Firms prepare clients for possible nationwide TikTok ban

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 0 views 

With the looming threat of a TikTok ban, marketing agencies and influencers are bracing for a big change. In April, President Joe Biden signed a law requiring ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, to divest the business or face a U.S. ban of the platform.

According to Forbes, 7 million businesses advertise on the platform, and 1 million influencers earn a living by making videos on TikTok. The creator economy is a $250 billion industry expected to double by 2027. This year, 92% of brands look to increase their influencer marketing investment.

According to eMarketer, TikTok is a popular choice for brands to reach a wider audience, but it’s not the only platform for commerce. Brands using TikTok’s e-commerce platform, TikTok Shop, often sell on multiple platforms. However, replicating the success of selling on TikTok might pose a challenge for some, especially those benefiting from the platform’s viral product reviews.

Lauren Alter, social media manager at Fayetteville-based AM Group, has found success as a TikTok micro-influencer. Originally from New Zealand, she moved to Northwest Arkansas in 2017 to play tennis for the University of Arkansas. Her TikTok handle is @laurenalter1. She started as a TikTok influencer in 2020 when a product review she posted received more than 4 million views. That led to companies contacting her to benefit from her newfound fame.

Alter said she’s not paid for her product reviews and cannot accept direct income because of her visa. She receives free products to try and only posts reviews of products she would buy for herself. Her work as an influencer includes “finding what consumers are relating to, and that is changing every 10 minutes, I feel like,” Alter said. “A lot of our trends are starting on TikTok and … relating over to Instagram.” Most selling or trending products start on TikTok with a review before shifting to Instagram.

Claire Ward, digital media director at AM Group, said it has more than 20 social media clients.

Lauren Alter

“We lean heavier on Instagram and Facebook as it’s made more sense for our demographic of clients and the stability and longevity of those platforms,” Ward said. “However, we have a few that are presently on TikTok.”

Ward stressed the importance of a social media strategy that includes “quality over quantity and emphasizing a strong brand presence to engage and grow their audiences.”

USL Arkansas is a client on TikTok. The professional soccer organization plans to establish men’s and women’s soccer teams and build a stadium in the Pinnacle Hills area of Rogers.
Alter said that when working with clients, the possible ban is part of ongoing discussions about social media strategy. As a TikTok influencer, she tracks her most successful content and promotes it on other social media sites.

If TikTok is banned, she said people are thinking about the chaos it will cause and how the influencers and others who make a living using TikTok will move to other social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram. She said Instagram could return to longer-form videos as TikTok influencers repurpose their content.

“Our customers are going to be fighting for screen time,” Alter said. “It’s already been hard to get on someone’s page. Something that’s super important is the first time that someone sees one of our brands – one our clients. They have probably 3 seconds to impress that consumer or else that consumer is … not going to give you the time of day. It’s important for all of our clients that their branding is super strong and that the quality of their content is strong.”

Alter said influencer marketing “is pushing the needle” on social media content, leading to consumer engagement and sales. Product reviews by influencers are significant to buyer research.

According to eMarketer, 51% of Gen Z consumers prefer to research brands on social media instead of traditional search engines. A July 2023 survey shows more than 52% of Gen Z social media users used TikTok for shopping and product discovery over the past month. TikTok was the No. 1 platform cited. The report also shows that 36.9% of U.S. social buyers will purchase something on TikTok this year.

Alter previously faced a TikTok ban when she was a UA marketing graduate assistant for its recreation center, where she helped build a TikTok site. “It grew a lot of traction, I think the most … of all the SEC schools,” she said.

It operated for about a year before the UA System banned the app from its devices and networks. On her first day in office on Jan. 10, 2023, Gov. Sarah Sanders banned TikTok on all state networks and devices.

Kristen Vandaveer Nicholson, shareholder and vice president of public relations for MHP/Team SI, said the company has been preparing for a nationwide TikTok ban since the state ban last year. Citing the American Association of Advertising Agencies, she said there’s a 50-50 chance that TikTok will go away.

“We’ve been prepping for it, and we’ve been counseling clients that still invest in TikTok because that’s where the audience is now,” she said. “But you need to prepare and start migrating your followers over to other platforms and start investing.”

If a ban were to happen this summer, she said, “All we have to do is flip a switch because we’ve been preparing for this for over a year.” Nicholson expects a smooth transition to other platforms like YouTube Shorts and Instagram.

Nicholson expects another product to replace it, but a ban would create a consumer gap.

“There will be somewhat of a void for some e-commerce-style clients that have invested a lot of their budget in TikTok specifically,” she said. “But for our clients, we’ve been working to get them migrated and to make sure that we’ve got a digital media strategy prepped.”

MHP/Team SI launched its social media department, Content Studio, two years ago. Nicholson said it’s more about content creators than social media.

“We launched it because of TikTok,” she said. “We saw TikTok just thrive starting with COVID. TikTok hasn’t been around that long, and COVID fueled it. Consumers love engaging with that vertical video-style content.”

The agency’s Content Studio has five staff members, including a micro-influencer who specializes in creating vertical videos. Nicholson said the vertical videos it creates can be used on TikTok and other social media platforms. The company has clients on TikTok across multiple sectors, including higher education, banking, retail and healthcare.