How Your Content Strategy Changes if TikTok is Permanently Banned

Episode 21 How Your Content Strategy Changes if TikTok is Permanently Banned

Today, TikTok is arguably one of the most engaging social networking platforms in the world. Available in over 150 countries, with over 1 billion users, with downloads over 210 million times in the United States alone, this app is used by about 130 million Americans and 3.2 million Canadians per month. It is the 4th largest social networking site behind FB, YouTube and Instagram. Its user base is more pervasive among Generation Z. In 2022, TikTok’s annual revenue from ads came in at $11.04 billion, a 200% increase from 2021.

Recently lawmakers in Canada and US have continued to express concern that TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance maybe putting user sensitive data into the hands of the Chinese government. Recently, the US Federal government has banned TikTok on all government devices. The Canadian federal government including Ontario followed suit. India and Pakistan, had, already 2 years ago banned TikTok. Other countries on this bandwagon include France, Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Denmark, Taiwan, and Afghanistan.

By all accounts, there is a real possibility that users and businesses in Canada may soon further restrict access to TikTok. This will have significant impacts on business, especially access to and engaging the coveted Generation Z.

We invited Sergey Ross, a video content creator, YouTuber with an in-depth background in marketing. He has worked with businesses from startups to enterprises on podcast production, demand generation, marketing and content strategy. He recently co-founded a new type of video production company called SWAY, bringing creator knowledge to B2B. Sergey’s experience makes him the ideal expert to delve into the best practices when it comes to effectively interacting and engaging with your customers. We discussed best practices for these digital formats, and addressed the implications of the real possibility of TikTok’s permanent ban and what this will mean to founders.

Transcript
Hessie Jones

So it seems everyone is jumping on this bandwagon for TikTok. We see a lot of the ripple effects that are being felt here in the west and even in the EU countries. India actually banned TikTok a few years ago, and we all know about the current security risks, especially in the collection of user information that’s allegedly being shared with the Chinese government and is used for surveillance and potentially manipulation purposes. So I will leave this specific issue to be debated in a future episode. But this week on Tech Uncensored, I want to focus on the TikTok economy that has been created. My name is Hessie Jones, and despite what side of the aisle you’re on in this debate, we can’t actually argue that TikTok has created an industry. We can’t argue that it has created an industry that has had these profound effects on business as well as users. Apparently, what I read is that influencers can earn anywhere from $500 to even $20,000, depending on the level of audience engagement. It’s a medium that’s consumed primarily by the Gen Z era, and it’s in 150 countries, 1 billion users worldwide, and it’s consumed by about 130,000,000 Americans and 3.2 million Canadians on a monthly basis.

 

Hessie Jones

So we’re also seeing in 2022 that TikTok’s annual revenue from ads came in at about $11 billion, and that was a 200% increase from 2021. So the implications are that if TikTok is permanently banned, it doesn’t only impact some of these users. The income that’s generated from this emerging influencer economy is also going to be impacted. And then not to mention the small businesses, the medium businesses who have actually come to rely on it to generate their own growth. So I’m pleased today to welcome Sergey Ross, who is a video content creator. He’s a YouTuber, and he’s worked with businesses to leverage this power of content when it comes to these emerging formats in video, in podcasting, in demand generation. He’s also the co founder of a new video production company called Sway to bring his creator knowledge to the B2B space. So Sergey will help us dissect the importance of the more coveted content formats like TikTok and what founders should do if this platform is permanently banned in Canada. So, welcome, Sergey.

 

Sergey Ross

Thank you, Hessie. Pleasure to be here. Lots to talk about.

Hessie Jones

Yes, absolutely. I’m so excited about this. Okay, so you consider yourself a YouTuber, right? Super! Right? Okay! So you profess your views on various topics. I’ve seen your YouTube videos where you’re passionate about the events in Ukraine and Russia, and your videos have been viewed by tens of thousands sorry, tens of thousands of users, I would say. So suffice it to say, you are early to TikTok. Right. You are a fan of this channel.

 

Sergey Ross

Definitely. I think it’s probably the TikTok growth really skyrocketed last year, 2022, and especially when you start speaking about the war and Ukraine and political events, it’s incredibly polarizing. It attracts a lot of people. If you have strong opinion, like usually I do, then it attracts even more people. So it just creates this effect of commenting and liking or hating the content and that helps the algorithm paradoxically, or maybe not.

