If TikTok is banned in the U.S., where would you go?
It’s a question influencers and others in the social media creator industry are starting to ponder, as politicians grow increasingly skeptical of the app and consider banning it in the U.S.
Creators and influencer managers told Semafor that the debate has forced those with notable audiences on TikTok to start thinking about what platforms they would pivot to in the event of a ban. But it’s unclear yet whether any app that’s around today could match the impact of TikTok.
“I do have to look at what’s happening and make a plan because, you know, if TikTok does get banned, I don’t want to be left with my hands empty and no plan on how to pivot,” said Hannah Williams, who has 1.2 million TikTok followers on her page Salary Transparency Street.
Conversations among creators are “definitely very worrisome,” said Prasuna Cheruku, who founded Diversifi Talent, an influencer management company. Her clients include people like comedian Ty Gibson and dancer Syera Plitt.
Cheruku said she and many of her clients anxiously tuned into the congressional hearing on Thursday and watched as TikTok CEO Shou Chew was grilled by lawmakers about privacy and data concerns and potential links to the Chinese government.
She’s advised influencers to think about other platforms to focus on in case TikTok is banned, “and how they can make sure that they’re not in a situation again where they’re only relying on one platform.”
That includes crossposting on multiple apps — such as Snapchat, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts — so that in the event of a TikTok ban, audiences can find them again.
“They’ve also been going on TikTok and letting their audience know, ‘Hey, here are my other platforms. Make sure to follow me there if something happens to TikTok,’” Cheruku said.
Williams said she has begun thinking about creating more long-form content for a potential pivot to YouTube, which is considered a more stable platform.
The potential for a ban has also prompted questions over whether any current short-form video platform could replace TikTok — or whether a brand-new app would emerge to take its place.
Creators are skeptical.
“There are no apps that come to mind for me right now that are like TikTok in that way,” said Patrick Kelly, a D.C. work culture influencer with about 63,000 followers. “I think TikTok is extremely innovative in the way that their algorithm is formulated and the way that it allows people to connect on such a broad and large scale.”
Influencers said they’re able to go viral on TikTok in ways they can’t on other platforms. And it drives culture and trends other platforms don’t — many popular TikTok videos end up being reposted on Instagram Reels and Twitter.
“You know, a lot of people now, especially Gen Z, are like Facebook, Instagram, is cheugy. I don’t care what updates you make to it,” Williams said. “We want a new app.”
The ability to more easily monetize content on YouTube could draw influencers to that platform. Even if creators are part of the TikTok Creator Fund, many don’t make much money directly from the app. Instead, many rely on ads and brand deals.
The View From Congress
Lawmakers are currently considering multiple bills that would deal a severe blow to TikTok’s operations in the U.S. One that has the most momentum and backing from the White House would give the president the power to take action against tech platforms tied to foreign agents that access data on more than 1 million Americans.
At a five-hour congressional on Thursday, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concerns that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance could be vulnerable to Chinese intelligence.
“Your platform should be banned,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said at the start of the hearing. “I expect today you’ll say anything to avoid this outcome.”
Platforms like Instagram have tried incorporating TikTok’s signature “reel,” or short-form video, into their services, but no app has yet to outperform TikTok’s metrics. Data obtained by The Wall Street Journal found that people on Instagram spend about 17.6 million hours per day watching reels, compared to more than 197 million hours on TikTok.
Still, TikTok lags behind other social media apps in terms of ad revenue. Data obtained by Insider found that Instagram brought in over $43 billion globally via ads in 2022, compared to an estimated $11 billion on TikTok (ByteDance does not disclose this data; this figure was calculated by economists studying the app).