Potential TikTok Ban: What It Means for Creators and Influencer Marketing Programs

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Today, President Joe Biden signed a bill that would force ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) to sell the platform or face a ban in the US. 

While this is not the first action of this kind against TikTok, it is the first time that any such action has gone this far. Let’s dive into the implications of what this could mean for the social media landscape, creators, and brands’ influencer marketing programs.

What does this mean for TikTok?

It’s hard to predict what the final outcome will be — TikTok’s stance is that it will fight the law in court. There are generally two schools of thought about what will happen if that fails.

  1. ByteDance will sell or IPO, because the alternative is to miss out on the substantial monetary value that they’ve worked hard to build up. If ByteDance were a Western company, there’s no doubt it would be the chosen path
  2. ByteDance won’t IPO, because there’s some longer geopolitical game at play. The only reason why they would give up the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars is if they see more value in preserving and building out long-term IP.

What are the implications for the industry?

If this action against TikTok does get carried out to its full extent, there are pros and cons for its biggest competitors. On the one hand, consumers will double down on available social platforms, saturating the remaining competitors and giving them a lot of “attention” power. On the other hand, this could trigger further action from the US government to break down any quasi-monopolies that platforms may have (or be perceived to have). Think YouTube getting pulled out of Google or Instagram out of Meta. If there is one big learning for the US government and market at large that came from the rise of TikTok, it’s that competition is good for the creator economy. Brands, creators, and consumers benefit from a healthy amount of competition — something that can’t happen if there are only a few big players in the space. 

What actions should brands and creators take?

While this action against TikTok is attention-grabbing, its impact or implications for brands isn’t actually too different from the other turbulence that we’ve seen in the past few years in the social media landscape (e.g. changes to algorithms and features). The truth has always been that the social media landscape is constantly evolving. And, in order to navigate this, brands and creators should always have a diversification strategy.

This means intelligently experimenting, and diversifying spend / strategy amongst a variety of social platforms, including Snap, YouTube, Twitch, and owned channels by high performing creators (blogs, newsletters, podcasts, etc). It also means thinking through new ways to marry old and new media — a great example of this is how we’ve seen brands amplify Super Bowl advertising with creators. An example of a specific brand that does this kind of intelligent and diverse experimenting is e.l.f. Beauty. They’re everywhere. In multiple verticals (e.g. sponsoring Katherine Legge), on multiple platforms (Twitch, TikTok, Instagram, and more), testing out innovative mediums (e.g. NFTs), and attached to various cultural phenomena (e.g. its Super Bowl ad with Judge Judy, Meghan Trainor, Emmanuel Acho, HeidiNCloset, and more).

When it comes to TikTok specifically, my advice to brands and creators is to not pull back on activity or spend — yet. 

Until consumers start demonstrably shifting their attention towards other platforms , stay the course. If TikTok is still working for you (i.e. traffic, attention, and engagement is not decreasing) then there’s no reason to pull back. Focus and media spend should always follow the consumer.

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