TikTok’s COO, Vanessa Pappas, testified in front of the Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2022 claiming that “non US-based employees, including China-based employees, will only have access to a narrow set of TikTok US user data, such as public videos and comments available to anyone on the TikTok platform, to ensure global interoperability.”
Whatever TikTok has in place, the fact is that the CCP in China includes a requirement that every Chinese-owned business must provide user data to the Chinese government, if requested.
That left TikTok in an interesting catch-22 position even before the story broke that TikTok’s parent company, Chinese-owned ByteDance, had used TikTok to spy on certain US journalists. ByteDance gained access to personal data and to the IP address of a journalist from the Financial Times because it thought journalists had gained access to sensitive information. This is obviously a serious violation of privacy.
Currently, TikTok has been banned from any House of Representatives phones and from government-issued phones across 19 states. TikTok is also under investigation by the Committee for Foreign Investment because of its links to the CCCP.
Tiktok is actively attempting to negotiate a US data deal with the Justice Department. However, given the latest news that their parent company has been caught spying on US journalists, whether the deal can be brought to fruition currently isn’t known.
In effect, they could either face a complete ban in the US or could be sold into US ownership. Should a US ban come into force, it’s likely that this would be followed by bans in other countries, which don’t look any more kindly on spying than the US does.
Tiktok ban: The consequences for marketers
Tiktok is a highly popular platform with marketers, and for good reason. It has a large—and increasing—highly responsive audience that marketers love. According to DataReportal, “the United States of America has 140.6 million active TikTok users aged 18 and above.” That’s a lot of users to be missing out on if TikTok is banned, especially as marketers invested more money than ever in the platform in 2022.
Not only that, but with an ever-growing number of features and a whole range of tools to analyze audiences with, TikTok does make it easier for marketers to reach the right people with the right content at the right time.
If TikTok is banned completely, anyone that’s had all their marketing eggs firmly in the TikTok basket is going to have a very bad time.
However, before panic sets in, let’s remember that TikTok isn’t the only game in town. Every marketer still has access to all the other social platforms, many of which also come with large audiences, useful features, and great analytics.
What should marketers do now?
For now, it’s a waiting game. TikTok is very much still in negotiations with the Justice Department. They are attempting to agree a deal that reassures the US on security concerns and allows them to continue operating as usual.
While that leaves things up in the air for marketers right now, marketers can continue about their business on TikTok and make the most of it while they can.
However, we do suggest that you make a plan just in case a TikTok ban does come into force in the US:
- Ensure that you provide links to your website, your contact details, and other social platforms everywhere you can on TikTok. You can then point users to follow you on other platforms so you don’t lose all your followers if TikTok is no longer an option for you.
- If you’re all in on TikTok with your marketing, then start diversifying and building your audience on different platforms now. You might not find anything changes, but it’s never a good idea to build your whole marketing campaign solely on one platform, especially one that isn’t yours.
- Do everything you can to encourage followers to sign up to your mailing list. That way, you can keep marketing to them if the platform is removed. This is best practice anyway—the money really is in the list—but it always bears repeating. And certainly, under these circumstances it is a wise move.
- Don’t panic. The ban may not happen, so don’t abandon your carefully laid TikTok plans for the rest of the year just yet. Let things play out and keep an eye on what’s happening, but for now, act as if it’s business as usual. Should further details come to light and a ban looks increasingly likely, you can always adjust and adapt your TikTok marketing plan to other platforms, such as Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts.
If you’re doing really well on TikTok and driving plenty of traffic and sales, this may seem like the end of the world. But it’s not. Take a breath and make a plan. The other social platforms will still be there to utilize and continue to market to your audience, no matter what happens to TikTok.
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