Digital Transformation Regulation Brand Strategy

Congress can attempt to stifle it, but TikTok’s impact is here to stay


By Jess Gaylord, Social strategy director

March 14, 2024 | 7 min read

As a bipartisan effort to ban TikTok in the US or force its divestiture gains momentum in Congress, Mekanism’s social strategy director reflects on the app’s influence on the marketing world – and what would be lost with its elimination.

TikTok app open on woman's phone

/ Adobe Stock

The advertising industry and the American public at large wait with bated breath as legislation designed to effectively ban TikTok in the United States passes in the House of Representatives and makes its way to the Senate, where its future is less certain.

Initially, this was seen as yet another case of crying wolf: after all, this isn’t the first time we’ve faced a looming TikTok ban, with former President Trump making multiple unsuccessful attempts via executive orders while in office.

However, the speed with which this current bipartisan legislation passed through the House – and President Biden’s intent to sign it if passed by Congress – signals how serious legislators are this time around on taking action against TikTok in the name of national security and consumer data protection.

Under the proposed law, the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, unless Chinese parent company ByteDance divests TikTok within 165 days of the bill’s passing, it will be wiped from mobile app stores and web hosting services in the United States. Whether the company can secure a US buyer remains to be seen, leaving content creators, everyday users and advertisers hanging in the balance.

With over 150 million American users, TikTok has rapidly evolved from its humble origins as a dancing and lip-syncing app for tweens into an undeniable force that’s infiltrated the cultural zeitgeist. Its impact is far-reaching, literally shifting how entire industries operate and influencing how we speak, dress, eat, watch and shop.

TikTok ushered a new age in social media for users and brands alike, with the latter eager to capitalize on the unique discoverability fueled by TikTok’s almost mythical, highly personalized algorithm housed in users’ For You page. This represented a marked change from other platforms, which usually required users to opt into organic brand content by intentionally following brand accounts. TikTok leveled the playing field by giving all users, regardless of their following or status, a shot at virality and fame.

This meant that brands could more easily reach new audiences, particularly by implementing proactive community management strategies where the best replies quite literally rise to the top of the comments section.

Fortune favors the bold. This is certainly the case for brands who were early TikTok adopters willing to take creative – and often legal – risks, whether through original content or by giving creators more free rein when concepting sponsored posts.

By understanding that the platform and its users demanded authenticity, preferred an unpolished look, and rewarded edgier humor, brands gained highly engaged, loyal communities on TikTok. Duolingo’s mascot giving birth to owl-shaped Scrub Daddy sponge babies, Eos’s limited edition ’Bless Your F*ing Cooch’ shaving cream, or the Buffalo Bills’ outlandish #corecore edits all demonstrate what it takes to move the needle on TikTok.

As TikTok became more of a priority channel to invest in, social media managers and their teams had to evolve as well, from shedding long held traditional social best practices to becoming the unofficial face of their brands on TikTok.

Suddenly, the curtain was lifted on the often invisible labor of social media managers as they stepped into the spotlight (or, rather, the ring light). Whole new positions were created just to fill the demanding job of identifying TikTok trends and then quickly executing, editing and publishing videos.

It’s difficult to underscore the impact TikTok has had on the social media profession, which is why this current legislation feels particularly consequential.

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It’s easy enough for social media professionals to advise their clients to pivot upcoming or existing campaigns and content to other platforms that host vertical video content, such as Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts. But social media managers and strategists who’ve gained a deep understanding of TikTok through untold hours of scrolling, commenting and research know that it’s a platform that cannot truly be replaced or replicated.

This isn’t to say TikTok is the perfect social app – far from it. Regardless of ties to foreign nations, no platform is free of problems or unintended consequences on its users.

However, the very real possibility of TikTok disappearing from the social media landscape feels like the end of an era, one I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in professionally and personally, both in front of the camera as well as behind it.

TikTok – and its user base – won’t go down without a fight, and the advertising industry is obligated to closely follow how this showdown unfolds.

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