February 1, 2023

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Is Your Employee-Generated Content Genuine?

Musk produces the most valuable EGC of anyone on the internet. What can brands and marketers learn from his strategy?

Is employee-generated content (EGC) a nightmare for brands or a dream come true? Should employers bother facilitating it, and if so, how? For answers, let’s start with an extreme edge case: Elon Musk.

Talking About Employee Content and Musk

Musk produces the most valuable EGC of anyone on the internet. His Twitter presence has meant that Tesla, worth about $620 billion, spends $0 on advertising. Whether you consider him an entrepreneur, influencer, content creator, or troll, what he tweets is EGC—content from a personal account that audiences associate with the creator and their employer. 

Musk’s EGC is also risky. Recall that his 2018 tweet about taking Tesla private for $420 per share continues to haunt the automaker with lawsuits. And since his acquisition of Twitter, the self-declared Chief Twit has managed to spread a political conspiracy theory, scare off advertisers and tweet-fire an engineer who disagreed with him publicly. Musk tweeted on Nov. 10, “Usage of Twitter continues to rise. One thing is for sure: it isn’t boring!” He can claim some credit for that.

It’s tempting to conclude from Musk that all attention is good attention. Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) is a convenient counter argument. His antisemitic tweets — also EGC — destroyed half of Adidas’ profits and $1.5 billion of his net worth by forcing Adidas to end its partnership with Yeezy, the singer’s clothing and apparel line.

Hence, the conundrum for marketers: we want employees to develop public personas with considerable reach — we just don’t want them to say terrible, misleading or legally problematic things that kill our brands. Perhaps, though, we get hung up on Musk’s showmanship while overlooking a few simple lessons about what makes EGC work and how to facilitate it. 

Related Article: Will the Musk Takeover Rescue or Wreck Twitter Marketing?

1. People Connect With People, Not Brands

Musk reminds us that people are interested in other people, not a construct like a brand. Six-and-a-half times as many people follow his twitter account versus Tesla’s. Likewise, the most successful podcasts, Substacks, TikTok channels and LinkedIn profiles have formed around a personality, not a Delaware-based corporation and its trademarks.

Sure, brands like to talk about the “relationship” they have with customers, but they’ve merely twisted that word into jargon for describing a recurring series of transactions. Do I buy things from Amazon frequently? Sure. Do we have a “relationship”? Nah. People build relationships with other people, who might happen to have a secondary identity as employees of brands.

EGC should start from the premise that employees are human beings who will build relationships with customers, partners and members of their professional community, on their own terms. To control or prohibit that behavior is a great way to spawn another TikTok “workfluencer” who reveals what it’s really like to work for your corporation.

Related Article: The Marketing Value of Authentic Celebrity Brand Partnerships

2. The Social Web Isn’t a Secret Diary

Musk, however you feel about him, knows how to write for an audience. It feels like we get his unfiltered take on well, everything. The opposite of a Musk post is the EGC we normally see on LinkedIn and Twitter: the dry, copy-pasted, promotional posts that are ignored. No one wants to hear or read that stuff, and most employees don’t want to post it. They want to share something that is true to themselves.

That said, being “authentic” without any empathy for the audience can produce some collateral cringe for an employer. Two infamous Twitter accounts illustrate this. No one in venture capital wants to see themselves or their colleague on @VCBrags, which reposts EGC like, “I have always worked harder than others. I’m still outworking the competition by a country mile. If you want to beat me, you’ve got to outwork me. Good luck.”