Is employee-generated content (EGC) a nightmare for brands or a dream come true? Should employers bother facilitating it, and if so, how? For answers, let’s start with an extreme edge case: Elon Musk.

Talking About Employee Content and Musk

Musk produces the most valuable EGC of anyone on the internet. His Twitter presence has meant that Tesla, worth about $620 billion, spends $0 on advertising. Whether you consider him an entrepreneur, influencer, content creator, or troll, what he tweets is EGC—content from a personal account that audiences associate with the creator and their employer. 

Musk’s EGC is also risky. Recall that his 2018 tweet about taking Tesla private for $420 per share continues to haunt the automaker with lawsuits. And since his acquisition of Twitter, the self-declared Chief Twit has managed to spread a political conspiracy theory, scare off advertisers and tweet-fire an engineer who disagreed with him publicly. Musk tweeted on Nov. 10, “Usage of Twitter continues to rise. One thing is for sure: it isn’t boring!” He can claim some credit for that.

It's tempting to conclude from Musk that all attention is good attention. Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) is a convenient counter argument. His antisemitic tweets — also EGC — destroyed half of Adidas’ profits and $1.5 billion of his net worth by forcing Adidas to end its partnership with Yeezy, the singer’s clothing and apparel line.

Hence, the conundrum for marketers: we want employees to develop public personas with considerable reach — we just don’t want them to say terrible, misleading or legally problematic things that kill our brands. Perhaps, though, we get hung up on Musk’s showmanship while overlooking a few simple lessons about what makes EGC work and how to facilitate it. 

Related Article: Will the Musk Takeover Rescue or Wreck Twitter Marketing?

1. People Connect With People, Not Brands

Musk reminds us that people are interested in other people, not a construct like a brand. Six-and-a-half times as many people follow his twitter account versus Tesla’s. Likewise, the most successful podcasts, Substacks, TikTok channels and LinkedIn profiles have formed around a personality, not a Delaware-based corporation and its trademarks.

Sure, brands like to talk about the “relationship” they have with customers, but they’ve merely twisted that word into jargon for describing a recurring series of transactions. Do I buy things from Amazon frequently? Sure. Do we have a “relationship”? Nah. People build relationships with other people, who might happen to have a secondary identity as employees of brands.

EGC should start from the premise that employees are human beings who will build relationships with customers, partners and members of their professional community, on their own terms. To control or prohibit that behavior is a great way to spawn another TikTok “workfluencer” who reveals what it’s really like to work for your corporation.

Related Article: The Marketing Value of Authentic Celebrity Brand Partnerships

2. The Social Web Isn’t a Secret Diary

Musk, however you feel about him, knows how to write for an audience. It feels like we get his unfiltered take on well, everything. The opposite of a Musk post is the EGC we normally see on LinkedIn and Twitter: the dry, copy-pasted, promotional posts that are ignored. No one wants to hear or read that stuff, and most employees don’t want to post it. They want to share something that is true to themselves.

That said, being “authentic” without any empathy for the audience can produce some collateral cringe for an employer. Two infamous Twitter accounts illustrate this. No one in venture capital wants to see themselves or their colleague on @VCBrags, which reposts EGC like, “I have always worked harder than others. I’m still outworking the competition by a country mile. If you want to beat me, you’ve got to outwork me. Good luck.”

Learning Opportunities

Or consider the CEO on @LinkedinFlex who recently posted about how sorry he was to lay people off with a picture of himself in tears, professing how much he loves his employees: “Every single one. Every single story. Every single thing that makes them smile and every single thing that makes them cry.”

Who are those posts really for? The creator’s secret diary, not the audience.

3. Curiosity Is More Compelling Than Expertise 

In the early days of EGC, everything was supposed to be “thought leadership.” Every LinkedIn post and Tweet had to show expertise. That pressure scared people from posting or led to forced, unhelpful tips. The truth is that trying to show everyone how smart you are isn’t a way to build a relationship or serve an audience. If you think Musk is a genius, that’s probably not because of what he tweets.   

Eddie Shleyner, founder of VeryGoodCopy.com and a great model for EGC (or whatever you want to call it), has some sage advice: “Can’t decide what you should write about next? Maybe you’re putting undue pressure on yourself to be an expert, a ‘know-it-all genius.’ But you don’t need to be an expert to write in a helpful, inspiring way. Just be curious. And write as you learn.”

Perhaps EGC works best when we marketers aim to stoke that curiosity without setting expectations. Maybe all we need to do is provide a library containing quality research, surveys, videos, news articles, infographics, etc. that can empower employers to raise their own questions, make predictions, question conventional wisdom and invite input from their connections. Some graphics and templates (e.g., for email) might help, too. 

That point is, we don’t need to pressure our employees to sound brilliant. Let them be themselves and supply some content for thought if they don’t know where to begin.

Conclusion: Finding the Genuine Employee Voice

Not everything your employees say is a reflection on your brand, and vice versa. Rather than attempt to control an employee’s public person on TikTok, LinkedIn, or Twitter, give it space to develop. As Musk tweeted on Nov. 9, “Please note that Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months. We will keep what works & change what doesn’t.”

Your employees might do the same with EGC. That’s how people find their voice.