3 Lessons From The TikTok Controversy

On Aug. 6, Trump finally followed through after months of threats against TikTok, issuing an executive order that will ban the app from the U.S. after 45 days unless it is acquired by an American company. Reported interest from potential buyers like Microsoft and Twitter have fueled much speculation and debate over what will happen when the order takes effect in September.

It’s clear that TikTok’s future -- like that of the global digital community -- is uncertain. Regardless of how this controversy plays out, TikTok’s success and the challenges it's faced offer unique insight into the changing social media landscape.

Here are three ways advertisers can navigate the changes ahead:

Harness the power of engagement. Even after exceeding 2 billion global downloads, TikTok doesn’t measure up to Facebook in terms of scale. However, TikTok’s strength lies in its engagement: a recent study showed that by February 2020, kids in the U.S. were spending an average of 82 minutes per day on the app. While traditional platforms were created with a focus on users’ connections with friends or followers, TikTok’s foundation is an algorithm built to maximize engagement through real-time learning and optimization.



This hyper-engaged mode of content consumption is quickly becoming the new normal -- a trend that advertisers must adapt to regardless of TikTok’s eventual fate.  To capture that attention, branded content should be additive, not disruptive. Ads should feel truly native, and be tailored to each platform’s unique tone and features.

Work toward a cohesive global approach. Much of the conflict around TikTok stems from its origins as an international version of the Chinese app, Douyin. Its worldwide popularity has led to a collision between technology and international relations, resulting in a fragmented global response based on each countries’ specific concerns and relationship with China.

TikTok is, for instance, banned in India due to rising tensions with China, and is no longer available in Hong Kong due to conflicts of censorship and propaganda.

This patchwork system of country-specific bans and regulations will only become more complex. This presents a challenge for advertisers trying to navigate global campaigns while maintaining a consistent and cohesive strategy. Long-term solutions may involve a universal set of standards for transparency and security. But for now, the best approach is to consider the nuances of social media regulation in each market during the planning phase and stay up-to-date on shifting policies.

Maintain flexibility when it comes to platforms. The controversies surrounding TikTok highlight the growing number of forces that can quickly and unpredictably alter the social media landscape. In addition to data security and international relations, we’ve also seen the role that politics, companies and social movements can play.

Audiences are now used to moving quickly when it comes to switching platforms: In the wake of India’s TikTok ban, rival app Roposo was seeing as many 500,000 new users an hour. In the U.S., concerned TikTok users are already speculating about its potential replacements (it seems the only consensus so far is that Instagram Reels isn’t a contender).

These rapid changes underscore the need for an adaptable, diversified social media strategy. Advertisers should leverage a social partner mix that allows them to stay agile by reaching their target audiences without relying on a specific platform.

The bottom line
While the future of TikTok is uncertain, the conflicts surrounding it will continue to influence the social media landscape. By focusing on engagement, staying informed about international policies and keeping social media strategies flexible, advertisers can navigate this new digital environment without sacrificing performance.

1 comment about "3 Lessons From The TikTok Controversy".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. PJ Lehrer from NYU, August 26, 2020 at 9:40 a.m.

    Or perhaps the bottom line is don't piss off Trump...

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications