TikTok has come a long way from its choreographed viral dancing days that kept us occupied during the pandemic. Today, the video-sharing app is home to over one billion active users (with about 86.9 million users in the United States). Many of these include beauty brands focused on making their products go viral by investing considerable marketing budgets in the platform within the past couple of years to reach TikTok's vast Gen Z market. The global social media advertising market continues to skyrocket and is predicted to be worth $262.62 billion by 2028, with North America leading the largest revenue share of more than 30 percent in 2020, which coincidentally marks around the peak of TikTok subscribership.
So naturally, the news in recent months of the app being under fire by the US government and universities starting to ban the usage of TikTok in the country has raised some alarm, but this isn't the first time TikTok has come close to meeting its fate. The platform was previously on the chopping block in 2020 for being a threat to state information, given that the app is owned by China-based company ByteDance Ltd. However, this was quickly turned around when the Biden administration came into power.
US-based TikTok executives have responded by denying that the app is being influenced by their Beijing-based parent company despite analyses proving otherwise. “The Chinese Communist Party has neither direct nor indirect control of ByteDance or TikTok,” the company said in a statement to CNN. “ByteDance is a private, global company, nearly 60 percent of which is owned by global institutional investors, with the rest owned primarily by the company’s founders and its employees—including thousands of Americans.”
Despite the legal concerns, TikTok has proven to be a successful platform for beauty brands, thanks to its users' organic approach and relatability to content creation. The app's ability to create viral moments rivals other current social media platforms and has changed the revenue trajectory for several brands. This makes a case for it being the sought-after shopping platform, largely in part because of brand ambassadors and influencers.
Now, as the buzz circles around a potential future without TikTok yet again, creators and brands are equally concerned about the disruption the ban will cause.
What Is the TikTok Ban?
Despite its popularity among brands and creators, TikTok has raised concerns to American bipartisan policymakers due to its data security and privacy practices. TikTok has managed to bypass the increasing controversies around the app, including several privacy lawsuits and investigations, but this time, the ban looks more severe than its initial scare. More than 20 states are hopping on board a new executive order signed by President Biden to get rid of the app, with Texas taking prompt action by already banning TikTok from government-issued cell phones and computers.
In addition to state governments, universities have also started taking action to ban TikTok from school-owned devices, campus networks, or both, prohibiting Gen Z creators who attend or live on campus from using the app in its entirety. The University of Texas, Austin, which has a total undergraduate enrollment of 40,916 as of fall 2021, is just the latest to join in, with students and teachers both feeling the effects already. Kate Biberdorf, an Associate Professor of chemistry at the University of Texas, Austin, (or known to her 194,400 TikTok followers as Kate the Chemist) mentioned to Bloomberg, "I use TikTok as an educational tool to make science fun and accessible," she says. "To have that tool be taken away by a university, that doesn't sit right with me. Right now in our community, it feels like our rights are being taken away, and this is another push in the wrong direction."
What Does This Mean for Creators?
TikTok is a fast-rising star on the social media scene, and with that comes a group of budding new tastemaker stars, including Cyrus Vyessi. Vyessi, a former communications agency professional and now full-time content creator, was first drawn to the app as an outlet for personal expression focused on the intersectionality of beauty, wellness, and lifestyle. "I never sought out to become a beauty/lifestyle creator on TikTok―but once I reached a certain followership level, I realized how influential the platform truly is, especially for marginalized voices," says Vyessi.
Many influencers, some reliant on the platform to make a full or partial living, have begun repurposing their brand promotion and creative content to live on other social media platforms such as Instagram reels. However, creators have yet to give up on the app, citing TikTok as more than just a place to post. "It's where we connect, trade beauty secrets, validate each other's lived experiences, and can even find refuge and safe spaces to escape from societal norms (apart from the daily trolls, which has become an unfortunate, recurring experience for many creators)," Vyessi continues.
What Does This Mean for Brands?
Along with the damage to creators, the TikTok ban would adversely affect the brand's digital marketing strategies. “TikTok has been a very powerful and effective marketing channel for us.” Says Carrie Barber, the founder of multifunctional makeup and skincare brand MAKE Beauty. “Once we really started engaging and investing in the platform, we quickly saw a direct result in sales and brand awareness.” The app saw a surge of brand users last year, most of which were small businesses like Barber’s that leveraged the app's younger generation through influencers and other original content. “Emerging platforms and creators are always a part of our media mix and TikTok is certainly part of that, but we are always testing, and learning, and diversifying.” she adds.
Getting rid of the app in its entirety is still in debate while ByteDance remains in negotiation with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a body that reviews foreign investment transactions. Although the fate of TikTok is yet to be decided, there are three possible outcomes that users can expect from the current security investigation. First is a deal where the two parties agree on regular auditing and restriction to specific US proprietary data. Second is a return to the conversation of divestment and sale of TikTok to an American company first mentioned during the Trump administration. And third is the possible total US ban of the app.
While the ban has proven successful on the federal level, users await the CFIUS's decision on a potential overall ban. Many creators and brands remain optimistic that TikTok will prevail and remain a driving force for their businesses and creative outlets. "I don't think a complete ban of TikTok is likely. There is a magic to the unique style of content made on the platform that is both extremely effective for ads as well as enjoyable to watch as a consumer that is hard to find on other platforms." Vyessi confirms by stating, "Banning the platform will silence not only certain creators who deserve their platforms to stay active to continue inspiring their specific communities; it's not something I see happening anytime soon."
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