Will the Fate of the Newest Social Media App Be Decided by Factors Beyond Its Control?

The newest contender in the social media app scene has been getting significant notice among established players in the field. TikTok is sweeping the internet with its user-made, 15-second short videos, capturing a mostly young audience, the majority of which are between the ages of 13 and 24. With a reported one billion active users worldwide, the Chinese-owned company (ByteDance) is making its foray into the business world of marketing with the introduction of “TikTok For Business”. This newest version will serve as the home for current and future marketing solutions for brands. Until recently, only a relatively few adventurous marketers have dipped their toes into the platform’s short, quick and quirky waters. Company executives now promise that it is all about to change, touting that “TikTok For Business” is where you can “unleash your brand’s creative side into a fully immersive, no judgement world where there’s an audience for every voice.”

The site includes easier access to TikTok ad formats, including its marque product, TopView. Other products include Brand Takeovers, In-Feed Videos, Hashtag Challenges and Branded Effects. The platform format organizes all the products in one place and allows the company to introduce new products as they are released. The introduction of the new platform aims to move TikTok from an experimental oddity to one that will compete alongside competitors like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

TikTok isn’t prepared to disclose pricing information or how the cost of service will stack up against the more experienced players in the social media market. “With the launch of TikTok For Business, we set out to embrace the creative, positive, and real moments that make our community so special with solutions for businesses to connect and grow with our wonderfully expressive community,” says managing director for Global Business Marketing, Katie Puris. “As we continue to build a platform where brands bring immense value to the user experience, we’re excited to continue investing in solutions that give brands a platform to inspire others, be discovered, and meaningfully connect with the TikTok Community.” The company is expected to announce that revenues are on track to increase over 300% by the fourth quarter of 2020, with US revenues reaching more than $500 million by year’s end.

However, earlier warnings to advertisers to exhibit some measure of restraint, patience and a good measure of due diligence may still be sage advice as governments all around the world are talking concerns about TikTok’s Chinese ownership. The conversations center around the Communist country’s reputation for mishandling consumer data and using private user information for political reasons. The government of India, which shares a border with mainland China, has been the first major government to ban the use of 59 TikTok apps in light of increased military tensions between the two powers. The Indian government also claims the apps have been found to be “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India”.

Concerns about the app center around the Chinese government’s approach to data and privacy, the main reason recently advanced by the Unites States. Both political parties in the United States Congress are actively discussing the issues and are reported to be considering an outright ban of the app in the United States. TikTok argues that its data is kept in the United States with backup servers in Singapore. The app was recently found to be copying clipboard data from iOS devices without user knowledge. In a recent statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the US is “certainly looking at” banning the app, as it would put American users’ “private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party”.

The fate of TikTok is a good example of how risky it is to participate in a global economy where the geopolitical environment can often and suddenly dictate a player’s fate.