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Will U.S. Congress Ban TikTok? 4 Potential Outcomes + What Marketers Can Do About Them

Shae Henrie

Content Strategist @ AdRoll

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On March 23, 2023, TikTok CEO, Shou Zi Chew, went before Congress yet again. Similar to a 2020 attempt, the U.S. government is trying to ban the Chinese-based app, citing suspicion of its privacy and data sharing. While TikTok creators are devastated at this notion, they’re not the only people showing concern over how this decision could impact their livelihoods. 

More than ever, brands are recognizing the immense value of TikTok and its ability to skyrocket trends into their customers’ daily lives—value that could disappear, taking its reach and revenue potential with it. Brands go where consumer eyeballs are, and there are many eyeballs on TikTok… approximately 113.3 million pairs in the U.S. alone.

While a country-wide ban is the most extreme outcome, it isn’t the only fate that TikTok could face. What other possibilities are on the table, and what do they mean for businesses that have come to rely on the platform? Here are four potential what ifs and how marketers can respond. 

What If Nothing Happens to TikTok?

In 2020, President Trump attempted to ban TikTok (and other apps) from the U.S. market, but was blocked by two separate courts. What if this decision also results in a resounding…nothing?

While there might not be changes to the way the TikTok has to operate, that doesn’t mean the privacy and security of user information won’t remain of utmost importance. The trend toward safer data isn’t really a trend at all, but more of a requirement for social media platforms moving forward.

How should businesses or brands who depend on TikTok react to a do nothing outcome? Ultimately, proceed with caution, and prepare for future intervention in which it does become banned or usage changes significantly. A few places to start:

  • Establish or enhance your presence on social media platforms other than TikTok that attract similar users, such as Instagram or YouTube. 

  • Ensure the content you’re creating for TikTok could also be repurposed for other short form video platforms, keeping in mind the differing content length limits and topic restrictions. 

  • If your TikTok strategy includes advertising, evaluate your spend and campaign performance to determine which other social platforms or advertising channels these ads might resonate on. 

This is the third time the app has come under scrutiny and resulted in government intervention, and it likely won’t be the last.

What If TikTok Has to Change?

Data security and privacy are at the forefront of nearly everyones’ minds when it comes to online platforms, services, and software. In this potential scenario,TikTok could continue to be accessible by U.S. users, but under the condition that serious changes be made to the way it tracks users, gathers data, and shares that information.

These types of required updates for tech companies are nothing new. Brands like Apple and Facebook have made major changes to their privacy and data-sharing measures in recent years, and Google plans to eliminate the use of third-party cookies in digital advertising in 2024. It wouldn’t be surprising to see TikTok follow suit in a similar manner. 

If this outcome comes to fruition, brands and businesses will need to note the impact it will have when it comes to targeting capabilities and customer data. While the actual changes remain unknown, the effects could potentially limit the ability to pass data between third-party vendors and the social app or even require tracking permissions to be put in place to be accepted by users. To prepare, now is a great time to brush up your knowledge of first-party data to develop strategies to market to customers using the information you’ve collected via your own channels. 

What If TikTok is Acquired by a U.S. Company? 

In an attempt to appease more than 100 million U.S. users, Congress is offering TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, a proposal: sell the U.S. version of the app to a U.S. based company. In the past, companies like Microsoft and Oracle were on the list of potential buyers, but there’s no indication as to who might be interested this time around. Given the app’s popularity and resultant ad revenue, potential suitors would likely line up for miles at the opportunity.

The broad outline of what would be required to meet the government’s standards primarily states the U.S. version’s owners must divest their stake, but ByteDance argues such a divestiture wouldn't address the country’s overarching national security concerns.  

So, how could a sale affect brand and business users of the platform? Get ready for the app’s capabilities and offerings to change based on U.S. government requirements. While it’s not likely that the user experience would undergo major changes, the data protection measures put in place could alter the way the app is able to serve ads and do audience targeting. Users should also prepare for adjustments made to the platform by its new U.S. parent company to fit its own business needs. 

This is, again, where knowledge of first-party data strategies can really come into play. Unlike third-party sources, first-party data collection can result from a wide variety of marketing activities that marketers have complete control over. This data can then be used to create marketing journeys that are customized specifically to your customers, rather than relying on suggestions from a third-party algorithm.

What If TikTok is Banned in the U.S.?

Obviously, the most impactful ruling to result from these discussions would be a country-wide ban. While this decision doesn’t mean the app will disappear overnight, it would result in a mad dash for other social media platforms to capture the attention of TikTok’s displaced users. 

