TikTok Ban: Preparing for the Potential Disruption

Pardon the pun, but the clock is ticking. Following President Biden’s signature, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has 270 days to find a buyer or else deal with an official ban in the United States.

A ban that includes its removal from app stores and the potential loss of 170 million personal users, not to mention the 7 million businesses utilizing TikTok (and still relatively new TikTok Shop) to market and sell everything from house plants to facial cream.

ByteDance has already said they will appeal and fight the ban all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, but the wheels are in motion. In many countries, including the U.S., TikTok is already banned on most work–and government-related devices, but the United States is now the first Western country to fully ban TikTok for all users. 

Citing consumer privacy concerns and the Chinese government’s desire to collect the personal data of its users, the U.S. has made an unprecedented move that many will label as overreach. And while the domino effect of other countries following suit remains to be seen, the U.S. decision could be a serious blow to TikTok and its investors.

The first question users (and marketers) will undoubtedly ask is, “But it’s already on 170 million phones in the U.S., how does the government enforce a ban?”

By requiring its removal from app stores, the government will not only cripple TikTok’s ability to provide app updates and bug fixes for its current users, but it will also disrupt numerous backend services/third parties that make TikTok one of the more enjoyable time wasters ever invented.

Who stands to win if TikTok is banned?

TikTok may come up in conversation as often as Taylor Swift but it’s important to remember the company and platform are still in growth mode and trail both Instagram and YouTube in monthly users.

Instagram and YouTube stand ready to absorb a TikTok exodus, with Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts both offering TikTok-esque scrolling experiences. 

And don’t forget Snapchat. They are a far cry in terms of monthly users (800M) but offer a somewhat similar experience and would love to be the TikTok alternative, especially for those looking to reset their social media habits.

Like anything else, diversify.

For brands and advertisers wondering what to do, remember that ByteDance has about nine months to make moves, including divestment and/or sale to a U.S. company (Walmart has entered the chat), so immediate strategy shifts may not be necessary. 

If you’re the brand that is all in on TikTok, then some strategic rework may be needed, and thankfully you have a good amount of runway to diversify.

But if you’re a good marketer second, then you’re a great planner first. And the plans that need to be in place all center around diversifying both spend and content distribution. 

The “eggs in one basket” thing applies here, and you should ensure that paid advertising dollars are spread across multiple platforms that make sense for your brand and your target audience. 

When the MBA classes of the future reminisce on the 2024 TikTok ban, a great deal of focus will be on the redistribution of $18B in ad dollars.

From a content standpoint, the silver lining here is that your TikTok videos stand a decent chance of being reusable (with some tweaks) and effective on Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts. 

And let’s be honest, the constant feeding of TikTok and its algorithm is both time-consuming and expensive. There may be a silver lining for marketers somewhere in this ban, after all.

Be proactive. Steps for migrating from TikTok.

For planners who raised their hand two paragraphs ago, there are several proactive moves you can make to mitigate disruptions.

First, make sure your audiences know everywhere they can find you – use outbound communications as reminders, ensure links are enabled, and consider cross-posting content when it makes sense.

Second, implement some tests on other platforms to see how your content performs. Did a TikTok video do well on Reels but poorly on Shorts? Investigate why and learn from the experiment to ensure the content is optimized for the specific platform you are using.

Third, have a TikTok sunset plan in place, should the ban take effect. What are the implications for your audiences and communication channels? Decide what to do with the plethora of TikTok content that needs to be saved or redistributed.

Take inventory of all the ways people find you and have a TikTok reroute plan – this means removing links from obvious places like your website footer and email template, but there may be other owned media to consider.

Will the TikTok ban become a major business disruption? Time will tell.

What seemed like a slight possibility last year stands the chance of being a far-reaching change to culture and politics. We didn’t even scratch the surface of free speech, which is one of the most hotly debated implications of this decision. 

The next 270-ish days will be an interesting time for a wide range of professionals. It will touch content creators, influencers, brand marketers, paid media strategists, agency professionals, and more. 

As planners first, we have an opportunity to implement proactive diversification across content and spend. Putting tight contingency plans in place will allow marketers to rest a bit easier while the story unfolds.

The social media landscape is constantly shifting, and a potential TikTok ban adds another layer of complexity. 

At Brown Bag Marketing, we have a proven track record of helping businesses grow through effective social media strategies. 

To start a conversation about your brand, contact our team today.