TikTok’s fate hangs in the balance in the United States

Institutions have been harnessing the power of TikTok over the past few years to show off the campus and local area, connect with prospective students through ambassador and influencer content, and highlight groundbreaking research.

But with TikTok back in the hot seat, it now faces the very real prospect of a ban affecting its 102m users across the U.S. with the potential of other regions following suit.  

TikTok faces a ban in the United States

From talk to reality - why is it different this time and what could happen next

Recently, the House of Representatives voted to pass a law to force the app to be sold by its Chinese parent company ByteDance, or to face a ban across the country.  

The bill, dubbed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, was passed rapidly by the House in a landslide 352-65 vote and now sits with the powers that be in the Senate.

If the bill progresses, Joe Biden has already stated that he would sign it into law.

Not surprisingly, the protection of data is one of the central issues being considered in the case.

TikTok attempted to address concerns about its data practices with Project Texas, last year.

However, findings from January from leaked documents and past and present employees suggest that TikTok still shares its U.S. user data with its parent company in China.  

In response, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has posted videos to the main TikTok channel where he calls on users to help with lobbying their local representatives to save the app.

And they’ve also been meeting with ad partners to present them with more information on the key concerns about the app.  

TikTok CEO and founder speaks out

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew shares his thoughts on TikTok after testifying before Congress

However, if the bill progresses, TikTok could be given 165 days to sell its U.S. arm or be banned in the U.S.

TikTok in Stats

  • Over 102 million people currently use TikTok in the U.S.
  • Usage is high, with 68% of Gen-Z (ages 12-17) stating they use it weekly.
  • TikTok is the king of short-form video - 68% of US teens use it weekly vs 30% using Reels and 15% using YouTube Shorts weekly.
  • TikTok users love the app. They spend an average 89 minutes per day on the platform.
  • Year-on-year growth has averaged over 10% each year for the past 3 years.
  • 60% of active users are aged between 16 and 24.
  • The hashtag #uni had 6.3 billion views on TikTok in the UK alone last year, followed by #university.
  • TikTok users are twice as likely as users of other channels to recommend something they found on the platform.
  • 71% of TikTok users who take action from a visit to the platform say that TikTok shows them exactly what they’re looking for.

What could it mean for the social media activity of students and reaching them

Social media is constantly evolving—but the closure of an entire platform, if that were to happen in some regions such as in the US, is clearly a more sizeable adjustment.

Last year, Forrester’s Youth Survey saw an 11% year-on-year increase in Reels usage, and with nearly a third of US teens using it at least weekly, the closure of TikTok could see them flow over to Reels, leaving just YouTube Shorts as its main competitor.

This would present a massive growth opportunity for Meta.

This year, Forresters Survey found that 67% of US marketing decision-makers plan to increase their investment in TikTok.

However, if TikTok were to close in the US, reaching youth audiences would naturally depend on more investment in original content and ad spend over on Meta and YouTube.

Competition on Instagram and YouTube will naturally become even more fierce.

TikTok faces a ban in the United States

What university marketers can do to prepare for a potential TikTok closure

Many institutions continue to use TikTok to great effect to inform and connect with students and generate leads and build awareness, both with organic and paid content.

But in the wake of a potential ban, we asked our team for insights and advice on how to maximize efficiency, how to adapt, and how to protect against a potential ban.

Here are 10 actionable ideas you could consider and apply to your university's social media activity.

  1. Keep yourself informed regarding the potential ban of TikTok in different countries, particularly those where your international students come from and where you have campuses. Your team could set up alerts for keyphrases relating to this.
  2. Back up your previous TikTok content to ensure you have an archive you can refer back to and a resource that can be leveraged for use on other platforms.
  3. Assess your current ambassador and influencer content activity and how to continue to support their activity beyond TikTok.
  4. Start exploring other social media platforms that could fill the void if TikTok is banned in certain regions. We’ve mentioned Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, but Snapchat is another worth exploring and Facebook shouldn’t be neglected as it still has a highly engaged audience and is a foundational platform for both organic and paid marketing.
  5. Review your current institution-led activity vs competitors on TikTok and put in place a strategy to make use of your previous TikTok content.
  6. Consider where to re-attribute your ad activity if TikTok were to be banned in the US.
  7. Review your TikTok activity outside the US and assess which regions to continue activities for.
  8. Ensure your content creators make short-form videos that will work across multiple channels, including YouTube and Instagram, and not tailored specifically for TikTok.
  9. Encourage your TikTok influencers to start promoting their content across platforms.
  10. Review the performance and return on investment for your different social media channels to have a clear understanding of the contribution TikTok makes relative to your other social media activity. This will help you to make informed decisions about your advertising budget, internal resources, influencer activity and content strategy.

It’s worth saying that these steps are precautionary measures at present.

Only time will tell if TikTok will be banned, and if it is, it’s not yet clear if it would be sold or closed in the US and what other regions might follow.

However, by staying informed and reviewing your current position and what you might do as an institution if TikTok were banned, you can be better prepared and ready to adjust your strategy if necessary.

We don’t know what the future holds, but diversifying your channels, understanding TikTok’s role in your student acquisition journey, and incentivizing your audiences on TikTok to engage with you on other channels are all sound strategies regardless of the direction of travel.  

We’re all waiting for the final outcome in the Senate, and our advice to institutions both in the US and beyond is to ready your strategy now.

How invested in TikTok is your institution and could you adapt quickly if the platform was forced into closure in some geographic regions?

Reach out to our team and let us know, we’d love to hear from you.