What Walmart’s employee influencer programme means for marketing

Walmart has started a new influencer marketing strategy, not relying on the biggest lifestyle or cooking influencers on Instagram, but their own employees.

Walmart’s new Spotlight initiative aims to turn 500 of their employees into influencers, posting about life at the company, and promoting it as a great place to work. In an attempt to appeal to a wider audience, the corporation is encouraging workers to post about their experiences on social platforms like TikTok in exchange for rewards.

The programme is currently only open to salaried workers, meaning the vast majority of Walmart’s 2.2 million employees are ineligible to participate.

Popular posts will be rewarded with cash bonuses, incentivising influencers to create top-quality content. Of course, as any full-time influencer will tell you, creating content is work, yet Walmart’s employees are expected to participate in the programme as volunteers.

This is an interesting approach, a strange hybrid of user-generated content and branded content. Most big brands are protective of their image, their tone of voice, and their content channels. This might be a new way for brands to seem more human, communicating with their audience using real people, instead of celebrities or influencers with millions of followers.

Walmart isn’t cutting any corners either, hosting events led by social media executives from marketing agencies, and even employees from TikTok itself to help their employees create better content.

But what’s prompted Walmart to adopt this new content strategy?

Walmart’s new content marketing strategy:

Walmart has said it wants to turn Spotlight into the world’s largest employee-influencer program. The Spotlight app has campaigns built around questions designed to prompt and inspire new content, and users can select skills and hobbies to get content suggestions specific to them.

The posts and videos so far mostly revolve around employees having fun, or talking about great new initiatives the company is launching.

It’s a bold idea, and certainly a gamble going up against more traditional influencers.

Why Walmart is trying to turn its employees into influencers:

Walmart wants to seem more human

Through the Spotlight programme, every employee/influencer becomes an extension of the brand. Rather than independent influencers who they might work with on a single campaign, these home-grown influencers are seen as part of Walmart itself.

Big brands like Walmart have been trying to seem more human and relatable for years, and we’ve seen this most commonly played out on social media, with branded Twitter accounts experimenting with less formal tones of voice and getting into utterly toothless ‘fights’ with competitors.

In a way, this is the next logical step for brands that want to seem more personable. Getting real, everyday people to be the face of your brand makes you more relatable, which is the lifeblood of social media.

Social has been a cornerstone of Walmart’s marketing for years, with hundreds of stores operating their own Twitter accounts. This is partly just because now it’s expected of big brands to have a strong social media presence, but also because of who is on those social platforms.

They want to reach a new demographic

Many of Spotlight’s posts are on TikTok, trying to cater to an emerging Gen Z audience. With social media offering brands a way to connect with people, it’s not surprising we’ve seen it become more niche and personal over the years, with brands trying to prove they know what their audience want.

Gen Z is proving difficult for more traditional established brands to engage with. Leveraging their employees on TikTok might well be the best way for them to connect with the next generation.

It’s a PR move

Walmart has a frankly awful track record when it comes to HR issues, workers’ rights, and levels of pay.

Being able to point to its employees taking part in the latest meme is one way the company can deflect criticism, not to mention to appear more appealing place to work for. If they’re on TikTok, they must be fun, right?

It’s not surprising that Walmart will take good PR wherever it can. It’s badly needed.

But will its employee influencers be enough to improve sentiment among younger consumers, draw attention away from its mistakes, and bring in more business?

Will Walmart’s influencer content strategy work?

It’s difficult to say. Attempts at branded content on social have fallen flat in the past, and it’s unclear exactly what the appeal of watching Walmart employees talk about how great their company is in the first place.

Virality on social apps is determined by how engaging and shareable content is. The algorithm will promote posts that get more like, shares, and comments, and so the content will continue to generate engagement. Videos of Walmart employees singing in the breakroom just won’t have the impact needed to cut through and get any traction, so it’s unlikely these videos will have much worth in terms of traditional metrics.

It’s also hard to imagine any employees truly evangelising a monolithic megacorporation like Walmart when it routinely pays workers less than a living wage. They claim to be creating ‘real, authentic content’ but that’s obviously untrue, given the power Walmart has over its employees.

Potential new employees are already subject to social media vetting before starting most jobs, and it’s not hard to imagine that soon large companies like Walmart will include content creation like this into their employment contracts.

Amazon is already paying warehouse workers to do damage control on Twitter, talking up how great the company is in the face of almost daily reports of horrific abuse its workers face at the hands of the company.

This could be a quickly forgotten experiment, something for brands and agencies to point to in the future and say ‘don’t do that.’

Or in six months’ time we could all be watching Walmart employees dancing and smiling, because the algorithm has dictated it be so.

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