Retail employees are posting TikTok videos at work and some brands are leaning into the marketing opportunity and hiring them

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Dunkin crew ambassador program on TikTok Patrick Navarro is one of Dunkin’s first TikTok “crew ambassadors,” a new marketing strategy by Dunkin’ designed to offer customers a brand-safe window into life at the company.

  • Some retail employees have gained large audiences on TikTok by posting videos of life behind the counter at major chains like KFC and Chick-fil-A.
  • These unsanctioned (and often unflattering) videos can be a headache for brands who usually prefer to control the aspects of their businesses that customers see.
  • But some major retailers like Dunkin’, Wendy’s, Arby’s, and Walmart have begun inviting employees to post videos at work in a marketing push designed to tap into social-media appetite for a behind-the-scenes look at their stores.
  • Dunkin’ recently created a new “crew ambassadors” program where it’s paying employees to post videos while on the job.
  • While Dunkin’s official “crew ambassadors” have permission to post TikToks work, a spokesperson for the company said that because it operates on a franchise model, each individual store location sets their own policies around whether or not employees can post on social media.
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Retail employees are filming TikTok videos at work whether their employers like it or not. 

Employees have posted behind-the-scenes videos of themselves dunking plastic bags filled with frozen cheese and noodles at Panera, warning shoppers about moldy caramel sundae dispensers at McDonald’s, and sharing menu hacks at Chick-fil-A. Some Amazon warehouse employees have even built large TikTok followings by livestreaming themselves packing boxes.

These at-work videos pose a challenge for multinational companies like McDonald’s or Amazon that often aim to control the parts of their internal operations that customers get to see.

They can also lead to bad press. One behind-the-scenes TikTok video of KFC’s gravy-making process got picked up by websites like The Daily Dot and Bro Bible with unflattering headlines like “KFC Worker Shows How Chicken Gravy Is Made On TikTok And We Were All Better Off Not Knowing.”

Seeing retail workers go viral on social media isn’t a new phenomenon. In 2014, a 16-year-old Target employee became famous after a photo of them working at a register blew up on Twitter under the hashtag #AlexFromTarget.

But some retailers have recently begun leaning into the idea of having employees post TikToks at work as a way to promote their brands. If you can’t stop employees from sharing on TikTok, you may as well have a say in what they post.

In March, Arby’s posted a “day in the life” at Arby’s video on its account featuring employee and TikTok star @IconicWill. The creator had previously brought attention to the restaurant chain by posting a series of himself dancing at work.

Wendy’s shared a TikTok video of its employee Ricky Federici making a “T-Rex burger” in September (Federici had previously built a TikTok following of around 60,000 fans by posting videos of himself making Baconators and other Wendy’s staples).

Walmart invited its employee and TikTok star @CameronfromWalmart_ — who has around 11 times as many followers as Walmart on TikTok — to promote a grocery giveaway last month.

And Dunkin’ recently created a new “crew ambassadors” program where it’s officially enlisting employees to post TikToks at work, offering social-media users a brand-safe window into life at the company. It’s a marketing strategy well conceived for a platform like TikTok where the app’s “For You” content discovery page means that an employee’s video has as much of a chance of getting discovered as a brand’s official account. 

Dunkin’s first four crew ambassadors — Caitlin Swindlehurst, Patrick Navarro, Morgan Massaker, and Ashley Darden — have uploaded TikTok videos promoting their favorite menu items, explaining how to make a Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte, and opening Dunkin’ swag packages full of T-shirts, stickers, and tote bags. The company said each worker is compensated for their content and work.

“Tell me what content you guys want to receive from me,” Massaker said in a TikTok video announcing his ambassadorship on Monday. “Coffee combinations. Sandwich combinations. What donut should I have this week?”

Dunkin’ launched its ambassador program after seeing that employees were already posting on TikTok

Dunkin’ told Business Insider that it launched its ambassador program after seeing TikTok videos showing “enthusiastic organic engagement of Dunkin’ restaurant crew members sharing their experiences of working at a store.”

Like any amateur TikTok creators, its ambassadors’ videos are produced in a lo-fi manner. Each employee films at the Dunkin’ locations they actually work at with the same overhead lighting, flavor pump bottles, and push button coffee machines you’d see at any Dunkin’. 

Dunkin’ has invested heavily in TikTok marketing in recent months, hiring TikTok’s most popular star Charli D’Amelio to promote a custom “Charli” drink in September after the creator spent months promoting the brand for free. But the company’s push to enlist employees as “crew ambassadors” is new, and showcases one way that brand marketers are leaning into their employees’ behind-the-scenes content rather than shying away from it. 

As to whether non-ambassadors are allowed to post TikTok videos at work, Dunkin’ said that depends on which store they work in.

“Dunkin’ restaurants are independently owned and operated, and franchisees set their own policies around crew members posting videos to social platforms,” the company said. “Crew Ambassadors participate with the consent of their employer.”

For more stories on how brands are testing out TikTok as a marketing tool, read these other Business Insider posts:

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