As top government officials aggressively push to expel TikTok from the U.S., expect state tourism offices to put the brakes on their growing flow of marketing dollars into the short-form video platform.
Multiple state tourism agencies ended their growing participation on the short-form video sharing platform TikTok to comply with their state executive orders. As they exit, they plan to move the resources allocated for TikTok into their other social media channels.
South Dakota Governor Krisiti Noem issued an executive order on November 30 stating all state employees and agencies may not use TikTok on government devices. Within the first two weeks of December, the governors of Texas, South Carolina, Maryland, Oklahoma, Utah, Alabama, Iowa, Idaho and Georgia issued similar orders, each referencing TikTok’s ownership by Chinese company Bytedance, making it subject to the Chinese government’s interests.
It’s also not just governor bans. Arkansas state agencies received a directive from their information system division last week to not use TikTok on state devices, according to Jeff LeMaster, chief communications officer of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. There’s a bill under discussion in the Arkansas state legislature to ban the app on state agency devices.
A large and growing segment of U.S. tourism agencies are now not allowed to use a social media platform that hosts 750 million users worldwide. TikTok is popular with younger audiences around the world and has emerged as a rising competitor to Google in travel discovery.
While the bans have been primarily done by Republican state governors, the ban could be nationwide soon. Senator (R-Florida) Marco Rubio introduced a bill with bipartisan support that would ban TikTok in the U.S. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill that would ban federal employees from downloading or using the app on government devices. That bill now has to be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and signed by President Joe Biden.
Multiple executive orders cite FBI Director Christopher Wray’s warnings that TikTok poses a national security issue, and the app could be used by the Chinese government to influence American users, spy on them or control their devices.
Before removing its account, South Dakota Department of Tourism accumulated 62,000 followers and planned to allocate $70,000 toward advertising on TikTok for the shoulder season, the agency’s first advertising investment in the platform, according to Global Media and Public Relations Director Katlyn Svendsen. The tourism office’s social media team had invested time to understand the platform and the audience and craft creative content.
Arkansas was crafting a TikTok content strategy and planned to post its first video, according to Arkansas’ LeMaster. “We were starting with Northwest Arkansas and Arkansas River Valley and we had begun collecting some content from those areas,” he said.
Utah was in the middle of a standard omnichannel campaign switch. “We were right in our ski campaign and then getting ready to move into our Southern Utah campaign, which focuses on our national parks,” said Utah Office of Tourism Director of Marketing and Communication Ben Cook.
Some of the restricted state tourism agencies didn’t have a TikTok account. “We did not actively use the platform nor was TikTok part of our social media strategy to promote tourism for Maryland,” said Maryland Department Office of Tourism Communications Manager Leslie Troy.
State tourism offices will divert the resources they had in TikTok to their other preexisting social media accounts. State tourism offices usually have multiple social media channels, according to Amir Eylon, CEO of destination research firm Longwoods International .
“We have other social media channels to reach out and get to the traveler,” said South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Director Duane Parrish. For South Carolina, TikTok was behind Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest in terms of importance as a social media channel.
South Dakota plans to move its $70,000 allocation intended for TikTok advertising into other channels like Facebook and Instagram, according to Svendsen. Arkansas’ tourism office had been in internal discussions “to start prioritizing advertising dollars on TikTok and we have paused on our conversation for now and maybe revisit them in the near future,” said Arkansas’ LeMaster.
With the uncertainty over TikTok’s future in the U.S., traditional social media giants may turn out to be a safer alternative as destination marketing organizations embrace short form vertical video marketing. “We are digging in and doubling down on vertical video, but we’ll just find the right platform,” Utah’s Cook said.
Google and Meta have been promoting YouTube Shorts and Instagram Reels as their short form vertical video answers to TikTok. The state tourism offices of Utah, South Dakota, South Carolina and Arkansas each told Skift they will divert more of their resources intended for TikTok to Instagram Reels, YouTube or both. “In the meantime, we are going to shift our short form focus to other platforms such as Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts,” said Arkansas’ LeMaster.
One of the ways tourism authorities engage with the platform is to collaborate with influencers to create viral content. South Dakota, for example, hosted “The Corn Kid” for an influencer initiative at less than $10,000, according to Svendsen.
State tourism offices will instead collaborate more with influencers on the competing platforms. TikTok influencers often have Instagram accounts with large followings, according to Clayton Reid, CEO of MMGY Global, a travel and hospitality marketing agency.
“We’ve already started discussions with them around redirecting to their other platforms like Instagram Reels,” Utah’s Cook said. “The influencers we’ve used and contracted with have other platforms available to them.”
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Photo credit: Multiple state tourism agencies have discontinued using TikTok Olivier Bergeron / Unsplash