Tik Tok screenshot of the Long Island Aquarium account.

Tik Tok screenshot of the Long Island Aquarium account. Credit: Long Island Aquarium


If you’re a marketer it’s very hard to ignore the reach of TikTok, the popular video-sharing app.

TikTok has repeatedly come under fire by government officials and the FBI over concerns arising from its ownership by a Chinese parent company that it poses a risk to national security.

Still, TikTok's more than one billion monthly active users make it a must-use platform for many marketers, experts say.

“Most creators and brands are still forging ahead with their campaigns and still using the platform to connect with their audiences,” says Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst for social media at market research firm Insider Intelligence.

It has enormous popularity especially among Gen Z’s, the group that followed the Millennial generation, she says.

Given that, brands aren’t going to leave unless their users leave, “and that’s not going to happen unless they’re forced to,” Enberg says.

Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst for social media at market research...

Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst for social media at market research firm Insider Intelligence. Credit: Insider Intelligence

Meanwhile, there have bans by various states and the federal government prohibiting the app on government devices. Some universities have banned it on campus Wi-Fi, largely under pressure from state lawmakers.

Among security concerns is the potential risk of China being able to access U.S. data and to manipulate content through TikTok’s parent company.

“There are legitimate security concerns,” says Anton Dahbura, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute in Baltimore.

He said the Chinese government “has been known to get location data, and what that does for them is it says who is around places of interest to them.”

Even if a user doesn’t work for a high-level agency, they “might associate with someone of interest of them,” Dahbura says.

He believes people shouldn’t use the app until the U.S. government gives clearance, and adds that if they do, they need to be aware of risks and take precautions like not allowing it to access their location.

But others feel “TikTok is making an effort to deal with security concerns and separate themselves from their Chinese parent company,” says Nicole Penn, president of EGC Group, a Melville-based marketing and digital services firm.

TikTok among efforts announced it was creating a U.S. Data Security Trust and Safety Team (USDS) “to build further trust and confidence in the protection of U.S. user data and compliance.” See https://tinyurl.com/26d5zy82

Oracle Cloud

In June, TikTok announced that 100% of all new U.S. user traffic was being routed to a secure environment in the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, rather than to TikTok's servers in Virginia and Singapore. Since October, all access to U.S. user data in the Oracle Cloud environment has been limited to vetted personnel from TikTok USDS, according to a company spokesperson.

TikTok in a statement asserted: "TikTok is not only a place for joy and entertainment; it's where millions of Americans turn to grow their small businesses, build careers, and create jobs. It is unfortunate that these unfounded, politically motivated falsehoods about TikTok could rob so many of a tool critical to their livelihood….”

Despite the controversy, Penn says that for marketers, “It’s almost impossible to fully abstain." For the younger generation, “it’s completely taken over their social media life,” she says.

Companies like Jericho-based Bagel Boss worry about a U.S. or statewide ban, says CEO Andrew Hazen.

That hasn’t stopped the bagel chain, which has 12 stores on Long Island, from using the platform because its videos get high engagement.

But the chain opted recently to not put the TikTok logo on their coffee cups which display Facebook, Twitter and Instagram logos in fear of a possible ban.

Bagel Boss CEO Andrew Hazen, left, and Oliver Hazen, executive...

Bagel Boss CEO Andrew Hazen, left, and Oliver Hazen, executive vice president, hold coffee cups. They opted recently to not put the TikTok logo alongside Facebook, Twitter and Instagram logos on the cups. Credit: Oliver Hazen

“We can always add it in three months when we order again,” Hazen said.

Enberg said if “TikTok was banned, it’s going to be a huge blow for brands,” noting “there’s an opportunity to really drive sales” through brand awareness and advertising.

The Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, with over 33,000 TikTok followers on TikTok, uses it mainly for brand awareness, says Marketing Director Darlene Puntillo.

They’ll use other platforms like Instagram and Facebook to relay information about events and what’s coming up next at the aquarium, she says.

But on TikTok, “I would say around 85% of our videos are silly, fun videos of our animals to whatever music is trending,” says Meaghan Donahue, social media specialist with Long Island Aquarium.

She said engagement can be high, with some videos getting millions of views. 

As for security, Donahue says she’s not concerned, given they downloaded the app on a phone dedicated only to the aquarium’s social media. There’s no sensitive data tied to it, she says.

The best advice for using TikTok: the shorter the video, the better, and they should be fun, light, informative, and inspiring, Penn says.

Also consider using some influencers/creators on TikTok to leverage their communities, Enberg says. They are usually paid, but nanoinfluencers with 1,000 to 5,000 followers may be less expensive, she says.

Fast Fact:

TikTok will see 33.3 million U.S. social buyers — potential purchases of featured products — ages 14 and older this year, according to Insider Intelligence's estimates. That’s about half of Facebook’s number, nearly 10 million less than Instagram, and roughly 16 million more than Pinterest.

Source: Insider Intelligence (https://tinyurl.com/ycy2nw3r)

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