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Influencer who built her career on TikTok reacts to potential ban

As President Biden signs the TikTok ban bill into law, giving the app’s China-based parent company nine months to sell, fashion influencer Bridget Brown tells Kaleigh Werner about the uncertainty she feels around the future of her career

Kaleigh Werner
New York
Tuesday 14 May 2024 21:48
Biden Set To Sign TikTok Ban Into Law After Senate Passes Bill Supported By GOP, Democrats

Living in the digital age, an era bolstered by E-commerce advertising and influencer marketing, there’s a clear dependence on social media platforms like TikTok. Consumer demand is met with content creation, giving way to a society fixated on finding the best products by trusting the recommendations of strangers with thousands of online followers. Needless to say, in-person shopping has been replaced by an endless catalog of clips produced by influencers on TikTok’s “For You Page,” expertly selling what they deem as the “best of the best” in fashion, beauty, wellness, and beyond.

Yet, a new piece of legislation could potentially threaten the lucrative monster of influencer marketing with the proposed ban of TikTok in the United States. On 23 April, the US Senate passed a bill that would require the China-based parent company of TikTok, ByteDance, to sell its platform in nine months under the threat of a ban. The fate of the app and the subsequent livelihood of content creators who depend on the video platform for profitable brand deals was left in the hands of President Joe Biden. As of 24 April, President Bident has officially signed the bill into law. Now, content creators are pushing back. On 14 May, eight creators collectively sued the US government, challenging the federal law.

It will likely be a year before the ban officially goes into effect. TikTok will not magically delete from the phones of the 170 million Americans using the app if Byte Dance does not sell, it’s more probable that the app will no longer be accessible to download through the app store and users with the app won’t get platform updates, eventually making it incompatible with their software. However, even if TikTok isn’t available through the app store, the platform may be able to be downloaded through a virtual private network (VPN) or foreign sim card.

Still, what does this mean for favoured influencers who’ve cemented their careers in social media, particularly TikTok? Will they be forced to rethink their profession, or will they find a way to reach their audience similarly on a different platform?

Cedoni Francis, a 25-year-old beauty influencer, told The Independent there would be serious repercussions for content creators from underserved backgrounds and small businesses that found recognition and large-scale visibility through TikTok.

“A lot of Black creators will be losing their primary source of income, and small businesses will lose their most impactful form of marketing,” the TikTok star, who has more than 246,000 followers on the app, said. “There’s no way to mince my words on this – people will lose their livelihoods.”

One of those apprehensive about the change is fashion influencer Bridget Brown. Although the 25-year-old entrepreneur would argue she’s still a “micro-influencer,” Brown has amassed more than 96,000 followers on Instagram and more than 240,300 followers on TikTok over the past four years, partnering with high-end brands like Coach, Ferragamo, and Fendi. And though she’s based in Toronto, Ontario, the majority demographic of her audience is American.

The Independent sat down with Brown to discuss how the US TikTok ban could jolt her career.

How did you get your start on social media?

So, social media was always a hobby of mine for, like, going on over 10 years at this point. It was always something that I posted consistently on, whether that was Instagram, whether that was Pinterest, or Tumblr, or YouTube. I’ve just always been pretty consistent with posting, and I’ve always loved photography, videography, talking to the camera, obviously fashion and incorporating that into content. And then when Covid hit, I was finishing up my degree, but I had a lot of free time in between that and just being at home. I started posting more consistently. And that’s kind of when I started doing paid work.

Bridget Brown, a fashion influencer, with over 96,000 followers on Instagram and more than 240,300 followers on TikTok (Bridget Brown)

How did your brand partnerships come about? Did you reach out to them, or did they see your content online and reach out to you?

I feel like it’s still a little like taboo of a topic and people don’t really talk about. You know, pitching yourself and doing all these things. I definitely would pitch myself to brands that I wanted to work with. I don’t think it ever turned into anything, me pitching myself. I don’t think one time they responded back, and were like: ‘Yes, we would love to work with you.’ I had a decent amount of things coming through into my inbox.

Signing with management was definitely helpful because they had their roster of people and they had their connections already established, which was really, really nice. I was definitely pretty lucky to build relationships early on with people who were reaching out. I posted about a pair of Geox loafers and then they ended up selling out. They have one brand marketing gal that works in North America, literally one, because they’re based in Italy - so they have one girl that works here and she reached out and she was like: ‘Hey, we don’t really work with influencers, but we would love to like work with you.’

How have you seen TikTok expand your network, as compared to Instagram or YouTube?

I feel like when I started doing TikTok, that’s kind of when I felt like I found that like niche, thrifting, sustainable community because TikTok is a lot more broken down into specific niches than Instagram is. So, I think when I started growing my TikTok, it was a lot. My following on TikTok is majority US [rather than] Canada, which is interesting because I‘m based here.

The industry in the States is a lot bigger than it is in Canada. So it’s definitely been helpful in terms of reaching brands. I do work with a good chunk of Canadian brands, but it’s been nice to have a lot of opportunities outside of that as well. There’s a lot of really great brands that are based in the States that have really helped me grow.

How do you see this ban impacting your career?

It was a great thing starting to talk and posting on TikTok consistently. It definitely helped me grow on other platforms. It’s kind of scary that it might not be around. And I mean, even if it only gets banned in the States, that directly affects me. If there’s no TikTok in the States, it’s like kind of irrelevant to even use here because the majority of my following is US-based.

My content that performs well on TikTok doesn’t perform the same on Instagram. I’m definitely going to have to rethink the way I film and the length of videos that I’m posting. But then there’s also other forms and other platforms that you can be posting on like YouTube Shorts, [which] is a big one.

I’m definitely thankful that I’ve built a community on Instagram, like a pretty solid community there. I’ll have that option. Whereas I feel like a lot of people are primarily TikTok, and they’re primarily based on TikTok. I definitely think that’s going to be an ongoing issue for a lot of people. I don’t make money off of the normal videos I post. I’m not monetising any of my content other than my paid campaigns.

Let’s say TikTok gets banned in the US, do you see yourself ever moving to focus more on your personal vintage shop, Augusta Vintage?

I try not to stress myself out too much about it. I still kind of consider myself a micro-influencer. So, I mean, even for me, there’s no guarantee that I’m going to be doing this for the next 10 years or forever.

I think the ban would be kind of nice because it would push me to focus on Instagram Reels. I‘ll utilise my TikTok content and repost it to Reels or sometimes I‘ll film something specifically for Reels, but typically if I‘m filming a video, my intent is to post it on TikTok.

I definitely think I will obviously have some more free time, and I would love to put in the time and energy into Augusta. My long-term goal in my life is to open up a store one day when I have the time to do that and the money to do that. So, maybe that’s something that I would do sooner than later. I would 100 per cent recruit my mother to help me because she’d love that, and I’ve always wanted to do something with my mom ever since I was little.

What advice would you give aspiring influencers if TikTok gets banned?

I mean, Instagram is going to change when TikTok, if TikTok is banned. It's inevitably going to change. I don't think any of us really know how it's going to change. It might be great. It might be awful. But that's going to have to be something that we just kind of take as it comes. It's always going to be unpredictable and it's scary. Since TikTok is an easier platform to post on and to grow on, people prioritise that. But if their priority shifts to Instagram, they might see a similar outcome. It's just going to be a matter of pushing out as much content as possible, but obviously in a genuine and authentic way.

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