Reputation Management in the Age of TikTok

August 18, 2021
By iQ Staff
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Two people using giant smartphones with various social media reaction icons floating around them, including likes and comments.

TikTok, a video-sharing platform popular with Generation Z, has changed the way news and trends spread among the general population. In October 2018, TikTok became the most downloaded app in the United States, and today it has more than 130 million active users in the U.S. and more than 1 billion monthly active users worldwide.

Because TikTok gained recognition seemingly overnight, those who are unfamiliar with it or don’t use it regularly may not be aware of the reputational risks associated with TikTok. Due to its unique interface and large userbase, anyone’s content, in the form of short-form videos, can reach millions of TikTok users around the world within minutes. This has emboldened and empowered employees, customers and other individuals to use the platform for advocacy – often to the detriment of corporate reputations.


‘Not That Cute’ Goes Viral

Grace Lorincz is not a social media personality, but her use of TikTok made her an influencer in other ways. Grace is a 21-year-old recent college graduate who applied for a position as a “brand representative” for Ava Lane Boutique, a family-owned, online clothing business based in Auburn Hills, Michigan. She was shocked to receive a dismissive internal email from the boutique’s VP of operations, Chuck DeGrendel, in which he called Grace “not that cute” and questioned the decision to grant her an interview.

Grace took to TikTok last month to share her experience with Ava Lane Boutique, whose stated motto is “beauty through confidence,” and DeGrendel’s “not that cute” comment was enough to go viral. Her TikTok has since received over 2.3 million views and, within hours of posting, inspired a movement to submit negative reviews of Ava Lane Boutique. The shop’s Google Play reviews went from nearly 5 stars to 1.5 stars and became flooded with comments calling the products “not that cute.” Ava Lane Boutique was not prepared for this crisis. It has since apologized and made all of its social media accounts private, but the reputational damage was done.


Cultural Disconnect

What happened to Ava Lane Boutique is a lesson for all companies – big or small – about the power of social media in the TikTok era and the need to be prepared to deal with a communications crisis. On social media, past, current and potential employees can easily offer a glimpse into a company’s internal culture, which can be shared with millions in the blink of an eye. Leadership teams should cultivate a healthy corporate culture and know the warning signs that indicate a disconnect between internal and external values, which can ultimately lead to significant problems.

With a strong corporate culture comes the opportunity to empower employees – from junior workers to senior executives – as authentic brand ambassadors. The more employees understand the brand, genuinely live the values and know how these values link to overall business objectives and vision, the more they can become the company’s greatest advocates.

So, while TikTok’s popularity presents companies with new opportunities to quickly reach new audiences, especially in Generation Z, the app can just as easily damage organizations with a poor corporate culture. It is more important than ever for companies to understand the importance of aligning internal and external cultures and to be prepared to deal with a crisis like the one Ava Lane Boutique faced. Communications professionals should make social listening efforts part of their playbook and help educate all employees about the outsized power a single individual can wield using a platform such as TikTok.

Want to learn more? Click here to read our blog post on how companies can leverage the popularity of TikTok to promote their brands and products.