Marketing Briefing: Renewed call to ban TikTok could push creators, ad dollars to YouTube Shorts and Instagram — which may hurt creators

This Marketing Briefing covers the latest in marketing for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

An uncertain future is nothing new for TikTok. Over the last few years, there have been multiple calls for TikTok to be banned in the U.S. and there’s now a renewed call for a ban. While marketers and agency executives expect this will blow over as it has in the past, there are still ripple effects for creators in the interim, especially should a ban pass. 

Marketers will likely move ad dollars dedicated to TikTok elsewhere, with Instagram and YouTube Shorts expected to be the winners of said dollars in the event of a ban. For creators whose primary audience is on TikTok, that could put those creators in a difficult position, as brands may choose to move dollars to creators who have bigger audiences on the other platforms.

“This year alone, we’ll pay out more than $20 million to influencers on TikTok,” said James Nord, CEO of influencer marketing shop Fohr. “Those are the emerging entrepreneurs, the small businesses, who are going to be hurt the worst. People with a big TikTok following generally don’t have a big Instagram following. So TikTok-first creators would essentially be put out of business, and with how difficult it is to build an Instagram audience, you’re talking about wiping out years of work over political posturing.”

While creators have been working to diversify how they work with brands as well as showing up across various platforms to avoid being too dependent on just one, it’s difficult to build up audiences on other platforms. The hope, of course, is that followers from TikTok would seek out creators they love on other platforms, but there’s no guarantee, making the renewed push to ban TikTok especially worrisome for creators who’ve spent years building up audiences on the app.

“Creators are well aware that any social channel can be gone in a second — whether they’ve diversified because of it is another story,” said Chelsea Goodson, head of creator economy at influencer platform Find Your Influence. “But the hope is always that their audiences will follow them wherever they go (and remember, the audience is also losing an app they may spend multiple hours a day on).”

Influencer marketing execs believe that amid the renewed push to ban TikTok, creators should spend more time diversifying across various platforms to make sure they’re prepared, should the outcome of this latest wave of TikTok ban talk turn out differently than it has in the past.

“For TikTok creators who currently focus solely on the platform, it would be wise to expand their presence onto other platforms,” said Ed East, global CEO and co-founder of influencer marketing shop Billion Dollar Boy. “It doesn’t mean abandoning TikTok altogether; but, instead, represents a good opportunity to explore alternative platforms and formats to broaden revenue streams — a good practice to keep in general. Without diversifying, creators gamble their entire careers on the stability of a single social media platform, a risky position to be in.”

The risk of creators being too dependent on one platform isn’t solely a TikTok problem. Diversification is important regardless of platform. “After algorithm shifts on Instagram, we have all learned that there are protective measures to put into place and one of them is to ensure your followers follow you on all your platforms as much as possible,” noted Vickie Segar, founder of influencer marketing shop Village Marketing. “My guess is we’ll continue to see more messaging about other platforms” from creators in the coming weeks, Segar added.

With that said, “moving a following between platforms is very difficult except for the biggest creators,” said Nord. “If you have 100,000 followers, it’s going to be hard. Addison Rae will be fine, other huge TikTok influencers will be fine, but the mid- and micro-creators are the ones who are going to be hit the hardest.”

Even if creators work to diversify across TikTok, Instagram, YouTube Shorts and beyond, different platforms have different algorithms. Some creators who do extremely well on TikTok may not be able to replicate that following on another platform, given each platform’s algorithm or audience. That poses a risk for those creators to potentially lose ad dollars to other creators who are more in-tune with the audience on another platform.

“Advertisers are going to have to be more flexible,” Danielle Wiley, founder of influencer marketing shop Sway Group, said when asked about how advertisers who primarily work with TikTok creators should handle the platform’s potential ban. “Pick the creator, not the platform. I also think we might start to see more TikTok-style content on Instagram. TikTok has traditionally been more ‘experience this with me’ while Instagram has been more ‘let me show you what I did.’ This will start to morph.”

