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Why positioning for a TikTok-less future is still relevant

by | Jun 23, 2023 | Public Relations

Ever since TikTok experienced its massive rise in popularity, the platform has simultaneously battled calls for its demise—particularly in the United States. Creators have panicked on more than one occasion over fears that the app could shut down tomorrow, worrying that their livelihoods could be at risk if the app is banned by the federal government. 

And yet every “tomorrow” so far, the sun has risen, the bans have remained (mostly) stalled and TikTok’s For You page has continued to dole out a seemingly endless stream of captivating videos.

So, what gives?

It remains to be seen if a nationwide TikTok ban is even truly possible, but that doesn’t mean lawmakers from both sides of the aisle aren’t continuing to push for one.

  • The first attempts in 2020 were ultimately deemed unconstitutional, but the most recent federal pursuit known as the RESTRICT Act (AKA Senate Bill 686) posed the biggest threat to the platform after receiving bipartisan support. It wouldn’t ban TikTok outright if enacted but it would give the Secretary of Commerce the ability to ban digital products such as TikTok if deemed necessary to protect the country from assumed adversaries. Still, federal bans have been slow to gain steam.
  • More success has been seen at the state level, as evidenced by Montana passing a law that prohibits the app from operating inside state lines. Other states have achieved a ban on government-devices only. While these rules could be reversed if challengers have anything to say about it, they show the importance of planning for a TikTok-less future just in case it ever becomes a reality. 

What can brands and agencies do during this downtime?

While we wait for the shoe to drop on this “will they, won’t they” saga, there are some steps brands can take to stack the deck in their favor should TikTok somehow disappear from devices.

  • For those leveraging the app for a primarily organic content strategy, my biggest recommendation is to not put all of your eggs in one basket. Diversify your social media presence, even if it means borrowing from content you might typically post on TikTok to get the most bang for your buck. Doing this now will ensure your audience has a place to find you if TikTok is no longer accessible. Plus, you’re likely to reach users who aren’t active users of the video app. (Believe it or not, they exist!)
    • If you’re not already active on TikTok, establishing an organic presence now is still a safe bet, but only if you’re ensuring your other platforms won’t fall behind. Going all-in on TikTok at the risk of losing your other audiences could leave you high and dry if the platform is pulled from the app store.
  • For a perspective on paid media strategy amid a potential TikTok ban, I looked to Gatesman’s media team for some insight.
    • According to VP, Director of Performance Media Andy Biefel, TikTok remains a potent channel for reaching the coveted 18-34 demographic with 63 percent of the worldwide TikTok userbase in 2021 falling into this age group. It also presents a vehicle for reaching users between the ages of 13 and 17, who are largely unreachable elsewhere. He also acknowledges that ongoing legislative challenges have yet to impact the app’s growth, so understandably, he recommends keeping it in the media mix with one important caveat. Andy advises having a contingency plan in place that ensures other platforms are lined up that can deliver on the same KPIs.
    • Senior Media Manager Kelly Currie offered a similar point of view, cautioning that advertisers should also test their contingency plans while the waters are calm by diverting dollars toward channels beyond TikTok where the under 35 group is prevalent. She noted that users may be exploring a shift as well. Snap, for instance, saw its stock rise in the days leading up to TikTok’s appearance before Congress. 

Our advice?

When it comes to TikTok, our recommendation is to use it until you lose it—but make sure you plan for the worst. In the wise words of Taylor Swift, or maybe Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” So, begin testing content on other social media channels now that offer similar video capabilities, like Instagram Reels, SnapChat and YouTube Shorts.

Best case scenario? You have a solid backup plan if TikTok takes a dive. Worst case scenario? You gain some extra impressions on your content beyond TikTok—and maybe find yourself with a new, devoted audience you wouldn’t have found otherwise. But remember, the only thing scarier than having to start your morning without a scroll through the FYP is finding out your paid and organic social strategy is totally shot with one legislative move.

Melissa Mader
Melissa Mader is an Account Director, PR/Social at Gatesman.

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