The TikTok Ban: Implications for Digital Marketers

May 31, 2024 by
The TikTok Ban: Implications for Digital Marketers

To say TikTok has legitimately altered the landscape of pop culture in the last few years wouldn’t be as hyperbolic as you might assume. While the essence of the platform is really little more than a recycled concept (remember Vine, anyone?), the Chinese social media brand saw the way the tides were turning (short form, viral, bold, brash) and ran with it, particularly during the pandemic, when we were all spending so much more time on our phones.

However, recent developments have cast a shadow over TikTok’s future in the United States and potentially further afield. The US House of Representatives recently passed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, a bill that could effectively ban TikTok unless Chinese company ByteDance divests its stake in the US version of the app.

As marketers who might have sunk a lot of time and resources into using the platform to ply our wares in recent years, we must explore the potential impact of this ban and prepare for a world without TikTok.

Privacy and Security Concerns

At the heart of the bill lies concerns about data privacy and national security. ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is based in Beijing and registered in the Cayman Islands. While not directly owned by the Chinese government, legislators fear that TikTok’s vast user data could be accessed by China for various purposes, including propaganda dissemination and election interference. Scary stuff.

The bill aims to mitigate this risk by forcing ByteDance to sell its controlling stake in TikTok within six months. That means, unless ByteDance plays ball (which is very unlikely for a multitude of reasons), TikTok could be banned as soon as September of this year (2024).

The Prospects of Losing Access

For marketers, the prospect of losing access to TikTok’s 1.5 billion monthly active users is daunting, to say the least. Indeed, considering ad revenue and organic traffic, a complete TikTok ban could result in an estimated $6.8 billion loss for the US economy.

Here are three crucial takeaways to consider:

Prepare for Shifts in Consumer Engagement

TikTok has become a cultural phenomenon, especially among younger audiences. If the ban materialises, marketers must anticipate changes in how these demographics engage with content. Alternative platforms will likely see an influx of users migrating from TikTok. Brands should explore these platforms and adapt their strategies accordingly.

Rethink Influencer Partnerships

TikTok influencers have played a significant role in shaping brand narratives. With the app’s potential exit, the value and reach of these influencers may diminish. Marketers should reassess their influencer strategy, diversifying partnerships across a broader range of platforms to maintain influence and engagement.

Diversify Marketing Channels

To mitigate the impact of a TikTok ban, marketers should diversify their social media presence. Investing in emerging platforms and enhancing their presence on established ones (such as YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat) can safeguard against future disruptions.

Preparing for the Worst

While the bill passed the House, it still needs Senate approval and the president’s signature to become law. President Joe Biden has pledged to sign it if it reaches his desk, but there are fears this could potentially strain already rather brittle US-China relations. ByteDance would also need Chinese officials’ approval for a forced divestiture, which China opposes vehemently. So, could it happen? We’re putting it at a 50/50 right now but it’s always safer to prepare for the worst, particularly given the global ramifications of the move, should the bill be signed into law.

The US ban could set a radical precedent for social media regulation worldwide. Dr. Georgios Samaras, an assistant professor in public policy at King’s College London, emphasises that this move might pave the way for outright bans instead of nuanced regulation. Countries across the globe will closely watch the US’s actions and if the ban materialises, other nations may follow suit, leading to a domino effect. In the Western world, at least, we could be seeing the beginning of the end of TikTok, at least “officially”.

As marketers, we must prepare for a world without TikTok, safeguarding our brand narratives and adapting to changing consumer behaviours. Whether the ban ultimately passes or not, the lesson remains clear: diversification and adaptability are essential in the ever-shifting landscape of digital marketing.