The employees posting about their workday experiences

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A woman with bouncy black hair and a septum piercing looks off camera in her Best Buy uniform. She mimes the words ‘How will you be paying today?’ As a text reply shows ‘Oh I’ll be using the Best Buy card’, she exhales, impressed, just as the background beat drops.

Her name is Rilie Huntley, a 22-year-old sales supervisor at a Best Buy, an electronics retailer, in Minnesota, US. She’s one of many workers now freely sharing trending TikToks that document their regular lives at their regular jobs. She posted that seven-second video in December 2022 with the caption “I love my job #bestbuy”. It now has 2.6 million views.

“I never posted with the intent to make any money off of it or get any attention from it. I just did it made me happy, because it’s fun,” says Huntley. “But then a couple of them did start to blow up in a really big way.”

Social media is filled with videos like Huntley’s: people documenting their daily grinds. City workers take viewers through their morning commutes; flight attendants act out past interactions with passengers; fast-food employees hastily make burgers on camera. It’s not the well-filtered, exclusive influencer content we’ve come to expect – yet people are watching.

These videos aren’t just about the employees posting them, however – the companies for which they work are a major part, too. This kind of supercharged transparency about the personal details of a worker’s day might normally make employers squirm. Yet instead of bristling, many firms are beginning to embrace it.

As social media “has become a reasonably integral part of our lives”, employers trying to keep their employees off it aren’t going to have much luck, says UK-based executive coach Rory Campbell. “That’s just not the way social media works, and certainly not the way the generations in the workforce today work with it.” And companies that do welcome these intimate workday peeks often find their employees’ social media presence can be a bigger benefit than a threat.

22-year-old Rilie Huntley makes videos about her job at electronics retailer Best Buy in Minnesota (Credit: Courtesy of Rilie Huntley)

Josiah Varghese, a 22-year-old barista in Chicago, has built up a following of 1.4 million on TikTok, in part by sharing off-menu Starbucks creations. One video, pinned to the top of his TikTok feed, shows him making a chai using a method of tea infusion different from the Starbucks standard – the post has 15.4 million views. “Lizzo commented on it – she wanted to come to my Starbucks,” says Varghese.

The video also functions as largely positive, wide-reaching publicity for Starbucks – yet Varghese isn’t paid a dime more than his regular salary. The videos are a passion project; he makes them once he’s clocked out for the day.

In Varghese’s case, he asked permission from his manager when he started posting about a year ago. Since then, however, he hasn’t had any additional correspondence with his higher ups – Starbucks has mostly left him to his own devices. But the company has noticed Varghese’s content: recently, he says, “Starbucks reached out to me to say they love what I’m doing”.

Enabling creators to post content like this can ultimately serve as a highly strategic move for firms, say experts. “It makes recruitment easier,” says Louise Kennedy, director of Oculus HR in Sunderland, UK. “Your company’s culture is right there, so people can engage with that rather than your website.” And truly enthusiastic employees make great work-of-mouth marketing.

This is not to say that companies allowing employees to post freely are doing so without any safety nets in place. “It’s a reckless organization that allows it to be a social media Wild West,” says Campbell. Independently posted employee content can still, at the end of the day, pose a level of risk to companies – especially when it doesn’t serve as a positive spotlight.

“Companies still have to have policies to make it clear about what they deem to be appropriate use,” says Campbell, otherwise they could be liable for employee missteps.

In Chicago, Starbucks barista Josiah Varghese makes content about off-menu drinks in his spare time (Credit: Courtesy of Josiah Varghese)

“We’ve seen what happens when it all goes wrong,” says Kennedy, referring to a haulage company she worked with that didn’t have a clear social media policy. One driver was creating content the business loved and promoted, but another shared a video of himself breaking the rules by turning off his van’s driving time monitor so he could get home quicker. “Authority agencies could be getting involved,” says Kennedy. Now, the haulage company has gone back to trying to restrict social content.

So, while some firms encourage these videos – whether actively or passively – many have also chosen to implement social media guidelines. Campbell says this doesn’t mean asking employees to follow a certain script, but rather to give them the freedom to experiment without fear of repercussions. These guidelines may include “simple rules like ‘no sharing confidential information or customer information’, and ‘if it’s known who you work for, please be professional in your communication’,” he says.

When Best Buy noticed an older video of Huntley’s that she says “wasn’t super tasteful”, they organised a meeting with her and HR. She says Best Buy was worried it might affect what potential customers thought of their brand. “They asked if I was comfortable taking down the video they had a problem with,” says Huntley. She obliged, and never heard another word. “I said that’s no problem, and that was kind of it,” says Huntley.

Ultimately, experts say an increasing number of companies are opting to support employee content, rather than blocking it. Campbell worked with a major retailer who moved from ignoring social media to embracing it. Instead of panicking when enthusiastic employees announced new products before the brand had time to, they sought out 100 employees to be ambassadors.

“They weren’t told what to say or how to say it,” says Campbell, but they were provided with support and assets to use if they wanted to. “They generated huge amounts of engagement for the brand, and continue to do so,” he says. “Good progress comes when you lean in and engage with employees, rather than just seeking to put boundaries around them.”

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