- An Amazon warehouse worker became a TikTok star in June by filming videos of himself packing boxes (in violation of company policy).
- He's part of a growing crop of employees at companies like Walmart, Target, and Dunkin' who have built large audiences by posting behind-the-scenes videos at work.
- As more workers become content creators, businesses will have to decide whether to lean into the trend or ban social-media posts in the workplace.
- "Like a lot of other companies with buildings like ours, we ask employees not to use cell phones while they're working to make sure they're safe and not distracted while they're on the floor, where they may be walking, driving, etc.," an Amazon spokesperson told Business Insider.
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When TikTok creator "The Packman123" filmed his first video inside an Amazon warehouse, he didn't plan on posting it publicly.
"I wanted to show my friends and family how I do my job," he told Business Insider. "How packing is inside of Amazon."
But after getting positive feedback on the video, he decided to upload it to TikTok in late June (in violation of Amazon's company policies against filming on the job).
ThePackman123's first 38-second post is seemingly unremarkable. You watch the creator, whose face is obscured, drop a stainless-steel noodle strainer and two bags of smooth blue-glass stones into an Amazon Prime box. But it racked up hundreds of thousands of views and over 17,000 "likes."
His next three TikTok videos drew a combined 36 million views. It quickly became clear to the 23-year-old fulfillment center worker that there was big appetite for a behind-the-scenes look into life at Amazon.
"People enjoyed the content so I started uploading more," ThePackman123 said. He requested that his real name not be used for this story due to privacy concerns, but shared a photo of his work badge and a screenshot of his Amazon A to Z account (an app for Amazon employees) so Business Insider could verify his identity and employment status.
ThePackman123 now has around 600,000 TikTok followers and over 7 million "likes" on the app.
He's part of a growing crop of TikTokers who have built large audiences in recent months by posting behind-the-scenes videos at work. Retail workers at national chains like Panera have posted TikToks of themselves making mac-and-cheese, cooking gravy at KFC, and brewing Pumpkin Spice Chai Lattes at Dunkin'. And Amazon competitors Walmart and Target have their own set of employee stars.
But while some companies have embraced these kinds of videos, at-work videos can pose a challenge for multinational companies that often aim to control what the public (and competitors) get to see of their facilities.
After briefly looking the other way, Amazon's HR team told ThePackman123 to stop filming while packing
It didn't take long for Amazon to discover that one of its employees had gone viral on TikTok.
"HR found the video and they pulled me down and said, 'Listen, this is against Amazon policy,'" ThePackman123 said.
But the company didn't stop him from bringing his phone to his work station, and he continued filming unimpeded until managers at other fulfillment centers started to complain about the rule flouting.
"I think I got a little too comfortable and they pulled me down again two to three weeks ago and told me a lot of managers from different states were complaining," ThePackman123 said.
While he's no longer allowed to film new videos at work, he's continuing to post earlier at-work footage on TikTok and was able to keep his job.
"It was a shock for [HR] to be so lenient with me and so supportive and at the same time going on with the policy," he said.
An Amazon spokesperson said employees can use TikTok and other social-media apps as long as they don't post while actively working. The company previously didn't allow employees to bring mobile phones into workspaces, but temporarily changed that policy at the onset of COVID-19 to make it easier for workers to "remain connected."
"Like a lot of other companies with buildings like ours, we ask employees not to use cell phones while they're working to make sure they're safe and not distracted while they're on the floor, where they may be walking, driving, etc.," an Amazon spokesperson said. "Phones can be used freely in the breakrooms or outside of the building."
"We welcome employees posting to social media about their workplace and their experiences at Amazon, but we of course ask that they be respectful of each other, our customers, partners and others, and that they do not share confidential information," the spokesperson continued.
Amazon's overall position on TikTok has at times been confusing. In July, the company sent out an email telling employees that they couldn't use TikTok on mobile devices that access Amazon email. It later backpedaled and said the email was sent in error.
The company has also taken steps toward more transparency around its workplaces in recent years after facing criticism for its working conditions. Before the pandemic, the company offered guided tours at 22 of its fulfillment centers (it now offers a virtual tour option on its website).
As Amazon cracks down on at-work videos, Walmart is paying an employee to post on the job
While Amazon isn't keen on having its warehouse workers film themselves packing boxes, other companies have embraced their employees as social-media stars.
Dunkin' recently launched a crew ambassador program where it's compensating employees to post on TikTok. And Walmart enlisted one of its workers, Cameron Campbell, to create marketing content after seeing how popular he had become on TikTok.
"I made a video while I was at work in my uniform not thinking anything of it," said Cameron Campbell, an Indiana-based Walmart employee who posts dance videos in Walmart store aisles for his 4 million TikTok followers (Walmart itself has 366,000 TikTok fans). "[Walmart] actually loved it because I put content out that was family friendly and it was kind of promoting them in a positive way."
Campbell gets paid to do promotions for Walmart in addition to the one day a week that he works as a self-checkout host. He said the marketing partnership isn't exclusive, but he's careful not to promote a Walmart competitor.
"I'm pretty sure I could go to Target and make a dance video, but not wearing a Walmart uniform, just as a regular person," he said.
Social media in the workplace may be here to stay
Interest in retail worker content on TikTok didn't happen in a vacuum.
Social-media use has spiked during the coronavirus pandemic, lifting views on most content categories. Attention and support for essential workers on social media — including retail employees — has emerged as an internet trend. And e-commerce companies like Amazon have taken on a bigger role in the zeitgeist as shopping has shifted online (a TikTok user who films videos of themselves sitting on their haunches with an Amazon box on their head now has 1.5 million followers).
And as more employees become content creators, retailers will need to decide whether to lean into the trend or potentially ban smartphones in the workplace altogether.
"We've seen that these sorts of videos can have a major impact," said Benjamin Arnold, managing director at the creative agency We Are Social. "They can drive mass brand awareness and positive perception through their inherent authenticity."
"I don't find anything wrong with what I'm doing at all," ThePackman123 said. "[It's] very satisfying. Very therapeutic. I look at all the comments and everybody loves the content. I myself like what I'm doing."
For more stories of brand engagement on TikTok, read these other Business Insider posts:
- A milkshake brand blew up on TikTok, and its 460,000 followers have changed how it approaches marketing and its target audience: With 460,000 TikTok followers, the milkshake maker F'real has built a large following on TikTok.
- A teeth-whitening brand studied TikTok's algorithm to decide which influencers to hire and ended up gaining 100,000 followers in a week: HiSmile hired TikTok stars from the Hype House and Sway LA to create a wave of attention-grabbing videos on the social app.
- Leaked campaign brief shows the video ideas Cash App pitched to TikTok influencers, including 'when you win a bet by doing something dope': Cash App paid dozens of influencers to promote its app on TikTok. Here are the content ideas the company shared with creators for sponsored posts.
- CASE STUDY: TikTok ads have been 300% more efficient than Instagram ones in getting new users for fintech startup Tally: As more adults sign up for TikTok, fintech brands are using influencer videos and its self-serve ad platform to advertise on the platform.
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