The story was originally published on Glossy’s sibling publication Digiday. By Julian Cannon
Seky Bowie, an 18-year-old content creator on TikTok, started her account in early 2022. And with her posts about yoga, fashion and various lifestyle content, she rapidly grew her following to over 82,000 throughout the year. But in recent months, with the legislative threats to ban TikTok from government devices(or even altogether in the U.S.), Bowie is one of a number of creators worried about the fate of the app, as they have invested time and resources to grow followings and secure brand deals specific to TikTok.
“It’s been a pioneer and a trailblazer for other apps in the same space,” said Bowie. “There are a lot of businesses that profit off of making content themselves on TikTok or doing it through people like us, so it has a lot of social and economic dominance in our society. Taking it away is like moving backwards; almost like bringing our internet, or at least this format of the internet, back to pre-Covid.”
The ban on the table
Federal legislation prohibiting government employees from using TikTok on government-owned devices and computer networks has gained traction in recent months. And this month, New Jersey and Ohio will join 12 other states in banning the use of the popular video app on government-owned and managed devices.
This push to potentially ban TikTok is the latest move by the U.S. government regarding the app. Previous interest banning TikTok during the Trump administration had marketers worried, but the ban did not come to fruition.
Despite the legislative interest in curbing the app’s growth in the U.S., TikTok saw a surge of small businesses users in 2022 who used the app alongside creators and influencers who had built their followings on the platform already. The businesses joined TikTok as it continued to grow in popularity, especially among Gen Z, making it more appealing to brands seeking the attention of younger demographics.
At the same time, questions remain about data privacy on TikTok — a major issue at the center of the legislative interest. For instance, ByteDance, TikTok’s China-based parent company, is using the app to monitor specific U.S. citizens’ locations. And a variety of methods are used to collect user data, including scanning hard drives and geolocating devices every hour, accessing calendars, and collecting contact lists, according to Wired. It is unclear what information a foreign government could obtain about users, such as location and private messages.
Creators express apprehension
Even so, creators and those who work with creators want to keep growing their audiences on the app. For example, Bowie created her TikTok account to share her love of yoga with the audience she surprisingly gained, and soon her account grew to include sharing pieces of her lifestyle. “Although it originally started out as a fun little hobby, I fell in love with the creative process behind making these kinds of videos,” she said.
Bowie’s not alone. Other creators and agency executives are also concerned about the potential disruption. One of those is Elma Beganovich, co-CEO of digital marketing agency Amra and Elma. She has 2 million followers across social channels and said that a ban of the app would be a mistake.
“If the government got rid of TikTok all together, of course brands could no longer work with creators and influencers, mostly Gen Z, and reach that target group that easily,” said Beganovich, whose content focuses on lifestyle.
“Any interruption or ban on TikTok would invariably affect thousands of creators making a full or supplemental living on the platform,” said Ryan Detert, CEO of marketing agency Influential. He added that many small businesses that use TikTok got started during the pandemic and were able to grow their brands on the platform. “And by proxy, technologies and agencies would be adversely affected with upwards of 50% of spends on creator campaigns happening on TikTok,” he said.
With all that being said, some execs hope that TikTok’s parent company will work with the government to tweak its practices and avoid a possible ban.
Jeff Duncan, CEO of Talent Management Company, which represents TikTok stars like influencer Renee Estella and Chole Veitch of Netflix’s “Too Hot to Handle,” said he believes ByteDance has to adjust its practices and agree to some level of regulation. “Rest assured, if a ban in the United States occurs, it would likely be the first domino to fall and I feel it’s unlikely for an $11 billion dollar company to stomach a total ban,” he said.
A TikTok ban would disrupt the way smaller brands and content creators use the app on a daily basis. Direct-to-consumer period care brand Viv, skin care brand Truly, Crumbl Cookies and Chosen Foods are all brands that not only create content for the platform, but they have also built their own organic communities as a result. Throughout 2022, marketers turned to TikTok to focus more on advertising to Gen Z because they spend more time on the app than on Instagram and Facebook.
Thinking beyond TikTok — just in case
Given the possibility of TikTok being limited in some way, marketers and agency execs believe creators need to make sure they’re not overly reliant on the platform.
“We have been telling our creators for a while to hedge themselves and build up their community on other platforms just in case the app is banned,” said Harry Gestetner, founder and co-CEO of content creator marketplace Fanfix. “Although this bill has bipartisan support, I think it will be highly unpopular with Gen Z and likely hurt politicians’ popularity with young voters.”
Although creators could take brand deals to other apps, content formats would likely have to be different and the rates they are paid could decline if there are fewer views on other platforms compared to TikTok, according to Gestetner. “That being said, the TikTok algorithm is very effective at sniffing out ads and limiting the reach of promotional posts, so there is a possibility that these promotions would get better engagement on YouTube Shorts or Instagram Reels,” said Gestetner.
Duncan added that Talent Management Company will go where the brands require them to be. “Brands need eyes so wherever the public goes, the brands will follow,” said Duncan.
A TikTok creator can spend thousands of hours investing in creating content, from shooting on location to styling their wardrobes, hair and makeup, and hiring a videographer to film videos, according to Beganovich. If an all-out ban were to happen, it would be a huge loss of investment for creators, both financially and considering the time they’ve spent building their audiences.
According to Bowie and Beganovich, their follower communities would also disappear if the platform faced a ban, and it would be almost impossible to duplicate those communities elsewhere.
Beganovich said she spoke with other TikTok creators and influencers, and the census among creators is trepidation. “It’s a very scary thought that within a day someone can erase any prospect of your livelihood, from endorsements to limited collection deals with advertisers to perks, really anything,” said Beganovich. “It’s the prospect of your worst nightmare as a creator coming true.”