Social media is always changing. Just when you think you've got it figured out, a new contender rises and manages to shift the landscape. TikTok is that new challenger. The video platform has taken the social media space by storm, shifting the landscape and filling the gap Vine left after it shut down, creating new opportunities for marketers and content creators.

With over 800 million active users, TikTok represents a new channel that is as important as the other social media platforms. But that doesn't mean that the platform is free of controversy. TikTok, owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech behemoth, has raised concerns on the access and influence of the Chinese government in The United States. 

At a time where tensions between China and The US are high, the concern over how China treats personal information has given way to threats of banning the platform from the US For marketers, this decision could mean losing a profitable channel to connect with users and customers. With that in mind, we decided to ask marketing experts about their thoughts on TikTok and how this series of decisions affect the marketing ecosystem.

Why Should Marketers Care About TikTok?

TikTok is the most downloaded app in 2020 and has a much higher growth rate than the other social media channels, with over 100 million users in the US alone. While the app doesn't have the numbers of YouTube and Facebook, its hold over both millennials and Gen Z, makes it the platform to be focusing on if you're talking to that demographic. 

However, according to Holly Cardew, CEO and founder of Vop, not only younger people use the platform. "Although there is a large group of young people using the platform, there are lots of people who are older using it too. Marketers should also care about TikTok as it has a highly effective algorithm that can distribute your content to a large audience that you have never been able to reach," said Cardew.

Also, another critical factor that makes TikTok an engaging social media platform is that it shows authentic content. David Morneau, CEO of InBeat, thinks that "Gen Z loves TikTok because, unlike Instagram, it nurtures unfiltered and raw content that can be created with minimal time and effort. TikTok influencers are people like us that young audiences feel connected to and trust." 

That being said, even if Gen Z is not your audience, you need to consider how their interests drive purchase decisions and that in a few years, they will all become adults with disposable income. 

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The Potential Consequences of a TikTok Ban

Cardew, for instance, is almost certain that no ban will happen. She says that "just a few days ago, the judge blocked the Trump administration's ban against the social media platform. Also, TikTok is working closely with Oracle and Walmart to ensure that they comply with US regulations." 

But even if the ban falls through, the potential consequences could be catastrophic for U.S. marketers. According to Moreau, three things could happen: "First, the US-based TikTok influencers will lose their revenue source. Second, retailers and D2C brands will lose access to their loyal audiences on TikTok. As a result, sales driven by TikTok will taper off. Last, many TikTokers will migrate to YouTube and Snapchat or Reels, instantly launched by Instagram. However, none of these platforms has the energy, authenticity, and freshness of TikTok."

Consequently, without the revenue stream TikTok brings, brands and companies will find themselves in a tough spot trying to turn posts and videos on those platforms, which would result in substantial drops in their website traffic and sales because they would have suddenly lost thousands of visitors. 

Keeping Customer Data Safe in the TikTok Era

Despite the concerns of Chinese intrusion in the American's lives that fueled the threats of a TikTok ban, marketers aren't more concerned about TikTok than they are with Facebook's data policies. Cardew, in fact, suggests that while TikTok is still a work in progress when it comes to data security, they're trying to address those concerns. "All social platforms are the same. They're all using data to improve the platform and give users the best experience. I'm not sure that TikTok is doing anything differently from Facebook, Instagram, and others. However, there has been data security concerns around what TikTok can access and bugs that have been patched up, which could expose user information," said Cardew.

Despite how well TikTok might handle user data, or even if an American company purchases part of it, data privacy is a question of ethics. While data collection can help consumers, the use of personal data can be classified as an infringement on consumer privacy, which calls for much more responsible management of user data. That way, people will feel more comfortable with what they are sharing online, and with the data, marketers collect.