa East, Matter

“But [members of] gen Z are naturally very open. They’re digital natives. They’ve been brought up with social media and they’re used to living in that forum.”
Lisa East, Matter

TikTok workplace trends

A study by software business Workamajig revealed the top workplace trends as expressed on TikTok.

They included:

1) Quiet quitting – coasting at work, or only doing what is expected.

2) Act your wage – similar to quiet quitting, this is all about doing only the level or amount of work for which you’re paid, meaning no more accepting promotions without a pay rise.

3) Quiet firing – an employer-driven trend that involves making work as unpleasant or difficult as possible, encouraging employees to choose to resign to avoid having to sack them or make them redundant.

4) Rage applying – firing off numerous job applications out of anger, after a bad experience in the workplace.

5) Quiet hiring – another employer-driven trend, this involves making less staff do more work, rather than replacing people who have left.

All are negatives, whether in terms of employee behaviour, employer intention, or external brand perception.

“I’m sure these things all existed in pockets prior to TikTok,” McEwan says. “The concept of quiet quitting is really just working to the clock, or malicious compliance.”

However, these concepts now demonstrate two important things.

“The first is the reaction to the pandemic,” McEwan says. “In 50 years, we’ll look back and realise this was a time when our relationship with work fundamentally changed. We were reminded of the fragility of our lives and the importance of family and health. The previous 30 or 40 years of unfettered capitalism had eroded our wellbeing and sense of balance.”

The other thing, he says, is the fact that we really are in a new age of radical transparency, and organisations had better get used to it.

What can businesses do?

McEwan says we’re not far off a time when all organisational data is openly available, from salaries to the resting heart-rate data of entire workforces, and from carbon-footprint data to diversity and inclusion details, and facts around which political party the business donates to.

“That is the future of employer review sites like Glassdoor,” he says. “It’s not going to be just employee reviews and tips on interviewing, it will instead have livestream views of what’s actually happening in the office.

“56% of employees have consumed employee-generated information about their employer in the past 12 months. 30% of adults in the US use wearable electronics to track their health and wellbeing. And 52% of employees would be willing to share anonymised wellness data in public forums such as Glassdoor.”

Radical transparency is coming, so what can businesses do?

Employment contracts that threaten staff who post about the organisation on social media are “a giant red flag” for potential employees, East says.

“Success in this new environment will come back to intent,” she says. “If you are a well-intentioned brand with a good culture, or if you’ve had some things happen that have challenged the good culture but you are genuine about getting your organisation on to a good path where people are treated with respect, you should not have a lot to worry about.”

An authentic social media presence

Whatever the business, an authentic and strategically purposeful social media presence is important, East says. It not only offers two-way communication with clients and customers, it also means if a person who has had a bad experience begins to make noise on social media, where other shared experiences are mostly positive, they will appear as an outlier.

Presence, intention and trust are everything, East says. She calls out Air New Zealand as an excellent example of employer brand done well.

“Their policy around what their team is able to do on social media, in uniform and on aircraft, is very open,” she says. “That says to me that Air New Zealand has a great deal of trust in their people, and that they have excellent policies around how they manage, develop and empower their staff. At the same time, it is clear that staff are having a great time and loving their careers. What an amazing recruitment tool that is.”