It’s known that most social media users don’t use just one platform. In fact, the average person interacts with just over 6 social media platforms, according to Demand Sage. That means there are several well-known competitors that would likely vie for TikTokers’ time and resulting advertising revenue. In fact, short-form video – despite its relative flop a generation ago (RIP Vine) is so en vogue thanks to TikTok’s success, that multiple social platforms now not only accommodate but promote the format.

Where will all those users be going? Here are our three predictions:

  1. Instagram. If you’ve used both apps, you know why Instagram would be the next logical choice for TikTok users. Instagram Reels took off shortly after short-form social video really hit its stride. In fact, many users already repurpose TikTok content as Reels and vice versa.

  2. Facebook. No, Facebook hasn’t sparked as many trends as TikTok in the past few years. However, it still has a highly engaged audience and is a foundational platform for both organic and paid marketing. Despite TikTok’s boom in popularity, Facebook still ranks as the #1 social media platform in the world by number of users.

  3. YouTube. While some may not view YouTube as a traditional social media platform, its ability to grow a community and influence users is wildly accessible to brands and individuals alike. Statista reports that YouTube ranks second to Facebook in popularity, with an astonishing 96% of Gen Zers in the U.S. having a YouTube account in 2022. With the advent of YouTube Shorts, there’s a clear line connecting TikTok and YouTube’s content formats.

What Should Marketers Do if TikTok is Banned?

Our advice: don’t wait for the final verdict. Prepare for a potential ban now so you’re not left behind if it does happen; a great marketing strategy shouldn’t rely on a single platform to begin with. While you don’t have to turn off your TikTok campaigns preemptively, it’s a good idea to start adjusting your strategy and looking to the future.

Here are a few strategies you can adopt now, no matter the outcome for TikTok.

Strategies to Strengthen Your Social Strategy With or Without TikTok

Diversify your channels

This advice should sound familiar to anyone with a retirement account or who trades in the stock market. If the majority of your budget, time, and effort is behind just TikTok, it’s time to start re-evaluating your channel strategy. The strategist in the room would call this concentration risk. Your channel mix should be custom-tailored to your customer journey and brand priorities, and shouldn’t be limited to just one or two channels.

Not only does a strong marketing channel mix prevent total losses in the event of platform changes, but it allows you to generate both purchase interest and purchase intent. It also promotes a balance of campaign goals between reach, engagement, and user intent. Lastly, it allows you to easily understand and adjust to market trends and what channels do and don’t work best for you. Your channel mix is not something you should set and forget but rather a blend you should continually watch and tune.

For more advice on how to build your channel mix, click here.

Understand TikTok’s role in your customer journey

How are customers currently engaging with your brand on TikTok, whether it be through ads or organically? Are they finding your brand for the first time, or do you have avid shoppers who make purchases after watching your content?

For example, if you’re currently using shopping ads, then you’re utilizing the platform to engage customers who are already aware of your brand and have a high likelihood of converting. In this case, you’ll want to consider other social channels that give you the ability to add products to your social profile and utilize native shopping experiences, like Instagram.

You’ll also want to consider investing in retargeting campaigns, if you haven’t already. These campaigns enable you to target customers who have already engaged with your website and show them products or promotions to encourage conversions.

If you’re primarily using TikTok to generate brand awareness or build and engage a community, explore other social channels that provide similar engagement opportunities. 

To further diversify your strategy, consider running brand awareness campaigns dedicated to finding new customers that are similar to your current ones. These campaigns can be run on social channels such Facebook or Instagram, as well as across the web. 

Bring your audience with you

If you’ve built a strong relationship with your customers on TikTok, encourage and provide incentives for them to engage with you on other channels. 

For example, create a TikTok campaign that encourages customers to go to your website or link in bio to sign up for your email list. This can be a simple message like, “We love you all so much, we’d like to send you more content like this in our email newsletter.” or even a more enticing offer like, “Did you know that customers who get on our email list get a 10% off code every month? Join us!”

You can also simply ask customers to follow you on other social media platforms where you have a presence. To keep them interested, create similar content that keeps them engaged and encourages them to maintain their loyalty on a different channel. Something as easy as “If you love what we post on TikTok, follow us on Instagram, too!” can make all the difference. 

The Final Fate of TikTok

While we’re all waiting for the final outcome of the hearing, our advice to brands, businesses, and influencers, is to ready your strategy now. There’s no such thing as being too prepared for a country-wide ban on a dominant social media platform.

For more resources and guides to help you build out a strong social strategy across platforms, check out our resources below.

Get Everything You Need to Know About Launching Social Ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest in our step-by-step guide. Download your copy now.

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