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Could a TikTok Ban Impact Your Business?


Time might be running out for TikTok, but business owners that rely on it are also feeling pressure from ongoing efforts to ban the app.

TikTok, a social media platform where users can create and share short-form videos, is massively popular. It claims to have 170 million users in the United States and over a billion users worldwide. TikTok has exploded as the source of memes and trends, and is increasingly the first place younger users turn to for news. It’s also been a marketing goldmine for many businesses, some which credit their success to the app.

How does TikTok Work?

TikTok’s algorithm quickly learns to serve users both content from familiar sources and new material of potential interest based on prior app use. This content includes advertising, eventually fine-tuned by the algorithm to be the kind of offers that most appeal to the specific user’s profile. Users get a steady stream of offers that feel curated just for them, and advertisers get an ever-growing base of potential customers. And if an ad goes viral or a popular influencer endorses the product, sales can skyrocket.

Some critics believe there are risks to national security hiding beneath TikTok’s shiny veneer of dance- and lip-sync challenges, cute animal videos and comedy skits. Those perceived risks could lead to a ban on the app, and major headaches for businesses that rely on it.

Why Are Lawmakers Trying to Ban TikTok?

TikTok is owned by ByteDance Ltd., a internet technology company based in China, and the current push to ban the app stems from that connection. China and the US are rivals on the world stage, and detractors believe China could use TikTok to gain an advantage over the US.

Criitics of TikTok allege several ways that TikTok could threaten the US:

  • Under Chinese law, businesses can be forced to assist in state intelligence operations. As such, it’s possible ByteDance could be obliged to provide user information for espionage purposes.
  • TikTok could be used to sow dissent in the US and other countries by feeding users content that promotes China’s goals. It’s been suggested that China has already done this to drum up support for anti-government protests in Taiwan.
  • Installing TikTok and its updates could potentially expose user devices to malware that can compromise their data or sabotage the device itself.

These claims have yet to be decisively proven, and representatives from TikTok deny that the app is a tool for the Chinese government. But fear about the national security risk TikTok poses is already motivating US lawmakers to take action. A bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives easily passed a bill that would force ByteDance to divest control of the app (and all its information) to a US company or be banned.

What would banning TikTok look like?

“Banning TikTok” ultimately means removing TikTok from app stores, as US companies will be barred from providing it or hosting TikTok on their servers. Any users who already had the app on their device will probably still be able to access TikTok content for some time, but they will be locked out from installing any updates to the app. Eventually, a lack of critical updates will likely make devices with older versions of TikTok incompatible with the current version of the service, thus making them useless for further access.

Will A TikTok Ban Harm Your Business?

Banning TikTok is a grim prospect for many businesses, as its huge user base and accessibility has made the app a very successful marketing platform. The ease of creating ads and the relatively inexpensive cost of advertising on TikTok has lead some companies to focus the majority of their marketing on TikTok. If your business relies heavily on traffic from TikTok users, you could be facing serious consequences if the app gets banned.

This sort of collapse has happened before. For example, some niche business owners found success by marketing their wares on the social media website Tumblr in the mid 2010s. Those businesses then saw their fortunes take a hit after policy changes by the site’s new owners caused a mass exodus of users.

A ban on the much larger and more ad-friendly TikTok would make the impact of Tumblr’s decline on advertising look like a rounding error. While there’s still the possibility that the ban bill fails to become law, smart owners should prepare for that possibility by developing alternative marketing strategies.

How can I prepare my business for a TikTok ban?

If you’re a TikTok-focused business, you have a few alternatives available in the event of a ban.

Move to Another Social Media Platform

TikTok is not the only short-form video service on the internet, as Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts provide similar functions. Those apps currently lack TikTok’s cool factor among younger users, but one or the other is likely to be where American TikTok users will end up after a ban.

Prepare for the possibility of losing TikTok by registering accounts on those platforms. Even if the attempt to ban TikTok fails to become law, it’s always a good idea to register an account for your business on social media, if only to prevent someone else from using your business name. Besides, it can’t hurt to post your content on multiple platforms that may have distinct user bases.

Adjust Partnership Agreements with Influencers

You might also be partnering with an influencer to endorse your business. If you have partnership agreements with TikTok influencers, be sure to arrange for those partnerships to extend to other apps. And if you’re planning to work with influencers in the future, try to prioritize ones who already have multi-platform followings.

Expand to Your Own Platform

A potential ban of a major social media site might even make you think twice on whether all your marketing should use third-party online venues like TikTok, Twitter or Facebook. As social media changes, the instability of these companies may increase, jeopardizing your business. One solution? Get a platform of your own. With your own business website and business email, you have complete control over the content you provide, and stability for when other online channels fall apart, and a means to reach customers without having to jump through another company’s hoops.

How soon could a TikTok ban happen?

While the House of Representatives moved quickly on its ban bill, the US Senate must also pass the bill and have it signed by the President. President Biden intends to sign that bill, but first it will take a 60 vote majority to pass the bill in the Senate, which may considerably slow the process. And even if a ban is made law, ByteDance will likely contest the law in court, which could delay an official ban even longer.

Bottom line: businesses that use TikTok should expect to have at least a little time to prepare before the app goes away.

If you want to prepare for a post-TikTok world with a business website or a newsletter through company email, Northwest’s Business Identity service helps you set up a web presence quick and easy.

This entry was posted in Opinion.