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The impact of the TikTok saga on PR

Owing to security concerns, it was decided in March of this year that the British government would ban the use of the social media app TikTok on all government work phones. Spearheaded by concerns that the Chinese social media app was handing UK users' data over to the Chinese government, ministers took "precautionary" measures by suggesting the ban, which went into immediate effect.

The recent action has evoked mounting concern for the future of the social media app in the UK, with content creators and users alike speculating that this could be the first step towards the eventual outright ban of the app.

TikTok investment

Across the board, the past few years have seen brands hire social media managers and video production teams to create content for the app. CFOs have found themselves investing in TikTok training, and PR and marketing managers have scrambled to create short-form video content. As big brands doled out cash in the race to grow their following, small businesses found themselves with the chance to reach international audiences. In a bygone era, small businesses could only dream of sitting next to a household name in a magazine or on TV, but today, as users scroll through their phones, they can flick past a TikTok by Coca-Cola and another by a local bakery in the same breath.

Dedicated communities

Marrying trends across music, fashion, social commentary, film, and TV, the app has cultivated dedicated communities heavily invested in the lives and experiences of those individuals and companies that consistently publish content. Anyone, or any business, with a smartphone, access to the internet, and something to say can get a piece of the pie, and there is a lot of pie to go around. As well as driving brand awareness, TikTok drives sales. According to Insider Intelligence, the number of US TikTok buyers is set to rise by 72.3% this year to reach 23.7 million.

TikTok is a platform for trends with an undercurrent of playfulness that other platforms don't allow for. Rather than showing the customer the finished ad campaign, viewers can see the inner workings of a company, from what an office space looks like to behind-the-scenes content of photoshoots, and as TikTok’s 1.53 billion downloads have proven, there is a great appetite for this.

Other platforms

It's not like TikTok is the only platform catering to this market. In 2019, Instagram smelled the potential and debuted "Reels," and in 2020 YouTube launched "YouTube Shorts." If a ban were to go ahead, it's easy to see that a TikTok-shaped space on our phone would quickly be filled in with an Instagram download and a plethora of deep dive reels on the demise of a much-loved app.

The real danger of a potential TikTok ban is for those who put all of their eggs in one basket and exclusively focus on building a TikTok following. TikTok should be used predominantly for brand recognition, not to drive key stories. Your brand should have a strong, coherent voice that is present across print, digital, and social media for a holistic campaign and enduring success. Just as excellent customer service can help to secure a repeat customer, TikTok can be the cherry on top of an already strong product and marketing strategy but should not be relied on alone.

Watch this space

Ultimately, we've learned that short-form video content is a powerful form of marketing, and TikTok, which is still within its first ten years of operating, has left a strong stamp on the social media landscape. In terms of the impact of PRs, we will adapt as we always do, whether TikTok comes out on top, or a new social media app grasps our attention.

Article written by Edward Coram James, CEO of agency Go Up.

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