TikTok banned in Montana: is this the beginning?

Having launched brands and influencers to fame, the first state ban causes divisive opinion amongst marketers, as one in three Americans support the ban.

Last week, Montana became the first US state to sign a bill completely banning TikTok over multiple concerns around its data privacy and influence.

“Montana takes the most decisive action of any state to protect Montanans’ private data and sensitive personal information from being harvested by the Chinese Communist Party,” Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a news release.

This divisive move has caused concern from creators and brands who fear ‘the beginning of a landslide of similar legislation’.

But for a platform that’s only made its way into marketing strategies within the last five years, exactly how much is there to lose?

“TikTok has an increasing presence in people’s lives, and therefore many companies’ marketing and social media strategies,” comments Julie Lock, Marketing Director UK&I at HubSpot.

“Many marketers and social media managers will be calling urgent meetings to discuss what’s next following the TikTok Montana ban. And it’s not just the larger businesses that will be concerned – smaller independent cafés, retailers, musicians, influencers and news outlets will be worried about the impact if this is the beginning of a landslide of similar legislation.”

If the ban makes it into law successfully, it will come into effect on 1 January 2024, making the US the eighth country to ban the app.

One in three American TikTok users would support a TikTok ban, found a Surfshark study, with millennials showing the highest level of support for a potential ban (43%).

Although TikTok’s Chinese ownership is what fuels discussions regarding its ban, only half of American TikTok users know who owns the platform. Millennials are the most informed, with 61% stating they are aware of the app’s origin.

“In an era where numerous apps gather vast amounts of personal data, it becomes imperative to educate ourselves about the countries and companies behind these platforms”, says Gabriele Racaityte-Krasauske, Surfshark. “Being informed about the destination of our data is crucial for safeguarding privacy and making informed decisions about the apps we choose to engage with.”

However, some creators still remain optimistic that it either will not be enacted, or they can make up for lost revenue from rival platforms at Meta. PMW found out what the marketers think of the move.

Instagram to pick up TikTok’s ad dollars?

Lock continues: “Earlier this year, TikTok reached 850 million global users, though 40% of TikTok users aren’t on Facebook, and 63% aren’t on Twitter. That means there’s a huge audience base that without a TikTok presence businesses might miss out on. In fact, more than half (55%) of businesses believe that TikTok has the most potential for growth, compared to just 8% who think Instagram is the way to go.

“Attracting more people to your businesses – and particularly that coveted younger demographic where TikTok engagement is widespread – is crucial to remain stable during a turbulent economy. All eyes will be on where the TikTok audiences in Montana head next, but in the short term it could boost ad dollars spent on video content with rival Instagram.”

‘Cleaning up’ digital pollution for ALL apps

Emplifi’s CMO, Zarnaz Arlia, highlights the importance of having the conversation around data privacy and its application to all apps. She said: “The topic of social platform regulation has long been in discussion, with governments on both sides of the Atlantic taking steps to force platforms to remove harmful content, digital pollution and prevent the spread of misinformation. That conversation is a positive one for both users and marketers alike and many of the social platforms have taken significant steps to ‘clean up’ their house.

“TikTok, however, holds a different status to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which are owned by US-based companies, because it’s wholly owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. Nevertheless, if legislation is created to address data privacy and security threats posed to businesses and consumers by social media platforms, it should be applicable to all apps, regardless of country ownership.”

Influencer marketing is more resilient than its platforms

“It feels very unfair for the state to mandate this ban, and with such little warning,” states Permele Doyle, President and Founder of global influencer agency Billion Dollar Boy.

For example, Kylie Nelson, a fashion influencer who had over 200k followers quit her job to make influencing her livelihood. “About 60% to 70% of my brand collaborations are with TikTok. So, yeah, I’m pretty bummed out by the news,” Nelson said.

Although she continued to say she’s optimistic the ban won’t come into effect in January as planned.

“Many of the creators affected by the ban will have a presence across multiple platforms – a sensible and pragmatic approach that we would advise to other creators and brands, not least to diversify their audiences and output, but also to protect against the impact of any potential bans or strict regulation on individual platforms.

“We saw, for example, in India, that when TikTok was banned, a number of creators and brands simply moved their resources to YouTube’s Shorts, demonstrating the resilience of the sector. And I’m sure that we are likely to see something similar in Montana.

"Thanks to its highly effective algorithm, TikTok is such a strong discovery tool – far beyond what its competitors offer."

“However, the banning of TikTok is a huge loss for consumers, brands and creators. Thanks to its highly effective algorithm, TikTok is such a strong discovery tool – far beyond what its competitors offer. And that helps consumers find inspirational, aspirational and educational content more easily, while also allowing brands and creators to reach larger audiences and grow their following faster. These core platform characteristics facilitate content monetisation and subsequently, the ban will impact creators’ revenue streams – certainly in the short-term, until creators adapt.”

It is clear that TikTok and its algorithm have burst influencers and brands into fame far quicker than its rival platforms. But marketers disclosed to PMW that if the platform was to disappear, budget would simply head back to the platforms that they’ve used before – which have ironically become copycats of the authentic short-form video app.

This article was updated on 24 May to include data from Surfshark.