The Future of TikTok: What Marketers Should Know

TikTok dominates the social media arena. Despite a history of controversy over privacy and security, the video sharing app remains one of the world’s most popular social platforms, with nearly 2 billion downloads and 800 million active users. It seems TikTok will stay – for now.

On August 6, President Donald Trump issued an ordinance banning the app in the U.S. if TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, doesn’t sell within 45 days. Both Microsoft and Twitter have been reported as potential buyers, but TikTok’s fate is still uncertain.

Many young users – users who cannot be found en masse on any other platform – are eagerly awaiting more news. If you’re a marketer targeting Gen Zers and Millennials, you should also be careful.

Should TikTok be banned?

Concerns about TikTok’s privacy can be exaggerated and underestimated at the same time. Experts say the company’s data collection policies for American users are similar to other social platforms, but policy makers fear that ByteDance could hypothetically be forced to hand over data to the Chinese Communist Party under China’s laws. ByteDance has claimed that this scenario would never happen. However, with Washington and Beijing embroiled in an ongoing trade dispute, the app is an easy target for American lawmakers looking to curb international influence.

In the meantime, marketers are in an awkward limbo. While some US companies have banned TikTok, many big brands have seriously paid money to advertise on the platform. The app’s unparalleled ability to increase user engagement has enabled companies like Chipotle to achieve significant advertising ROI in just a few days. Other brands targeting younger consumers have noticed this, which is why many strive to put together a TikTok marketing strategy, even as the U.S. government tries to permanently ban TikTok.

If the ban does not go through, advertisers using the platform now will be ahead of the competition. Remember that TikTok’s promotional feature is still new. The platform only launched its first ad unit last year. This can be both good and bad for newbies. By experimenting with TikTok, marketers can maximize their brand reach. However, you also need to assess the risk of investing in a new social platform that is still developing (and may be banned from September 15th).

What is to be considered?

The potential benefits of a TikTok viral campaign are enormous, but are they worth the risks? When deciding whether to use the platform, keep three things in mind:

1. Your target audience

Who is your target audience? If you’re trying to reach someone under the age of 30, the sooner you access TikTok, the better. If you’re not sure, do market research to confirm that TikTok is a viable channel to reach your audience. If you jump on the platform now, you will have an edge over the competition in terms of Generation Z awareness.

Because TikTok marketing is so new (and controversial), a lot of advertisers are focusing elsewhere. This opens up the possibility for marketers to benefit from a platform that is being used by many younger users. The disadvantage is that the app is as “young” as its users. So it will take a while for the platform to offer the same functionality and ease of use as Facebook or Instagram.

2. TikTok Privacy Policy

TikTok knows which videos individual users are watching, how long they are watching, where they are accessing the app and which device they are using. It also records all private messages sent through the app. All of this is pretty normal among social media companies, so the platform’s updated U.S. privacy policy shouldn’t raise too many red flags. As a marketer, you should be concerned about the European Union’s general data protection regulation, and it’s comforting that TikTok’s privacy policy complies with GDPR requirements. In a way, TikTok stores less user data than Facebook.

However, the measures TikTok is taking to hide data collection activity behind the scenes are a big differentiator. Currently, it’s impossible for independent researchers to know everything the app is doing. As a marketer, you should be mindful of the evolution of TikTok’s privacy policy – assuming the app isn’t locked – and keep yourself informed of any issues that could affect it.

3. Your goal

After a thorough risk assessment, you can decide that TikTok is a platform you need to be on right now. If so, make sure you have a clear target for advertising on the app. The sheer volume of users signing up each day makes it a potential goldmine for brand awareness campaigns, but lower-funnel conversion-oriented campaigns can also do well on TikTok.

The platform offers features that optimize partnerships between brands and influencers, and gives advertisers a lot of flexibility in deciding how to engage with audiences and where to lead engaging viewers. It will be easier to keep up with the app as it (possibly) will evolve in the future if you take the time to learn the platform now.

With the questions surrounding this fledgling social media platform persist, marketers should plan for a number of possible outcomes. Advertising on TikTok could be the next big thing or it could come to an abrupt halt. We’ll all know soon enough.

Nick Chasinov is the founder and CEO of Teknicks, a research-based internet marketing agency certified by Google in Analytics, Tag Manager and Google Premier AdWords Partner.