America’s SBDC Statement on TikTok Usage by Small Businesses
Recent actions by multiple state governments to limit or ban the use of TikTok on government devices has resulted in several questions from clients and SBDC networks regarding how to address the use of the popular social media platform. The America’s SBDC Cybersecurity Task Force would like to offer the following guidance when addressing concerns or advising clients seeking advice on using TikTok.
All social media platforms and many of the web and app-based programs we use daily track and use our digital interactions within their services. This data is normally used to create a digital profile for each user and then applied to create a more customized, personal experience using web or app services. Some platforms use tracking, and data capture internally for their specific marketing needs or to create a more robust customer experience. Other platforms may use the data internally and allow access to third parties who, in most cases, pay for the use of this data. Responsible social media platforms put measures in place to protect stored data and limit its use to avoid exploitation or unintentional exposure of their users to unwanted third-party actions.
For several months, TikTok has been identified as a social media platform that may store client data on servers outside the United States. These servers may allow access by a foreign government and foreign non-government entities that could use the data to build user profiles and track both online and real-world activities, thus exposing users to potential threats. These practices have triggered state and federal authorities to pursue protective actions through public information campaigns and, in some cases, legislation to limit or ban the use of TikTok.
Determining Risk to Small Business:
If a business does not need to communicate with its target market directly on TikTok or if it does not interact with its client base via mobile devices with the TikTok app installed, the exposure will likely be minimal or non-existent. However, suppose a business target is clients using TikTok or devices (business or personal) with the TikTok app installed. In that case, they are risking the exposure of their intellectual property and personal and business data.
When assessing the need to use TikTok, consider the following:
1. Is TikTok a platform used by a high percentage of the target market? Most TikTok users (80%) are between 16 and 34. Just over half of the users are Gen Z. Males represent 43% of the user base, but female users generate nearly 54% of the content. The largest demographic group of users on TikTok are females between 18 and 24. (Stats according to TikTok). These stats must match the target market to ensure the TikTok platform is a useful marketing platform.
2. Does the target market primarily interact with the business via mobile devices? Web analytics will provide insights into what devices are used to connect with the business. TikTok is exclusively used on mobile devices. If the target market primarily interacts via laptops or desktops, TikTok should not be a significant concern regarding marketing mediums.
3. Does the business owner have the time to create quality video content for the platform? Turning out consistent, relevant video content to maintain the interest of TikTok’s users can be extremely time-consuming and challenging to master. Suppose the business owner does not have the time or resources to produce a high volume of quality video content for an extended period. In that case, TikTok will probably not be an effective marketing platform.
Protecting business and personal data from foreign and domestic threats is important to ensure the safe, sustainable operation of business and personal transactions. Federal law enforcement and national security officials have warned the public that TikTok poses a clear and present danger to its users.
Until future legislation is put in place to regulate the conduct of TikTok, small business owners need to assess their own needs and make wise decisions about the risk/reward ratio presented by this social media platform.
For questions regarding using TikTok or other cybersecurity concerns, reach out to America’s SBDC Cybersecurity Task Force at AmericasSBDC.org/cybersecurity.