TikTok Bill Is Now Law, as Reality of Potential Ban Sinks In

After the typically slow-moving Congress greased the wheels of the TikTok bill, President Joe Biden signed it into law Wednesday morning, capping a series of events that could see the social video app kicked out of the U.S.

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday, cleared the Senate’s procedural vote on Tuesday and then passed by the upper chamber later that night, landing on the president’s desk Wednesday morning.

More from WWD

The measure whooshed through a process that often takes weeks, even months for other legislative proposals to maneuver — that is, when they don’t stall or die in the process.

Of course, pressuring TikTok into American ownership under threat of exile from U.S. app stores isn’t the only goal. It’s not even the main priority here. The bill was part of a package that included foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, which senators have been eager to take up.

The app developer now has nine months to strike a deal with new owners and separate from its Chinese parent company, ByteDance. President Biden could allow three more months, if he sees progress.

There won’t be any progress right away, however. TikTok plans to challenge the new law on a free-speech basis. According to its statement to the press, the law would “trample” the rights of the platform’s American user base, which includes 170 million people and 7 million businesses, as it channels $24 billion a year to the U.S. economy.

Many of the brands, marketers and influencers responsible for those billions are now left facing a sobering reality that one of their most valuable social media channels could vanish. They may not have to change strategies overnight, but the moment is likely coming.

Actor and performer Noah Jay Wood, 24, an influencer with 7 million followers, sees TikTok as a powerful and positive place for creativity, community and information, as well as a valuable stream of income.

“Hopefully, this issue can be cleared up as a lot of us content creators not only use this outlet as a creative expression but also as a main source of income,” he told WWD. “I couldn’t imagine the impact and ripple effects this could have on the creative community.”

The consequences could be serious for brands as well, precisely because of people like Wood and his followers.

Damian Rollison, director of market insights at AI-driven martech firm Soci, believes the impact on advertising strategies, especially those geared for Gen Z audiences, will be significant. According to Soci’s latest research, these consumers in particular use social media as a search tool, with “Instagram and TikTok eclipsing Google as the top business search platforms among young people.”

The report identified that 62 percent prefer TikTok, edging out Google search’s 61 percent, in a study that polled more than 1,000 participants in the U.S. The disruption of a TikTok ban could be devastating for small or boutique brands that are wholly dependent on the platform. But they aren’t the only ones.

“For more established brands, the possible loss of TikTok as a key channel for reaching younger consumers could impact long-term brand perception and market share, especially considering the platform’s popularity among younger demographics,” he told WWD.

Although the ban won’t happen immediately, Rollison still urges companies to “swiftly adjust their digital marketing and engagement strategies.” That includes shifting resources to alternatives, like rivals Instagram or YouTube, so they can preserve connections with their target audiences.

Ultimately, the new law’s arrival, amid major momentum toward social search, is poised to jolt brands into diversified digital marketing strategies. Some are more prepared for that than others.

Those that are behind shouldn’t wait to reassess their strategies and marketing investments — certainly before the nine months runs out.

Best of WWD