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TikTok’s Now On The Clock. What Does It Mean For Radio?

A number of radio stations have embraced TikTok as the social video app to reach listeners. However, that could soon end after President Biden signed a bill Wednesday that gives Chinese owner ByteDance up to a year to find a buyer. The app will be banned from U.S. app stores if it doesn’t sell. Supporters say the bill will end the risk of information about U.S. users being handed over to the Chinese Communist Party.

TikTok calls the law “unconstitutional” and said it will seek to block the law from taking effect.

“Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere,” CEO Shou Chew said in a video posted on the app. “We are confident, and we will keep fighting for your rights in the courts. The facts and the Constitution are on our side, and we expect to prevail again.” He says the platform has 170 million U.S. users and roughly seven million businesses.

The outcome of a court challenge or required sale will not be clear for months. In the meantime, social media marketing strategist Lori Lewis says radio stations can do some things to prepare if TikTok goes dark.

“Devise a plan right now to encourage your current TikTok followers to engage with you elsewhere,” Lewis says. “While this is key for any social media strategy — it’s never too late to start. But the only way you’re going to convince followers to engage with you on another platform besides TikTok is by creating something unique they aren’t currently getting from you on TikTok.”

There are also practical moves that broadcasters can make that go with what is happening with TikTok, says Lewis, and extend to any social media app a station is using.

“Always have duplicate copies of your content no matter the platform. Storing your content protects the sweat and tears you put into social media,” she says. “With TikTok, while you have nine months or so before we have a clearer idea of its fate, consider backing up your videos.” She says that is done by visiting a station’s profile and finding the Settings and Privacy option. There, tap Account, and then Download Your Data.

Edison Research’s latest Infinite Dial report said 91% of Americans are aware of TikTok, putting it on par with Facebook (94%) and Instagram (92%). Edison also says that 35% of Americans 12+ use the app, putting it ahead of apps like X/Twitter. Among 12-34 year-olds, Edison says Instagram is the most preferred at 31%, and TikTok is second at 23%, beating out Facebook by a few points.

What is playing out in Washington with TikTok, and the collapse of X/Twitter user numbers during the past year, are a wakeup moment for many, broadcasters included, that the whims of social media are out of their control. Salem Media Group, for instance, said last year it was facing “some significant headwinds” on its conservative news and opinion websites when Facebook changed its algorithm for how news content was put in front of users.

“Never put your time, energy, and creativity into one basket,” Lewis says. “Always build equal engagement on at least one other platform — or more — that’s relevant to your brand.”

In the near term, radio stations and their listeners on TikTok will not notice anything different. In the long run, the app might simply get new owners rather than disappear.

WedBush Securities analysts said in a note to clients Tuesday that “likely buyers” for TikTok could be Microsoft or Oracle. Several private equity and consortiums are also said to be working to put together bids. Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is among those who have shown early interest.

TikTok may be on borrowed time if there is no sale or court ruling stopping a ban, but Lewis says stations have many opportunities to take advantage of it.

“For now, and for those who love TikTok, I say ride it until the wheels fall off,” she says. “Don’t leave if you’re having success. Just be more thoughtful and protective of the content, the followers, and the time you put into this.”

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