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Threats of a TikTok ban are a wake-up call for creators. Here's how they can prepare.

TikTok made it easy to build an audience quickly, but leaning too heavily on any one third-party platform can come with significant risks to long-term business success.

Author: Christie Horsman is the VP of Marketing at Thinkific, a platform that enables entrepreneurs to create, market, sell, and deliver their own online courses.

I recently sat down with local leaders from Later, Fetti, and Viral Nation to discuss trends and issues impacting creators at an event hosted by Vancouver Tech Journal. High on everybody’s radar? The potential threat of a U.S. TikTok ban and its impact on creators not just here in Vancouver, but around the globe.

To get others up to speed, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew's recent testimony before the U.S. Congress has stoked fears that lawmakers there and abroad may ban the popular platform entirely. This comes after the U.S., France, the Netherlands, and leaders here in Canada banned TikTok on government devices, citing security concerns.

There’s no denying this would be devastating for creators who have relied heavily on TikTok and its unique algorithm for reaching and building an audience. But it’s also a wake-up call for creators everywhere about the risks of relying too heavily on any platform, no matter how safe or lucrative it might seem today.

The potential TikTok ban is just one example of how quickly a social media platform can become unstable ground for creators. The truth is, no one can predict with certainty which platforms will continue to thrive in the coming years and which ones will fall by the wayside or how they might change.

Throughout my career, and in my current role at Thinkific, I've had the chance to work with thousands of creators. I believe the situation with TikTok highlights the importance of owning one's platforms and diversifying their revenues as soon as practicable. It’s also a clear signal to new creators that it’s never too early to start thinking about the business side of content creation, even if it is just a hobby or a side hustle. Here’s how.

Why Diversify?

“It’s pretty hard to imagine a life without TikTok,” Mitzi Payne — fellow marketing expert, former Vancouverite, and Partner at Arcade Studios — recently shared with me. Like me, Mitzi works with a range of successful creators who are focusing on diversifying their digital presence and driving their TikTok audiences to follow them on other platforms like Instagram and YouTube Shorts.In fact, earlier this year Thinkific released a report highlighting trends driving the creator economy in 2023. Top of the list? Diversification. And with good reason. We surveyed creators to find out how many had or were planning to diversify their income streams, and found the share of creators who rely on two or more sources of revenue has risen by nearly 50 percent over the past five years.

Creators who adopt a diversified approach will not only be better prepared for unexpected changes, but diversification also allows creators to cross-promote and tailor their content, opening up new marketing and sales channels to increase engagement, retention, and customer lifetime value across all platforms.

A great example of this is Kat Norton, aka Miss Excel, who spun a popular TikTok and Instagram presence into a full-blown software training business in just a few short years, which generates up to six figures in daily revenue.

Own your own community

TikTok’s troubles have also highlighted the importance of creators taking control of their communities by hosting owned spaces, chats, courses, newsletters, and other means.

There are many ways to do this, but collecting email addresses and driving people to an owned channel is one safeguard against potential instability from third-party algorithms. Think of other people’s platforms as block parties where you can meet thousands (or potentially millions) of people you’d otherwise never encounter. But as you build relationships with loyal fans and followers, you should invite them to hang out at your own house.

Creators with direct relationships with niche audiences catering to specific interests are the most solidly situated when platforms become unstable. But owning your data and having control of your audience and customer relationships, products, and sales have other benefits as well.

Owned channels allow creators to be themselves without worrying about accidentally running afoul of platforms’ terms of service. They aren’t forced to constantly chase fickle and relentless algorithms to stay in front of friends and fans. By owning their marketing, creators can dive deep into their brand identity rather than fight for attention on a platform that positions them as one of many, not as unique entities. At the very least, it gives them another way to engage with loyal audiences. And there is no denying that creators who have found ways to own their audience or community will fare better in a situation like the potential TikTok ban.

Most people seem skeptical that the U.S. government will ban TikTok outright – which will come as a huge relief to the platform’s hundreds of thousands of creators. Still, the recent hearings and other countries’ partial bans should give creators pause.

The reality is, this isn’t the first time a platform has shifted under creators’ feet, and it won’t be the last. Part of surviving in a maturing creator economy is understanding that platforms have limitations. They can be vital gateways to new audiences, but entrepreneurial creators must incorporate them as just one component of a viable business plan.

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