social media | Apr 24, 2024 |
How a TikTok ban could affect designers

Today, President Biden signed into law a bill that gives TikTok’s owner—a Chinese media conglomerate called ByteDance—one year to sell its stake in the company, or face a nationwide ban. Back in 2020, U.S. officials began debating the risks the short-form video platform might pose to national security, but today’s decision marks the closest the government has come to restricting the app’s use in the country.

As NPR reports, TikTok has become a social media juggernaut, currently used by 170 million Americans—or roughly half the country. Much as designers have utilized blogs and apps like Instagram as business tools, creating cottage industries in the process, the platform has become more than a source of entertainment for the design industry. For many designers and design influencers, it functions as a lead generator, and a vehicle for opportunities like brand partnerships and licensing deals.

That leads to an obvious question: How should designers react to today’s news of a potential TikTok ban?

“Our recommendations will change as the information changes, but today what we’ve been sharing is: Do not hit the eject button, and don’t panic,” says Paige Kylee Knapp, founder of digital media consulting firm Kylee Social. “You don’t need to preemptively ban yourself and shut down your TikTok account.”

While the potential consequences of the decision are significant, Knapp points out that they’re still a ways off—the earliest impact to users won’t hit until at least 2025. For now, she says content creators and designers operating on the platform should proceed with business as usual.

“There likely will not be a catastrophic impact to brand partnerships, for example, or the ability to earn money off of your content,” she says. “This is not the first time TikTok has been threatened to be banned for different reasons, even under previous administrations, and if we look back, we can see that even amid skepticism, there’s not a sharp decline in those aspects.”

Knapp recommends that creators who want to protect their businesses by maintaining their TikTok audience consider ways their content and followings could transition to other platforms. That’s the tact Celena Browning, an interior designer and social media manager with 87,000 TikTok followers, plans to take in the event of a ban. “I’m still on standby,” she says. “But I definitely am starting to think of new ways to produce content, and what platform it will live on.”

If the ban becomes official, Browning plans to shift her social strategy and follow Knapp’s advice. She expects Instagram would become a top priority for many content creators—and possibly herself—but she’s also considering Pinterest, after hearing that other users have found recent success and large payouts from posting there. Wherever she takes her business, she doesn’t expect the transition to require a major content overhaul: After all, nearly every other social media platform has developed its own short-form video features in the wake of TikTok’s booming success.

“YouTube now has Shorts, Instagram has Reels, Facebook has [a feature that is] Reels-adjacent,” she says. “It’s definitely easily transferable because TikTok created the blueprint.”

But for some creators, TikTok offers emerging designers an opportunity for exposure that other platforms can’t replicate. Houston-based designer Bilal Rehman is the poster child for that stratospheric ascent. After launching his account more than a year ago, the 23-year-old has since established his own studio, opened a design showroom and garnered press in major shelter publications—all thanks to his 498,200 followers. In part, he attributes that success to the app’s algorithm, which is known for distributing content to a more far-flung, diverse mix of users.

“Over the past year, I’ve definitely posted certain TikToks on other platforms like Instagram or Facebook, and while they do still get a reaction, it’s never as immense, and it doesn’t reach the same corners of the world—it’s more restricted,” Rehman says. “Whereas on TikTok, somebody may have once searched for an ‘interior design tips’ video they randomly needed in the moment, and now all of a sudden I’m showing up on their page because of that search, and I’m getting discovered by people who would have never discovered me before and building a community that’s way larger and stronger than on any other platform.”

In any case, Knapp recommends that designers with a heavy reliance on social media for marketing and lead generation focus on using their influence to push followers toward means of communication they have ownership over, including email lists and websites with updated portfolio photos.

“It’s a good reminder that social media is a super valuable tool for connection with your audience, but it is also just one piece of any good marketing strategy,” says Knapp. “Ultimately, social sits at the top of the funnel—you get an opportunity to connect with new users, new audience members who might be interested in you—but that’s only part of the story. The idea in marketing is to keep that connection and move them to other spaces that you do own, which are a little closer to the chest.”

Above all, today’s news is a lesson in staying on top of the latest surrounding big tech regulations and social media changes—before long, those big decisions are bound to show up at your doorstep. “If you are playing ball with these social platforms, whether it’s TikTok or any [other], we think it’s good practice to have an understanding of how they operate as businesses, because business decisions made by platforms ultimately trickle down to features and to users,” says Knapp.

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