 

Hessie Jones

Let’s talk about I’m not sure who he is. He’s a social media influencer, I would assume. But his name is Brendan Gone, and he said that if TikTok is banned, YouTube will become the de facto platform over Instagram. So what he says is, and I quote, “it fosters deeper creator audience relationships and it offers the most creator-friendly revenue sharing model. Meanwhile, Instagram is still facing backlash over prioritizing reels and has just paused their creator bonus program.” So tell me what you think about his comments about YouTube over Instagram.

 

Sergey Ross

I think he’s right. I think that YouTube is a better model and in terms of the revenue sharing and in terms of taking over potential space that will be freed up if TikTok leaves, it likely will be YouTube shorts because YouTube is valuing creator community more in a way than Instagram. Instagram, it’s always Facebook, it’s always Meta, it’s always Zuckerberg and people don’t like that. I would also say it is not a done deal because that’s not the way that apps work. App could have a terrible perception of TikTok, yet it still could be very popular. There’s nothing stopping Meta with coming up with a different creator revenue sharing model that is very attractive and is better than YouTube to only to grab more people to use that platform. So it’s not a done deal at all. Facebook, with all their reputation and negative reputation, they still know how to bring attention. It’s not worth this completely taking them off the map. But immediately, as things stand, it is likely will be YouTube instead of Instagram.

 

Hessie Jones

It’ll be interesting though, because you mentioned Facebook, whether or not they’re able to do this. Because I don’t know many Gen Z’s that are on. Okay, so Facebook is one thing, Instagram could be a different case. Do you agree?

 

Sergey Ross

Yes. I mean, the reason I mentioned Facebook is because obviously Instagram is a part of their pop, owned by Facebook and branding-wise, they do look a little bit different, but still it is that one evil or friendly empire depending on which part of the camp, you’re in.

 

Hessie Jones

It’s the devil you know right?

 

Sergey Ross

Exactly! So we’ll have to see it’s difficult to say if TikTok will be banned. If they will be banned, it’s 150,000,000 Americans or you mentioned 140, I think it’s at 150 or roughly that range using every month and 2.3 ad revenue worldwide. That’s big shoes to fill and YouTube would love to take over, or anybody else for that matter.

 

Hessie Jones

Yeah, exactly. Okay, so tell me what your specific perspective is on this whole debate about the TikTok banning and the founder going in front of Congress pleading, I wouldn’t say that he was pleading, but even for the content that you create the security of the information, of your information, that you’re putting out there. What impact does this have, let’s say, right now on your business and what it could have if it were to be banned?

 

Sergey Ross

Yeah, since I have spoken about politics over the last year quite extensively, and China is very involved with Eastern Europe and Ukraine and Russia, I have a perspective what China is trying to do. China is looking and even before we get to that, there are two ways to look at TikTok. There’s one looking at from government politics perspective, and there’s another one looking from a creator perspective. So if we look from the government perspective, I will say it does make sense to ban TikTok, because Chinese Communist Party, they absolutely have ability to make anyone who is on the territory of China, any company, to comply with their regulations and take their data. Now, that’s a possibility. And Apple found out that when Chinese started to crank on a foreign western technology companies trying to put more emphasis on their own companies. Chinese world perspective right now is to be a peacemaker and to put as much influence on the world as possible, specifically on the countries that are not under United States umbrella, which mostly countries in the south, and use international platforms like United Nations to do so. They want to be another superpower.

 

Sergey Ross

They are a superpower, they want more. So it’s a global competition, superpower to superpower. From that perspective, even if TikTok is claiming, and this probably true, that yes, we have the servers for US users on US soil, and we are doing this project, Texas project that they’re doing, which is 1.5 billion, to make sure that there are folks from US government that can oversee the data, it’s still a Chinese company. There still is going to be a way to use a, quote unquote balloon to somehow extract the data. So for the United States, it’s a national security threat and the way they would view it as a potential threat of going head to head with a big power like China. And from that perspective, it absolutely makes sense to ban it, because they are the biggest competitor and they will be for the next decades, which was very clear by Xi Jinping statements that he made when he visited Moscow even before. And we don’t even take the Taiwan part. So that’s on a government. And it does make a lot of sense, because TikTok does collect your content, it can look at your messages, it can look at your email, all of it.

