TikTok’s popularity has exploded since its introduction to the U.S. in the fall of 2016, becoming the fourth most popular social media platform in the country, only surpassed by Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger (Source: DataReportal, May 2023). However, its growth has been met with criticism by both state and federal regulators who fear the ever-popular social media app is endangering sensitive user data — some even arguing it’s a threat to national security.
TikTok is a short-form video platform owned by ByteDance, a Chinese internet company. TikTok is used by over 150 million Americans who spend on average of more than 46 minutes per day captivated by its algorithm (Source: Statista). The platform is commonly used to create, share and discover a variety of filmed content from all over the world, featuring everything from comedy and dancing to financial and health advice. And like most social media apps, individuals and companies can market and sell goods and services using the platform.
As the political battle over TikTok continues, there are a few things brands should know:
Bans and restrictions
This spring, lawmakers in the U.S., Canada and Europe have garnered attention for increased efforts to restrict the use of TikTok due to concerns that ByteDance is collecting sensitive user data and sharing it with the Chinese government.
While India is the only country to have banned TikTok entirely (since 2020), Britain, Australia, Canada, the EU, France and New Zealand have banned its use on government devices. All federal agencies in the U.S. were directed to delete and remove the TikTok app from their device by the end of February, and over two dozen states have followed suit for their state government-issued devices.
Several universities, including the University of Texas at Austin, Auburn University and Boise State University, have banned access to TikTok from their Wi-Fi networks. Lastly, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed a bill in May banning the use of TikTok completely in the state, set to go into effect January 1, 2024, the first ever and most prohibitive action taken against the social media app in the states.
The Biden Administration has made it clear that TikTok’s Chinese ownership must sell its shares in the company, or the app faces a possible U.S. ban.
How has TikTok responded?
TikTok will not go down easily. It has taken several actions in the U.S., both at the federal and state level, to combat current and potential future bans of the app arguing for protections of free speech and competition. In May, the company hired a new CEO – a former Disney executive – in a bold and direct move to combat criticisms over TikTok’s Chinese ownership and control.
Most significantly, TikTok has invested in building a stronger firewall between U.S. user data and its Chinese employees under the supervision of Oracle and independent monitors and auditors. This is the largest effort made by the company to date from an internal operating standpoint to protect user data and privacy.
Additionally, the company has bolstered its presence in Washington, D.C., aiming to build relationships with regulators and policymakers. It has hired former staffers from both the Biden and Obama Administrations to provide counsel and navigate Washington’s ecosystem, as well as launched advocacy campaigns within key target states, such as Montana.
With the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) leading current negotiations with TikTok on behalf of the government, pressure to conclude a deal that would resolve national security concerns is mounting – and it is the final hurdle for TikTok to preserve itself as is.
Impacts on usership and influencers speaking out
From what started as a song and dance entertainment app, TikTok has morphed into a multifaceted platform focused on forming community and sharing information, and a place where advertisers are vying to reach the over 150 million American users.
Content creators and digital marketers have spoken out in support of TikTok. In March of this year, dozens of TikTok creators and influencers lobbied on Capitol Hill to fight against a potential ban of the app. Most say their livelihoods are on the line, as they have been able to monetize the promotion of branded content and live a lifestyle outside the typical 9 to 5 corporate job. Users who have found accepting and supportive communities through the app worry about losing this connection and what it may mean for their mental health and safety.
Despite TikTok’s future in the U.S. hanging in the balance, and while some regulators claim a ban is inevitable, it is very difficult to block things on the internet in our country. Already, users have found workarounds to circumvent the current bans and are able to continue to freely use the app.
As brands and advertisers use the app to reach potential customers, it will be critical for them to remain abreast of any policy or regulatory actions taken in the various states in which they operate. Hedging your advertising spend and distribution among alternate digital platforms is a thoughtful approach when planning future campaigns and could help your company quickly pivot if patchwork state policies come into effect. Remaining informed and fluid in your strategy is the best approach when making social media advertising and marketing decisions.
If you’re looking for a partner to manage your social presence across TikTok and its counterparts with an eye on strategy and ROI, we’d love to work with you. Reach out here to learn more about NST’s social media services.