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Jan 19, 2022

You’re not human if you haven’t noticed the dominant rise of the video-sharing app TikTok. It’s so popular that The Wall Street Journal reported on TikTok creators who earn more than CEOs. From my position as a 20-year veteran in human resources, it begs the question, “Should HR be on TikTok?”

The short answer is no. 

There is no reason for anybody to be on TikTok. That’s because there is allegedly no daylight between the Chinese government and ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok. Despite TikTok’s denials, insiders say that China runs ByteDance, including its American subsidiary

That’s problematic because the Chinese track record on human-rights violations is something to behold. Consider the oppression of the Uighurs, the continued brutality against the people of Tibet, and the jailing of pro-democracy citizens of Hong Kong

And, of course, there’s more, including the fact that TikTok censors links to Tiananmen Square and actively fomented the Jan. 6 insurrection. If that’s not enough for you and your HR department to stay off TikTok, nothing is. 

But I hear you — you’re not political and wonder what any of this has to do with the daily operation of your human resources department. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to be a consumer in Western society and avoid purchasing goods and services made in China. So why single out TikTok when many things on a site like Amazon are created and marketed in conjunction with the Chinese government? 

Well, let me explain my specific concerns related to TikTok.

A Risk to Data Security and Privacy

Suppose a majority of your employees have TikTok installed on their devices. Should HR be on TikTok to monitor the content of employee videos and how they might be representing your brand?

Again, the answer is no. Your company’s secrets that you work so hard to protect run the risk of being mined and stored in a Chinese server because somebody in your procurement department loves to watch babies dance to hip-hop music. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch that kind of stuff? That’s the allure of TikTok and why it’s so potentially dangerous.

Also, TikTok collects biometric data on its users. That’s a potential security risk because if you use employees’ biometric data to create or access files, while those same employees give away that same data to TikTok, there’s a potential way for nefarious agents to use that information to access sensitive work data. With so many organizations grappling with ransomware attacks and payroll hacks, the risk isn’t worth it.

TikTok Won’t Help You Attract and Retain Talent

Let’s be honest. Your recruiting team has trouble finding people. It’s a war for talent, and your hiring team wants all the tools in its arsenal. Isn’t TikTok a great way to communicate your employer brand and reach applicants and candidates? 

Nope, it’s all about the law of diminishing returns. Almost everybody on the planet uses Google and Meta products. If you’re planning to spend time and money on social media to hire people, be more efficient with your time and budget. Pick one platform, not four, and go deep on the benefits and services that are provided.

Why not diversify platforms? Because of the law of diminishing returns. You don’t put an ad in People, Us Weekly, In Touch, Weekly World News, and the Enquirer. You pick one so that you don’t waste your money because people who subscribe to one of those will often subscribe to many of those.

And, by the way, your recruiting goals should be to move applicants and candidates off social media and into your hiring funnel ASAP. Collect names, email addresses, and SMS numbers on your career website — and then get to work.

TikTok Doesn’t Help HR’s Brand

Finally, I know HR departments hate being associated with compliance and rules – which is why you’re not HR, anymore! You’re the people ops team, or maybe you’re the people and culture team! Woo-hoo! You want to show your workforce that you can laugh and joke with the best of them. Won’t TikTok help you do that?

That’s a no from me, dawg. Sure, you know how to let your hair down at a conference. But you are a teacher, not a performer. 

Yes, I’ll admit that instructors and thought leaders like Simon Sinek and Brene Brown are on TikTok to entertain and sell books. But it’s heartbreaking and problematic because they know everything I just shared with you about the Chinese government (from book censorship and manipulation to the imprisonment and torture of academics) and still choose to plant a flag on that platform. 

Here’s my advice for the modern HR department: The way to win the hearts and minds of your workers isn’t to make cute videos on TikTok. It’s to deliver top-notch benefits and services. Don’t perform for your employees. Listen to them. Then maybe they’ll have a socially-distanced drink with you.

How Do HR Professionals Feel About TikTok?

Many HR professionals love TikTok.

Some have asked for my advice on a corporate TikTok strategy and then get upset when I tell them to stay the heck away from the platform. They’ll then say, “Didn’t you evangelize the social web and tell HR professionals to get Twitter accounts back in the day?”

Like doctors prescribed cocaine, I once advised HR professionals to get on the internet back in 2010. It’s my profound shame and a mistake that haunts me to this day. OK, that’s strong, but I regret encouraging people to go all-in on social media because I believed in the potential for expanding HR’s horizons and having more diverse conversations. I was duped like most Americans and have come to learn that social media offers little opportunity for growth and tends to reinforce deeply held beliefs and amplify biases.

HR professionals also say, “Laurie, you are such a downer. Don’t yuck my yum. Just because you hate TikTok doesn’t mean I have to hate it.”

It’s impossible to reason with an adult who speaks like a child. But make no mistake about it. My position is clear: I will always yuk-your-yum on behalf of human rights. And I’ll do it without apology. That’s my job.

But I hear you. Work is so boring, and TikTok is so fun, y’all! The animal videos. The cute snippets of life on farms. The dads-doing-hair videos. And did I mention all the animals! So, if you must, go ahead and enjoy your #HRTok accounts. My role isn’t to ruin your fun. It’s to prompt you to think critically about what you do in HR — on TikTok and beyond.

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