News & Media
woman holding cell phone
diego_cervo / Getty Images

Possible TikTok Ban Looms Large for Users

Real estate pros use TikTok because it hits every age demographic, among other reasons. TikTok has until Jan. 19 to sell to American interests or be banned.

NAPLES, Fla. – Fifteen-year-old girls dancing in their bedrooms and teenage boys playing pranks won't be the only TikTokers out of luck if the United States bans the popular app.

Local businesses and influencers who depend on the app will have to find new ways to sell their products and attract customers.

"I go live on TikTok a couple of times a week, so the thought of not having it kind of makes me nervous," said Allison Mauriello, owner of Clothing Bar, a Naples based online women's boutique that sells at pop-up stores.

More and more businesses across Southwest Florida — from real estate firms, restaurants and beauty salons to bakeries clothiers, car dealers and doctors are using TikTok to promote their businesses and products.

TikTok's usefulness could be short-lived. In April, President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that would give TikTok nine months — a Jan. 19 deadline — to sell to American interests or be banned.

Congress passed the law amid national security concerns. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. Congress fears the Chinese government could harvest information about TikTok's users and use the algorithms to influence American politics.

It didn't take long for ByteDance to file a lawsuit arguing the law is unconstitutional. TikTok influencers followed with their own lawsuit. Both could end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

TikTok is the fastest-growing social media site in the United States, growing 12% between 2021 and 2023.

According to a report by Oxford Economics, the site has over 170 million U.S. users. It drove $14.7 billion in small business owners' revenue and supported 224,000 jobs.

TikTok gained traction in Southwest Florida during the pandemic.

TikTok kept Kara Ackley, a broker-associate for Red Key Realty Group, late-night company during the pandemic when she was feeding her newborn.

"It kind of helped me pass the time and keep me awake," she said. "I started using it for my business shortly afterward.

"I found — for me, with real estate — that it was a good way to show my personality in a way that typical print ads don't."

TikTok is a great tool for real estate agencies because Southwest Florida is a destination for vacationers and people looking to relocate, said Theresa Ayer, a business consultant for the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at FGCU.

Ackley said she receives referrals from agents nationwide who know people looking to buy homes in Southwest Florida.

Tori Kinley, president of Kinley Inc. Marketing Services in Estero, works with clients to develop social media strategies. She directs local business owners who depend on local customers to Facebook and Instagram.

"If your reach is national or international, if you sell a digital product or a product on Amazon … it doesn't matter where your members are, go with TikTok," she said.

TikTok has another advantage: cost. The site is free.

Antonette Fazlic, owner of The Mobile Home Lady in Fort Myers, turned to TikTok because real estate websites like Zillow were too expensive for generating leads. She tried Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, but TikTok was the only one that took off. Her site has 37,000 followers, and some of her videos have been viewed more than a million times.

The site gives small businesses an affordable way to reach large audiences. Kinley said it's easier to go viral on TikTok than on other platforms.

"You can have a video on TikTok go viral and get a million views. … The amount of money it would cost to put out a paid ad that reaches a million people would cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars," she said.

It's easier to gain followers on TikTok than Instagram, Clothing Bar's Mauriello said. She has 54,000 followers on TikTok compared to 17,000 on Instagram.

She thinks it's easier because TikTok is made up of short videos, and people scroll more. Video is what Bess Charles, co-owner of Lady Cakes in Cape Coral, likes about TikTok. She said video works best in highlighting her cakes and pastries. Charles does all the business's social media and videos. She has learned what works through trial and error.

The video attracts many business owners to TikTok, but it scares others.

"You have to be comfortable with video," SBDC's Ayers said. "It's the only thing that moves on TikTok."

She said the videos are short, so you need a lot of them. Most of her small clients can't afford to hire somebody to make the videos or are intimidated or don't have the time to do them.

"I say TikTok, and they shudder," she said.

TikTok is known as a young person's platform, as 62% percent of users are younger than 29; another 30% are 30 to 49, and the rest are 50 and above, according to analytics company Comscore.

Mike Hollow, co-owner of Blue Line Realty, said that TikTok's algorithms make it the only platform that hits every age demographic. An older audience is finding the site the same way it did Facebook and Instagram.

The Mobile Home Lady's demographics are retirees. It sells in 55+ communities.

"For whatever reason, they've taken to TikTok more than any other platform," Fazlic said.

Ackley said the largest group of homebuyers is millennials, defined as those between the ages of 28 and 43.

"I think it's something people forget. Millennials are pretty present on TikTok," she said.

Opinions vary on TikTok's future. Estero marketer Kinley thinks an American white knight will save it. SBDC's Ayers doesn't think the Chinese government will ever give up TikTok's algorithms.

Meta will be the winner if TikTok goes away. The owner of Facebook and Instagram would take 22.5% to 27.5% of TikTok's ad revenue, according to an analysis by emarketer. That would translate to $1.94 billion and $2.38 billion in incremental ad revenue in 2025.

Megan Postiglione, director of social media for Priority Marketing, said banning TikTok won't have a huge impact locally because so many small businesses are focused on attracting local customers, so they use Facebook and Instagram. Businesses seeking a broader audience will take a hit.

"For my business, it will be detrimental," Fazlic said.

Companies will have to adapt or die.

"We'll keep pushing forward. It's not an end-all," Hollow said.

The people who are going to be hurt the most are the people who make a living as influencers, Postiglione said.

According to Zip Recruiter and Neo- Reach, about one-third of influencers make full-time salaries. The median salary is between $15,000 and $25,000 a year.

"It has changed so many peoples' lives in creating income," Kinley said.

She is no longer an influencer but knows how lucrative TikTok can be. When she worked on Mackinaw Island, Michigan, she received $5,000 for one video. ¦

© Copyright (c) 2024 Florida Weekly. All rights reserved.