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7 Answers to TikTok Ban Questions

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7 Answers to TikTok Ban Questions

The alarmist headlines grow louder these days — TikTok Ban: It’s Here! Americans Sound Off on TikTok Ban in Viral Rants! Say Farewell to TikTok!

Content creators and influencers who earn their living from TikTok are having a toxic freakout and spreading misinformation about what ByteDance and the Chinese government can and can’t actually do.

Neither alarmed nor freaked out, we opted to do something wacky in this conversation and ask CMI’s chief strategy advisor, Robert Rose, to look at the challenges through the lens of practicality. Watch this video or read on for his take:

1. What does the TikTok bill say?

Because I love you all, I read US House Resolution 7521 (the TikTok bill), so you don’t have to. Slightly fewer than 2,00 words, it’s a short bill., but it’s still written in politician legalese. It’s not the most entertaining of reads.

Let’s review the summary. To make it more entertaining, I’ll invoke my inner Jeff Spicoli (from the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High) to explain:

“So, dude, check it out. Right now, TikTok’s controlled by China — the uncoolest of the five uncool countries. And we don’t trust them. So, TikTok’s either got to sell themselves to somebody the president of the US says is cool, or it’s gonna be bummer city, and they’ll get the full slam and be nada in the United States. Oh, and even if they find somebody gnarly to sell to, they gotta give every user their cool data. If they don’t, then the attorney general dude can hit ’em with this mondo $500 person per user lawsuit action.”

OK, so now you get it. TikTok must divest itself of its Chinese control, or the U.S. will ban it. And even if it does sell, they now must give everybody access to their data.

Now, let’s review the likeliest outcomes from that:

2. Would a ban even be enforceable? 

If you’ve been on the internet for any time, you might wonder how the government would even enforce such a ban. How do you block an app that’s that big? Well, the bill actually doesn’t BAN TikTok. It makes anyone helping ByteDance distribute TikTok content subject to a civil penalty.

So, the federal government wouldn’t go after ByteDance. The attorney general would sue companies like Oracle (for hosting the data), Apple or Google (for supplying the app), or Comcast, Spectrum, Verizon, AT&T, etc. (for carrying the data).

They explicitly CANNOT go after individual users, employees, or even the owner of TikTok for using the application. So, it’s not an infraction to USE the app; It’s an infraction to DISTRIBUTE the app. The penalties are defined at $5,000 per TikTok user. With more than 100 million U.S. users, that fine could equate to $500 billion.

If you think that sounds silly — and relatively unenforceable — I do, too.

3. Who would buy TikTok?

Rumors abound about former politicians putting together investment groups and big companies such as Microsoft, Google, or Apple courting the new TikTok. But the act doesn’t stipulate that the new TikTok must be owned by a U.S. company. It just can’t be controlled by a “foreign adversary country,” which means China (including Hong Kong), Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Russia.

So, if a Canadian company ended up as the winner, that might be fine. Basically, the U.S. president (whoever that is at the time) decides what’s OK.

4. What about user data?

If the existing bill passes the Senate and is signed by the president, ByteDance (regardless of the divestiture) must publish a feature so every person can export ALL their content — images, videos, text, etc. If the company fails to do that, it faces a civil liability of $500 per person.

5. When could this happen?

The U.S. Senate has not yet announced plans to bring the House bill to its floor. But if the bill becomes law, TikTok would have six months to find a buyer and execute a sale. If they couldn’t, TikTok would be banned, but after six months, they could come back with a buyer that the president deems “cool.”

6. Is this just about TikTok?

Any social media company controlled by a foreign adversary would be subject to this law. But since the latest short-form video platform from North Korea has yet to go viral, it kind of singles out TikTok. The bill calls out an exception for platforms that provide product reviews and travel information. That’s oddly specific, but I haven’t figured out who that might protect.   

You may see a ton of videos saying ByteDance is prohibited from selling itself because Chinese law prohibits the export of technology. The argument seems to be that even if ByteDance wanted to sell TikTok, it couldn’t. Some TikTok users even suggest the bill is a conspiracy created by politicians who know the Chinese law and want to ban the app outright.

A ban may be the ultimate goal, but Chinese law is irrelevant. ByteDance is NOT owned by the Chinese government. It is owned by a combination of international investors, including its Chinese co-founders and its employees (including 7,000 Americans). The Chinese government has a 1% stake and board seat in ByteDance.

Additionally, the referenced Chinese law does NOT include social media algorithms.

Now, it’s fair to say the Chinese government won’t willingly allow a sale and may even require some kind of “approval.” It’s also plausible that ByteDance will hide under the government’s coattails, claiming, “We’re not allowed to sell.” But to say they are prohibited isn’t accurate. And to suggest Congress is conspiring gives too much credit to the intelligence of the current Congress.

7. What’s likely to happen in marketing?

The short answer is not very much, and certainly not in the near term. The Senate hasn’t even agreed to bring the bill to the floor. They may just delay it, rewrite it, or do nothing. This means weeks or months of wait-and-see.

For marketers, the drama will likely have more impact than the things that happen.

TikTok has become one of the core marketing channels for many B2C brands. B2B brands also use TikTok for paid advertising, employee advocacy, and influencer marketing. In CMI’s latest research, 19% of B2B marketers say they use TikTok, more than double the previous year.

