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Walmart marketing expands employee incentive to be a TikTok influencer

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Walmart is paving the way for a new generation of corporate micro-influencers – but will being an influencer for these big brands pay off?

Influencer marketing people taking video on a smart phone to record dances.

What do Dunkin Donut, Samsung, GameStop, Amazon, and Walmart have in common? They are all encouraging employees to promote their brand via social media as an influencer.

At Walmart, roughly 500 employees are enrolled in the company’s Spotlight program, which is a new initiative intent on turning specific Walmart employees into micro-influencers.

What you need know about the Spotlight program:

  • Spotlight began testing this fall – Walmart wants to expand the program to include 1.5 million U.S. associates in the coming years to become “the world’s largest employee-influencer program”
  • The program is building off of the My Local Social program in which volunteer employees posted on behalf of local stores
  • The program now employs public-facing company advocates who showcase a “fun” behind the scenes look at Walmart
  • Spotlight is represented on Facebook, Instagram and is now growing a following on TikTok, which Walmart might ultimately become a stakeholder in (Has anyone seen #walmartcheer or #walmartdanceparty posts on TikTok? It’s weird.)

Walmart states that their goal with this program is to humanize their brand while offering authentic, relatable content to their customers. The company’s micro-influencers use their platforms to promote products, broadcast store promotions and combat bad press.

I find the last point especially interesting – employee-influencers are often paid to tweet corporate talking points to fight accusations against the company. But what if the talking points go against their own interests?

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For example, Walmart frames the Spotlight program as a way to “empower” employees, yet the company is notoriously unsympathetic when it comes to giving employees sick days. They also only just recently raised their wage to an average of $14.25 an hour (for reference, Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillon earned $22.8 million in 2018, which is almost 1,000 times the average full-time worker’s salary).

Here’s my opinion: I think before a company asks their employees to promote their brand on their personal social media accounts, they better be ready to compensate them big time. Employee-influencer content may seem innocuous, but when there is a corporate agenda at play, users are being advertised to without even being fully aware of it. And that’s something we should all be skeptical of.

Maybe I wouldn’t mind it so much if the same companies that are encouraging micro-influencers to pump out posts on their behalf didn’t treat their employees so bad. We’ve all heard the horror stories regarding Amazon warehouses during COVID – and now they have the audacity to ask employees make TikToks saying that was all a misunderstanding?

At the end of the day, I would personally rather engage with content that isn’t corporate advertising hiding behind face of a micro-influencer – and one that the company systemically underpays.

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Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, self-sufficiency, and to stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. Besides filmmaking, Anaïs enjoys reading good fiction and watching sketch and stand-up comedy.



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