As the House Energy and Commerce Committee convenes on Thursday to explore the threat of TikTok this week, it will be faced with a daunting challenge — how to position U.S. policy over popular U.S. practice.
In fact, when it comes to TikTok, the chasm between American foreign policy and American commercial interests could not be wider.
On the one hand, Congress and the Biden administration are inching up to impose an outright ban on TikTok in the coming weeks if it does not sell to an American company.
The company itself is arguing that the U.S. should mend it but not end it.
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On the other hand, American advertisers, brands, marketers, ad agencies and influencers are embracing TikTok like there’s no tomorrow.
While U.S. policymakers are preparing to make history through an unprecedented ban on a social media app, U.S. companies are spending unprecedented sums on TikTok marketing, advertising and promotion.
Not a week goes by without an announcement of seminars, conferences, webinars, and workshops by ad agencies and marketing experts on how to profit from TikTok.
Led by budding entrepreneurs and marquee names, TikTok tutorials have become a cottage industry
One ad exec who did not want to be identified, noted: “I have advised all my creative directors to find a way to get our clients on every social media app, beginning with TikTok and Instagram. If not, they are missing golden opportunities to engage with viewers for extended periods of time. We have a chance to reach over 885 million viewers and that number is growing.”
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With the average TikTok user on the app for well over an hour and a half every day, it is a great marketing opportunity to be sure.
These data show that America is a tale of two cities when it comes to popular social media.
Privacy activists caution against the lack of personal data protection on the one hand, and in the case of TikTok, serious national security implications.
Yet social media mavens have come to rely on the app for their very livelihood and profitability.
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Many of the leading brands in America (and indeed the world) are on TikTok.
For example,”TikTok was the fastest growing app in America, and brands are finally realizing the advertising opportunity. In fact, viewers who engage (share, like, or comment) on a brand’s video are 150% more likely to purchase their product or service. Even more convincing, 350% of engagers are more likely to visit the brand’s physical store and 40% are more likely to visit the brand’s website! These are conversion opportunities you do not want to miss out on!
Companies and brands such as Chipotle, Red Bull, The Washington Post, NBA, Taco Bell, Fortnite, Nickelodeon, Crocs, Netflix, the NFL, HP, ESPN, Vineyard Vines, Levi’s, WWE, Bentley Motors and others are using TikTok to bolster their sales and customer engagement.
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And it is not just average brands, but major companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft that have joined the party.
“Google, Apple and Microsoft all have TikTok accounts, with over 8.5 million likes between the three. While Apple has more than 1.3 million fans on the platform, Google and Microsoft have 403,000 and 143,000, respectively. But unlike Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or any social platform where these companies also have a presence, TikTok is being used to showcase the brands beyond traditional advertising.”
But there is yet another dimension to the debate which bears examination. According to Pew Research, 31 percent of American TikTok users are Hispanic and 30 percent are Black. These numbers reflect the growing embrace of social media expression by ethnic groups who use TikTok, Instagram and Facebook in higher proportions than others.
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Former ad exec Sanford Moore pointed out the targeted marketing opportunities for brands in reaching Hispanic and Black consumers is “tremendous.” He noted that “while some advertisers overlook their demographic, Black and Hispanics over-index in consumption and brand loyalty. These consumers should not be taken for granted.”
All of this suggests not only a policy divergence, but a generational dichotomy as well.
It is clear that younger social media users can and will adapt to a new national policy. With new social media apps such as WeChat, QQ, Telegram and others, there are alternative outlets for TikTok users to segue if the U.S. imposes an outright ban.
The tough task for Congress is not convincing privacy activists and security stalwarts about the dangers of TikTok.
Nor is it finding a way to mend it but not end it.
The enduring test for U.S. policy is educating and convincing the next generation of Americans — including brands, companies and marketers– that China, Russia and other sworn enemies will use any means necessary to compete and dominate.
And that includes a seemingly harmless, simple app that has us singing and dancing our way to data subversion.
That is an infinitely more difficult challenge than legislating a ban on TikTok, but equally important to our national interests.
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