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Why the 'need-to' basis use of TikTok won't change how SG govt plays on the platform

Why the 'need-to' basis use of TikTok won't change how SG govt plays on the platform

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Recently, it was announced by Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) that TikTok will only be allowed to be used by public officers on a need-to basis, such as for communications officers, according to media reports. This comes as globally, more governments take action to secure their data against Beijing-headquartered company ByteDance. So far, TikTok has already been banned from government-issued devices in the United States (US), Canada and Belgium, among other places as fears rise over the fact that user data collected by TikTok could be used by the Chinese government.

The app's ban on government devices, particularly in the US, comes due to national security concerns regarding ByteDance, which is TikTok's parent company that is based in China. The US fears that the Chinese government may be able to use TikTok to access US user data and the devices. It is also afraid that the Chinese government could use the social media app to spread propaganda to its US audience. 

The news came as TikTok revealed that it has 150 million monthly active users in the United States, up from 100 million, according to Channel News Asia (CNA).

To solve this, federal officials demanded that ByteDance sell its stake in TikTok or risk a US ban of the app. More US senators are also backing a bipartisan legislation to give President Joe Biden new powers to ban TikTok on national security grounds, according to Reuters.

Just next door, TikTok also found itself in hot water after been called out by the Malaysian government for political advertising and provocative content. The Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) made nearly 350 requests to TikTok to take down comments from the app. Communications and Multimedia Minister Fahmi Fadzil also told the media that he is in talks with the TikTok Malaysia team with regards to moderation level on the app after seeing many question it for prejudice.

Don't miss: Sephora and TikTok join hands to help founder-led beauty brands

With the growing distrust around TikTok, one has to wonder if the effects will spill over into advertisers who invest in campaigns on the app and content creators who rely on the app to maintain their social following and hence, revenue streams from the app's creator fund as well as brand deals. According to industry experts MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to, it looks unlikely that advertisers and content creators will be scared off despite the app's turbulent future on a governmental front. 

"People have their own objectives and reasons for using TikTok, and I still believe it holds a lot of influence when it comes to its audience. Whether it’s for online shopping, tutorials, information or just straight up entertainment, I really don’t see any significant shifts in this mindset," said Kimberley Olsen, the co-founder of Yatta Workshop, an advertising company.

She continued by saying that there will always be a level of negativity surrounding social networking apps. Rather, it is simply how people choose to respond to it that matters. "The number of active users on TikTok continues to rise in Asia, and I believe that influencers rely heavily on TikTok’s unique tools and features to promote themselves and their products."

She added that banning social networking platforms on government-issued devices is not new so this comes as no surprise. True enough, SNDGG clarified to media outlets that TikTok will only be subject to the same existing policies in place for similar apps such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

Agreeing with her, Jude Foo, a general manager and partner at Nine:TwentyEight noted that it is important to note that the app is not being banned outright. 

"People may not see it as being very intrusive even if there might be a link and data is shared between TikTok and its parent company. It’s akin to data being shared and collected by Google. Or people posting private moments on social platforms. They know their data is going somewhere," he said. 

Ultimately, advertisers will go where the people and it is unlikely that TikTok is about to be thrown from the throne, explained Edwin Yeo, the general manager at Strategic Public Relations Group. The general population has less data security concerns as compared to government bodies. "TikTok is not marketing to government officials. It is marketing to the public. So, it would only be a concern if general users start worrying about data themselves," Yeo said. 

Adding on to his point, Anggie Apirillia, the director of content at Ogilvy noted that if TikTok were to face a ban or other significant regulatory challenges, it is possible that some influencers may choose to move away from the platform as they may not want to be seen as picking sides. "This could also be due to concerns about the potential impact of the ban on their audience reach, their ability to monetize their content, and their overall brand partnerships," she said. However, she noted that TikTok has been a key driver of viral content and has given rise to many successful influencers who have gained massive followings on the platform. "As such, it is possible that even if TikTok faces regulatory challenges, some influencers may choose to continue using the platform and adapt to the changing circumstances," Apirillia said. 

She continued by saying that whether advertisers and marketers decide to move away from TikTok in the event of a ban will depend on a range of factors, including their own risk tolerance, marketing goals, and most importantly, the specific parameters of the ban.

Looking at how the government plays around on the platform

Saying that, locally, the Singapore government tends to rely on social media heavily to reach out to younger Singaporeans. In fact, many politicians such as Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin use TikTok to disseminate information and connect with younger Singaporeans. Each of them have thousands of followers on their TikTok accounts and their videos are largely well-received.

So, will the new data concerns and ban affect how they are able to market themselves online? An could it affect the way the Singapore government markets itself to younger Singaporeans?

It looks like it might be more of an inconvenience than something that will significantly affect how government officially locally connect with their audience, say industry players.

"A majority of these accounts are run and managed by agencies, which means execution and publishing of content is all done by a third party and not in-house for the most part," said Olsen. She added that government clients will not have to change any existing approval procedures most likely and that they also have their personal devices will allow them to access the platform outside the workplace. 

"In my opinion, the worry shouldn’t be about whether or not the ban would impact their reach, but more of the relevancy of the content they’re producing resonating with the younger Singaporean crowd," she said. 

Agreeing with her, Yeo said that unless the ban extends to the personal devices of ministers, it likely will not affect their social presence. "At the end of the day, I would say that it is about having better security protocols and perhaps separate devices for social media management," he said. 

Content 360 is back on 10-11 May 2023 in Singapore. A hugely popular event over the years, Content 360 brings the most influential content creators to inspire you. Across two days, you can connect with 300+ brightest minds in the industry and learn how to overcome challenges to make your content stand out among the crowd. Tickets are on sale now, register today:

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