This week, the possibility of a ban on TikTok in the United States has once again reared its head in the news.
The Biden administration will likely have to make a decision soon about whether the Chinese-owned social juggernaut can continue to exist in its current state, citing mounting concerns about data-sharing with the Chinese government and the influence of its algorithm on TikTok’s young-skewing user base. The other option is an outright ban if parent company ByteDance refuses to sell the app to an American company,
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify before Congress for the first time this Thursday, and legislators, marketers, and the public will be watching closely as he makes the case for the app.
TikTok’s massive popularity makes this a politically sensitive issue because any ban is likely to face significant public backlash; it will also almost certainly generate significant challenges on first amendment grounds in the courts from organizations like the ACLU, so it’s by no means a sure thing.
But it’s still possible. That means it’s time for some scenario planning: what needs to change about your current social strategy if a ban is implemented?
Step 1: Evaluate your current social media usage in light of a potential TikTok ban
First of all, you should not be pulling any of your campaigns from TikTok with so little concrete information in hand. A ban isn’t a ban until it actually comes to pass; in the meantime, stay the course. Until then, TikTok should maintain its position as a central platform for boosting incremental reach and driving growth across both organic and paid campaigns.
TikTok is currently a bright spot and an intense area of focus for marketers, in contrast to the majority of marketing channels, where budget retractions are still quite possible. WARC’s new Future of Media report indicates that a whopping 76% of marketers plan on increasing investment in TikTok this year.
If that channel goes away, it will put the diversity of your social media mix to the test. Take stock of how much time and money you are currently investing in creating content for TikTok versus other platforms like Instagram or YouTube. This will help you determine where you might want to reallocate resources if a ban comes to pass.
The goal is to understand which audiences you’re reaching on TikTok and what role your various social channels are playing in the customer journey, including the types of creative assets they use, place in the funnel, and expected results and return on investment.
Step 2: Research alternative platforms to reach your TikTok audiences
If you do find yourself needing an alternative platform if/when there is an official ban put into place, spend some time researching which other platforms can offer similar reach and engagement opportunities as those offered by TikTok prior to its potential demise.
Instagram has the most direct and scaled overlap, especially the growing popularity of the TikTok-esque Reels and the central role of Stories in the platform. eMarketer notes that 73% of US TikTok users also use Instagram, topping the list of alternative social platforms.
Meta’s platforms also offer direct social commerce opportunities so your brand can maintain a frictionless commerce experience, if that’s applicable to your business.
The other two current platforms that are likely to come up are YouTube and Snapchat. YouTube Shorts are gaining traction, but can’t offer the same level of scale right now as either TikTok or Instagram.
Snap carries more clout with younger Gen Z consumers than Instagram or YouTube. It also has the potential to shore up performance losses with Dynamic Ads, but it can’t deliver the same reach and virality TikTok can when it comes to content and discovery.
Other platforms like Pinterest, Twitter, and Reddit are worth experimenting with, but none of the existing platforms will offer a 1:1 match with TikTok, although Instagram Reels comes the closest.
Step 3: Put together a backup plan in case a TikTok ban comes to pass
You need to keep monitoring the situation as new updates roll out and be prepared to react accordingly. But you can proactively make a plan about how your budget, media mix, performance expectations, and creative priorities will change if and when a ban happens so you won’t be left scrambling at the last minute—particularly if you rely heavily on TikTok.
Short video isn’t going anywhere; although 37% of US TikTok users currently claim that they wouldn’t switch to another platform if TikTok is banned, those plans will probably change if a ban actually happens. Part of your planning should be focused on monitoring where people actually start to go if TikTok is no longer an option, and adjusting your plans accordingly.
When in doubt, follow the consumer. Any strategic adjustments will need to account for a number of factors: capabilities, expected return, and how people actually use the app and where it fits into the customer journey. Watch where the relevant communities your brand is invested in start to coalesce and start showing up.
While no one knows exactly when—or even if—a potential ban on TikTok will become official, it’s still wise to make sure you’re fully prepared so your business won’t suffer if it comes to pass.