The key is to be aware. If your team is considering or already using TikTok as a platform, it’s probably still a great channel for you and almost certainly will remain so for the foreseeable future. But if you’re considering using the platform for something other than promoting your other content platforms, be careful. If your brand is considering a sizeable investment into a deep editorial TikTok strategy, be a little more circumspect.   

If you use TikTok as an influencer platform, you may see a few of the more influential creators leave or diversify to other platforms. That may distract some. It will also create greater competition on platforms like Meta’s Reels and LinkedIn.

Just remember this: If TikTok goes away tomorrow, the attention demand will not disappear. It will just shift to whatever the new (or old) thing is. If you’re prepared to pivot your content and marketing, you’ll be fine.  

As I’ve said for years, the core lesson is not to build your house on rented land. You never know when the ground will shift beneath your feet.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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Being position-less secures a marketer’s position for a lifetime

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Optimove Positionless Marketer Optimove

On March 20, 2024, the Position-less Marketer was introduced on MarTech.org and my keynote address at Optimove’s user conference.

Since that initial announcement, we have introduced the term “Position-less Marketer” to hundreds of leading marketing executives and learned that readers and the audience interpreted it in several ways. This article will document a few of those interpretations and clarify what “position-less” means regarding marketing prowess.

As a reminder, data analytics and AI, integrated marketing platforms, automation and more make the Position-less Marketer possible. Plus, new generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Canna-GPT, Github, Copilot and DALL-E offer human access to powerful new capabilities that generate computer code, images, songs and videos, respectively, with human guidance.

Position-less Marketer does not mean a marketer without a role; quite the opposite

Speaking with a senior-level marketer at a global retailer, their first interpretation may be a marketer without a role/position. This was a first-glance definition from more than 60% of the marketers who first heard the term. But on hearing the story and relating it to “be position-less” in other professions, including music and sports, most understood it as a multidimensional marketer — or, as we noted, realizing your multipotentiality. 

One executive said, phrasing position-less in a way that clarified it for me was “unlocking your multidimensionality.” She said, “I like this phrase immensely.” In reality, the word we used was “multipotentiality,” and the fact that she landed on multidimensionality is correct. As we noted, you can do more than one thing.

The other 40% of marketing executives did think of the “Position-less Marketer” as a marketing professional who is not confined or defined by traditional marketing roles or boundaries. In that sense, they are not focused only on branding or digital marketing; instead, they are versatile and agile enough to adjust to the new conditions created by the tools that new technology has to offer. As a result, the Position-less Marketer should be comfortable working across channels, platforms and strategies, integrating different approaches to achieve marketing goals effectively.

Navigating the spectrum: Balancing specialization and Position-less Marketing

Some of the most in-depth feedback came from data analytic experts from consulting firms and Chief Marketing Officers who took a more holistic view.

Most discussions of the “Position-less Marketer” concept began with a nuanced perspective on the dichotomy between entrepreneurial companies and large enterprises.

They noted that entrepreneurial companies are agile and innovative, but lack scalability and efficiency. Conversely, large enterprises excel at execution but struggle with innovation due to rigid processes.

Drawing parallels, many related this to marketing functionality, with specialists excelling in their domain, but needing a more holistic perspective and Position-less Marketers having a broader understanding but needing deep expertise.

Some argued that neither extreme is ideal and emphasized the importance of balancing specialization and generalization based on the company’s growth stage and competitive landscape.

They highlight the need for leaders to protect processes while fostering innovation, citing Steve Jobs’ approach of creating separate teams to drive innovation within Apple. They stress the significance of breaking down silos and encouraging collaboration across functions, even if it means challenging existing paradigms.

Ultimately, these experts recommended adopting a Position-less Marketing approach as a competitive advantage in today’s landscape, where tight specialization is common. They suggest that by connecting dots across different functions, companies can offer unique value to customers. However, they caution against viewing generalization as an absolute solution, emphasizing the importance of context and competitive positioning.

These marketing leaders advocate for a balanced marketing approach that leverages specialization and generalization to drive innovation and competitive advantage while acknowledging the need to adapt strategies based on industry dynamics and competitive positioning.

Be position-less, but not too position-less — realize your multipotentiality

This supports what was noted in the March 20th article: to be position-less, but not too position-less. When we realize our multipotentiality and multidimensionality, we excel as humans. AI becomes an augmentation.

But just because you can individually execute on all cylinders in marketing and perform data analytics, writing, graphics and more from your desktop does not mean you should.

Learn when being position-less is best for the organization and when it isn’t. Just because you can write copy with ChatGPT does not mean you will write with the same skill and finesse as a professional copywriter. So be position-less, but not too position-less.

Position-less vs. being pigeonholed

At the same time, if you are a manager, do not pigeonhole people. Let them spread their wings using today’s latest AI tools for human augmentation.

For managers, finding the right balance between guiding marketing pros to be position-less and, at other times, holding their position as specialists and bringing in specialists from different marketing disciplines will take a lot of work. We are at the beginning of this new era. However, working toward the right balance is a step forward in a new world where humans and AI work hand-in-hand to optimize marketing teams.

We are at a pivot point for the marketing profession. Those who can be position-less and managers who can optimize teams with flawless position-less execution will secure their position for a lifetime.

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