TikTok ban threat has creators scrambling to build followings on Instagram, YouTube


Chad Spangler filming a video.

Courtesy: Chad Spangler

As TikTok CEO Show Zi Chew Faces The Hours grueling interrogation From members of Congress at the end of the march, small business owner Chad Spangler looked on in frustration.

A bipartisan congressional committee was exploring how TikTok, the widely popular short-form video app owned by China’s ByteDance, could pose a potential privacy and security threat to US consumers.

Representatives chewed about the app’s addictive features, potentially dangerous posts and whether US user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government. Politicians are threatening a nationwide TikTok ban unless ByteDance sells its stake in the app, a move China said “strongly” opposed,

But this is not the only source of discontent. Creators like Spangler, who sells his artwork online, are concerned for their livelihoods.

TikTok has emerged as a major part of the so-called maker economy, which has grown to over $100 billion annually. Influencer Marketing Hub, Creators have forged lucrative partnerships with brands, and small business owners like Spangler use the large audiences they’ve built on TikTok to promote their work and drive traffic to their websites.

“That’s the strength of TikTok,” Spangler said. “They’ve captured lightning in a bottle that other platforms haven’t been able to do yet.”

Spangler has more than 200,000 followers on TikTok, and her business brought in more than $100,000 last year, mainly because of her reach. Data from Influencer Marketing Hub shows that by 2021, the average annual income of an influencer in the US was over $108,000.

TikTok has been on meteoric growth in the US, drawing consumer attention from people spending more time on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. In 2021, TikTok topped one billion monthly users. one august Pew Research Center survey found 67% of teens in the US use TikTok and 16% said they are using it almost constantly.

Advertisers are following eyeballs. According to Insider Intelligence, TikTok now controls 2.3% of the worldwide digital advertising market, trailing only Google, including YouTube; including Facebook, Instagram; AmazonAnd alibaba,

But with Congress holding sway over TikTok, the app’s role in the future of US social media is shaky, as is the stability of the businesses that have come to rely on it.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testifies during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on “TikTok: How Congress Can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms” on Capitol Hill, March 23, 2023, in Washington, DC .

Olivier Douliery | AFP | Getty Images

In April, Montana legislators approved a bill Which will ban Tiktok from being introduced in the state from next year. TikTok said it opposes the bill, claiming the state has no clear way of implementing it.

Congress has already banned the app on government equipment, and some US officials are looking to ban its use altogether until ByteDance is divested.

ByteDance did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The White House also threw its support behind a bipartisan senate bill March called for the Restrict Act, which would give the Biden administration the power to ban platforms like TikTok. But after significant pushback, momentum behind the bill has slowed dramatically.

As the debate rages on, the creators hang in the balance.

Producers are turning to other platforms

Vivian Tu, who lives in Miami, is preparing for a possible TikTok ban by working to build her audience and diversify her content across multiple platforms.

She began posting on TikTok in 2021 as a fun way to help co-workers answer questions about finance and investing. By the end of her first week on the platform, she had over 100,000 followers. Last year, she left behind a career in Wall Street and tech media to pursue content creation.

Tu shares videos in an effort to serve as a friendly face for financial expertise. In addition to posting on TikTok, she uses Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, and she also runs a podcast and a weekly newsletter.

Tu said that she started building her presence on multiple platforms before a potential TikTok ban came into the equation, and she is hoping to recover her income sources if anything happens. But she called her work on TikTok, where she has more than 2.4 million followers, her “pride and joy.”

“It would be a huge disappointment to see the app get banned,” he told CNBC in an interview.

America’s top social media companies are trying to fill this void.

meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, is pouring money into its TikTok copycat, called Reels. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on the company income call Last month users shared videos more than 2 billion times a day, a number that has doubled in the past six months, “we believe we are gaining share in short-form video.”

crackle And YouTube is pouring billions of dollars into its own short-video features to compete with TikTok.

Tu said she expects there to be a “mass exodus” of creators who flock to other platforms if TikTok is banned, but that the app has a lot to offer when it comes to discovering new and relevant content. It’s hard to beat.

“That’s why someone like me, who doesn’t have a single follower, doesn’t have a single video, can make a video and the first one gets 3 million views,” she said. “It doesn’t really happen anywhere else.”

Emily Foster with her stuffed animals.

Source: Emily Foster

Emily Foster, a small business owner, agrees. That said, other media platforms cannot come close to the exposure they get from TikTok.

promotes the design of stuffed animals that it sells through its Etsy The store and its website are called Alpacasews. She said she started hand-stitching plushies as gifts for her friends and on commission. But when a video of a dragon she made during the pandemic hit 1,000 views on TikTok — a number that’s too small for her these days — she said it gave her the confidence to open an Etsy shop.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, this could be something,'” she told CNBC.

Foster’s designs quickly gained attention on TikTok, where she now has over 250,000 followers. She recently shared a behind-the-scenes video showing her packing an order for someone who ordered every stuffed animal in her Etsy shop. The video quickly garnered over 500,000 views, and her entire inventory sold out within a day.

‘Audience not there yet’

Demand for Foster’s goods soon surpassed his ability to make them by hand, so he turned to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to raise money to cover manufacturing costs. raised over $100,000 in its most recent kickstarter campaignWhich came after three of his videos went viral on Tiktok.

He said, “Without Tiktok my business would never have been where it is today.”

With the looming threat of a TikTok ban, Foster said she is sharing content on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter to try to expand her following. At this point, she said, her business would probably survive if TikTok shuts down, but it would be difficult.

“The audience just isn’t there, especially for smaller creators,” she said.

Beyond the money, Foster is worried about losing the following she’s worked so hard to build. She said she’s met “fantastic” friends, artists and other small business owners on the platform.

“You are not alone at all. It means a lot,” she said. “I’m stressed about potentially losing sales, potentially losing customers, but it’s so much more that losing a community would break my heart.”

For Spangler, the artist, the debate surrounding TikTok is not only about what it could mean for her livelihood, but also because it seems lawmakers are clueless about what the app does.

Spangler recalled that a Republican congressman asked Chew in his testimony whether TikTok connects to a user’s home Wi-Fi network.

Spangler said, “If you have a working knowledge of anything related to technology, if you saw those hearings, it was just downright embarrassing.” “What’s extra frustrating is that it feels like this is potentially being taken away from me by people who have no idea how it works.”

Spangler channeled his anger into his artwork. After the hearing, he designed a T-shirt featuring a zombie-like congressman with the phrase, “Does TikTok use Wi-Fi?”

He shared a video about it on TikTok and earned around $2,500 from the sale of the T-shirts in less than two days.

Watch: Regulatory Scrutiny of TikTok Could Be Favorable for Meta

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