Welcome to Negronis with Nord. In this episode, James discusses the potential TikTok ban and its impact on other social media platforms. James predicts a possible increase in Instagram usage, especially when it comes to short-form videos, what would happen if the app was banned, and also what should you as creators do.
The TikTok Ban: What does it mean, and how should creators react?
James: Hello and welcome to Negronis with Nord, Episode 53. Today will be a shorter episode, but I wanted to touch briefly on the looming potential TikTok ban. What does it mean? How should you react? What would a ban look like? Let's go through some basics.
This is an interesting move by the company, as they are usually quite secretive. It shows their concern regarding the potential ban.
Shou Zi Chew does not speak out very often. Encouraging users to go to politicians' pages and ask them not to do it means it is still a real issue.
How likely is a TikTok ban?
James: Let's start with how likely we think this is. Somebody in the office asked me this question this week. America has never fully banned an app before, so this would be an enormous step.
I still think a full ban where you can't use TikTok is pretty unlikely. They are going to either force the company to sell it or ban it. Ultimately, I think TikTok in the US makes 13 billion dollars a year, so it is unlikely that ByteDance would be willing to just give that up in hopes that one day somebody turns things back on. There are plenty of companies in the US that would be willing to buy TikTok, and that could theoretically afford it.
Some companies could buy it. Some companies would want to purchase it. If Byte Dance believes this is going to happen, it is unlikely that they will play chicken with the US government; maybe more likely that they would sell it.
What would a TikTok ban look like?
Now, if they do move into shutting down, what does that mean to ban the app? There are a few ways this could happen.
Scenario 1: It's banned from the app store.
No more updates. Nobody else can download it. Over time, the experience deteriorates because they cannot push updates to the app, and no new users can sign on. But you can still use TikTok. You can still go to the website and post TikTok from there. You can still go to the website and download or sign up for an account for TikTok. You can still consume and engage with content on the web.
So in the unlikely scenario of a ban, I would say that is the most likely way it would play out: it would just be banned from the app store. No new downloads. That is what they proposed when the Trump administration pursued this years ago.
Scenario 2: A full server-level ban.
You cannot visit tiktok.com; you cannot open the app. You can not download the app. It is completely inoperable—gone. That is what the Chinese government does to many American apps. That is what India has recently done to TikTok and other apps. It is not unprecedented. I think some people say, ‘China is banning the use of Google, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Not only that but then completely copying them, taking the IP and rolling it out in their countries, not letting those companies operate in China. So why should we let a Chinese-owned, operated, controlled organization like TikTok operate freely in the US?’ Again, that gets into a kind of political stagecraft and sword fighting and harder-edged diplomacy there. So unlikely that will happen, but it would be unprecedented in the US but not in other countries.
If TikTok was banned in either capacity, we could expect a huge boost in Instagram's usage, engagement, and signups. People will still want to publish short-form videos. They will still want to consume video. We will see many startups spin up, trying just to remake TikTok. There are already, I'm sure, hundreds of those that exist today. I'm sure some people are building clones right now on the off chance that TikTok does fail, so they can just roll that out in some capacity. These networks only work because of communities. Tiktok was Music.ly before. It has been around for a long time. It takes a long time to build up a community that’s vibrant enough where there is constantly new content and interesting things happening.
Look at what happened on truth social Trump's Twitter or Mastodon, which is like an alternative to Twitter, right? These networks can't get off the ground because they don't have enough users, right? And if you don't log in and get that serotonin hit and get new content— you pull down on the refresh, and there's new content; you pull down, and there's new content; you pull down, and there's new content—it pulls you in, right? It takes years of growth to get to that level.
TikTok two years ago was a much different place than it is today.It'll be a much different place in two years if it's still around. So you will see power consolidating around Facebook less than new social networks pop up and take TikTok’s place.
What should you do as a creator in the threat of a TikTok ban?
What should you do as a creator? As we said last week, if you're a TikTok creator and you do not have an Instagram, and you don't have an Instagram following, I think that that's pretty naive and generally not strategically sound.
You should invest in Instagram, cross-promoting, posting, getting Reels out there, and trying to build a following elsewhere.
It is harder to build a following on Instagram, but maybe even start explicitly talking to your TikTok followers and saying, ‘Hey, we don't know what's gonna happen here. I would love if y'all could follow me on TikTok,’ in case there's a day when you lose access to all those followers and you'll never be able to speak to them again. Better to start talking to them now and saying, ‘I'm also on Instagram. Would love it if you followed me there. TikTok will still be my main platform, but in case of a shutdown, this is where you can find me.’
Don’t make TikTok your main source of revenue.
Another thing to consider, and something that we are talking about, is what happens if you're making money from this stuff. What will happen to TikTok creators is probably that those contracts will be null and void. The platform doesn't exist. And even in the scenario where they ban it from the App store, but you can still use it, I would expect a lot of brands to back out of that and move their money to Instagram. Another reason, if you can, to try and start to build up an Instagram following, but ultimately, if TikTok is your main revenue source and you don't have a following somewhere else, or you're following is much smaller on other platforms, there's no good thing to tell you here.
There's nothing you can do if you get caught up in a geopolitical fight between China and the US around privacy and data privacy and cybersecurity and hacking and surveillance and everything that this is about, which is really not TikTok at all, but you probably will be screwed.
Consider the odds.
It's worth waving the flag a little bit right now. Again, in my estimation, you know, I said at the beginning of the year is a 50/50 chance that TikTok will get banned. I still feel it's about 50/50. I think the US government is going through many things right now, much more important than banning TikTok or not. Politicians are going to be distracted. There's a chance this just kind of gets forgotten, right? Whereas as people worry about what's going on in the banking system and the economy; if Trump gets arrested; several things are happening that might just supersede this, and people might feel like, you know what? This is not a fight that we want to pick right now in that way. Given some of what's going on in the world today, I think it's less likely that this will get banned because I just think people will run out of energy to keep fighting for this.
If it does get banned, I'd say less than a 10% chance that it's a full server block. I'd say there’s a 20 or 30% chance they ban it from the app store and then a 60 to 70% chance they try and force a sale to a US-owned corporation. And nothing changes for you other than Byte Dance will say the algorithm is proprietary. They are not selling it. And the thing that makes TikTok so great, which is its algorithm, may not be sold along with the rest of the platform.And then you would see your experience on TikTok changing dramatically.
Consider your contracts.
So those are some things that could happen. Again, for influencers, I would look at your contracts and ensure you have a kill fee. Meaning if they cancel the contract, you get some of the money. Generally, you will get paid for things you have created but not posted. Sometimes you can negotiate a partial payment for future things since you may have given up other deals to take this one. But look at your kill fees and look at what's in there. If you have an Instagram following that is similar or if the views that you're getting on Instagram are similar to TikTok, try to even write into the contract that you know, in case of TikTok, ban all deliverables, move to Instagram and the contract continues as signed and agreed upon.Start thinking about these things. Start thinking about ways to protect yourself and diversify your following. Get it onto other platforms and give yourself more than a single point of failure, as discussed last week.