TikTok’s uncertain fate in America continues, underscoring the precarious nature of creators’ business models and social platform overdependence.
In case you missed it, earlier this month, President Trump signed an executive order to ban the use of the Chinese-owned app, TikTok. The order characterizes TikTok and parent company ByteDance Ltd., as a threat to national security for capturing “vast swaths of information from users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data, and browsing and search histories.”
Despite the specter of international sanctions, TikTok has had an amazing 2020. The app has been downloaded over 175 million times in the U.S. and over two billion times globally. When the pandemic hit, TikTok became the most downloaded app in the world, installed 315 million times in the first quarter alone – the best quarter of any app, ever and for good reason – creators were leaning into the platform and churning out some of the most interesting content to exist on social in a long time.
TikTok’s popularity is as undeniable as the data privacy issues that have swirled around it since its inception. On a corporate level to have your US audience wiped out by sanctions is deeply problematic but the ripple effect of a US ban on TikTok would ripple across the community of creators who have worked hard to make the app as popular as it is. Many creators have been able to build their brands, grow audiences and earn a living based on their use of TikTok but the specter of having that wiped out is sadly nothing new for many of the most popular personalities on the platform.
While the TikTok ban is dramatic example of the precariousness of even the biggest social platforms, creators have been increasingly aware of the value they create for platforms and how they little actually receive in exchange. Policy changes, algorithm shifts, shadow bans and monetization restrictions have limited their ability to connect with fans and earn a living doing what they love and the creators platforms have come to rely on for free content are becoming increasingly restless.
Creators who do not own access to their audiences stand to lose everything when they rely singularly on a platform. The TikTok ban is a dramatic example of what can happen if creators do not maintain a direct line of communication with their fans through platform where they own their audience versus renting it from a platform.
To put these obstacles into broader context, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and now TikTok, have been under intense regulatory scrutiny for collection and use of personal data. Opaque data practices have come to light, drawing criticism and demand for transparency and corrective action at the policy level. For creators, this not only means their fortunes are directly tied to the platforms themselves, it means that while they’ve working hard to keep their fans happy, the social platforms have been exploiting their contributions to pad their financials and collect deep swathes of personal data.
So, what to do? Creators bring amazing experiences to their fans and followers, and are sporadically rewarded for it, until they aren’t. In order to safeguard their creative and financial futures, creators should consider taking steps to ensure they have access and ownership over the audiences they work so hard to build and connect with.
By not over-relying on one platform, creators lower their overall risk of loss. Diversifying the audience engagement approach and adopting a subscription model is key. Creators should look to invest their resources in tools that are designed to give them direct, unfettered access to their fans while at the same time fostering a meaningful, one to one relationship.
Augmenting social media presence with a subscription model also allows creators to benefit from the exposure of major social channels, while breaking the cycle of over-dependence on the platforms. At the same time, fans and followers benefit from greater access to and engagement with the creators they care most about free from the toxic vitriol of social media. This model strengthens a creator’s value to their audience and elevates their earning potential, as well – a win-win for creators and fans alike.