Whether or not the content approach will shift across platforms is still up in the air. For advertisers who are focused on TikTok over Instagram and YouTube Shorts for sponsored content, there could be some sticker shock if dollars are moved to TikTok alternatives. “It is important to note that these platforms are both pricier than TikTok for sponsored content, so that could cause some issues with budgets,” said Wiley.

While influencer marketing execs say clients aren’t nervous and that there haven’t been calls for back-up plans just yet, marketers should have some idea of a plan, should TikTok be banned.

“Not only can advertisers pivot to new platforms, but they can also explore expanding out partnerships with TikTok creators beyond social media itself — looking at other media channels such as out-of-home, print and TV,” said East. “We call this ‘creators in advertising’ and would represent a great way for advertisers to continue supporting TikTok creators in the instance of a ban being upheld, and is also a really innovative and impactful way for advertisers to reach fans.”

Even so, given the continued up-and-down of the TikTok ban conversation, marketers aren’t rushing to move ad dollars yet.

“It’s important to start back-up planning, but not as urgent as you might think,” said Nord. “We’re still months out from any eventual ban, and most advertisers aren’t planning their influencer campaigns six months in advance.”

3 Questions with Jason Moyer, global CMO for Strong Roots, a vegan frozen food brand

What’s Strong Roots’ current marketing strategy?

If I had to describe the marketing strategy in one word, it would be discovery. Because we’re an earlier stage, high-growth brand, we prioritize those channels in which discovery versus purchasing awareness is a key driver. What’s really exciting is this year, in the U.S. and in U.K. and Ireland, we started to partner with podcasts. For us, that was really an opportunity to have greater reach and frequency to a wider audience. From a social perspective, beyond or own channels, we do influencer partnerships, but a big change for this year will be around UGC [user generated content].

How do you manage content creation?

From a paid content perspective, it’s tricky because we’re not a Unilever or a Procter & Gamble of the world. So budget constraints are a real challenge for us. Two things that we’re doing differently this year is we’re actually in the U.S. launching a [direct-to-consumer] site. Our ambition is not to become a billion-dollar brand, but to actually use it as a marketing play to introduce our new line to new customers and have it be a self-funding endeavor as opposed to a real revenue channel. The other piece is around entertainment. We created a series that’s really around environmental education, bringing people in, in a more entertaining way and really shining the light on those individuals, or companies, that are focused on a solution to various climate realities.

Grocery prices are skyrocketing thanks to inflation. Does that change your marketing strategy or messaging?

It’s really through our targeting and partnership with retailers that has helped us to stem that tide. One of the other trends, or the needs for the category, is really around branding vegetables. In order to do that, you have to really make veggies and sides that are appealing. It really starts with product development. — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

Four years after the height of the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020, companies are seemingly resting on laurels, cutting diversity, equity and inclusion jobs, and falling short on commitments to Black-owned media companies. But according to a recent study from Nielsen, brands and media need to continue DE&I commitments to keep up with increasingly diverse audiences. Find details from the report below:

  • Black consumers spend over 81 hours per week with media — 31.8% more than the general population.
  • 73% of Black audiences pay for three or more streaming services, in the quest for content that they feel represents them and their interests. But 67% of Black audiences agree that they wish they saw more representation of their identity group while watching TV.
  • The issue of representation also extends to advertising: 35% of Black Americans believe brands portray Black people the same way. 66% of Black consumers are willing to cut ties with brands that devalue their community. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“Because of the privacy laws and everything that’s going on with AI, we believe that brands will operate as ecosystems — their own walled gardens, if you will — and take the control back from the Google and Meta duopoly, and take that control with first-party data into their own ecosystems.”

— said Pat Goggin, partner and CEO of Morning Walk marketing agency, when asked about how marketers are looking to first-party data as the third-party cookie finally crumbles.

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