 

Sergey Ross

And as we know in it world, if this data has been recorded and it’s been sent over the internet to one server, it can easily end up on the right server on the other end of the world. That’s quite obvious from a creator perspective, that would be terrible. Absolutely. Because there’s no other platform right now that allows to creators get so much organic reach, meaning make your content as discoverable as possible, especially when you’re starting early, attracting that many comments, that many views, building your brand and then building a certain influence. Nobody allows that as much as TikTok. And that would be quite terrible, not only for people who are already making money, but also for people who are starting to make money.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, and that makes sense. And I assume that that, can I ask and you could just allude to that you don’t have to give specifics, but given your, I guess, engagement with the TikTok channel, would you say that it has significant impact on the performance of your business?

 

Sergey Ross

Not at the moment. Not at the moment, because I’ve used TikTok primarily for my personal channels as a content creator first and not as a business owner. In terms of the business, it will have an impact because we haven’t started working on TikTok from the business perspective because we’re relatively early and there’s lots of other channels to develop which we will speak in a moment. But it will have an impact because of that organic reach. And truth to be told, TikTok does attract a lot of older people, 40, 50 plus people are on TikTok and content works when people leave comments. And if there are real comments and there are on TikTok, that is something that it’s a valuable channel that we can potentially lose.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, so take us back a little bit before TikTok and I guess in the last so many years, you actually became a fan of video content. Was there a defining moment for you that brought you to doing what you’re doing today?

 

Sergey Ross

I think I’ve always wanted to be a reporter. I always wanted to be on TV and speaking on TV. I just always enjoyed it. Back before I immigrated to Canada, when I was in Ukraine, it was just fun. It was amazing, and I always enjoyed it. It was radio or TV. And then that was like before, radio was still kind of relevant, but not as much. And so there was always this moment of trying to find a way. How do you do that? Because at first when I came to Canada, I didn’t speak English nearly well enough to be on air anywhere. So then in 2018, I said I wanted to be making videos. This was just something that I felt was incredibly important for me personally as a creative person. And I started creating all kinds of videos, different formats, primarily for YouTube, some for TikTok. And then it kind of developed. And you want to do more. Now I want to do more. And then 2022, obviously, political events that happened, it just made it very easy in a way to find topics because it’s like, okay, let’s talk about that. And even though I’m not a politician, I don’t have any majors in politics.

 

Sergey Ross

I have a perspective as a Ukrainian. So that became quite valuable.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, so this space is fairly nascent, I would say YouTube and video isn’t. But the way that TikTok has been able to create somewhat of a more, I’d say accessible channel for people to create really quick video in fairly easy ways. Like what kind of experimentation have you actually done from a content perspective and what has worked for you?

 

Sergey Ross

Yeah, I think it’s interesting because a lot of creators or people who are creating content on YouTube started with something silly, very very silly. You go back to their videos and a lot of them hidden their videos. Now it starts with usually with very stupid, terrible comedy. Like awful, awful was all I also made quite a few videos that didn’t do very well. Lip syncs. I’ve done some parody videos that are right now are hidden because that would look very strange. But there was those few and then some coaching and self development which is always interesting. Like how do you live better life? So there were a lot of topic experimentation and then format experimentation. Purely voiceover videos with just walking around with a camera, just showing things and just purely speaking into the camera. I’ve done stand up style videos trying to talk about comedy or just cover certain topics. I think it was around just everyday life, which was extraordinarily hard to do if you’re not a comedian full time. And then on TikTok I didn’t experiment that much. It was mostly talking head videos. Mostly talking head. It was just purely and then some of the videos I also tried on TikTok were repurposed short clips from other interviews that I would mix up with different music and add effects like it was with a few Silicon Valley CEOs and then some of them would really work well.

 

Hessie Jones

So tell me about a story about one of those Silicon Valley CEOs. Is that almost like a benefit for an emerging YouTuber or someone who actually wants to do this full time?

 

Sergey Ross

You mean from a perspective of just speaking about those?

 

Hessie Jones

Exactly. Like what example can you give about what was the impact of it?

 

Sergey Ross

Yes. So this is a little so that specific example on TikTok that was a video about Elizabeth Holmes eyes that did fair enough. Exactly. There was a funny I mean, I just found it to be very bizarre and actually a few million other people did, as we found out. So that clip did very well and that was actually from a video when I was explaining the theranos case on YouTube that did quite well in terms of views. But what you are referring to this was around 2019 I started a podcast series and I spoke with a lot of CEOs and entrepreneurs and at a certain point I was interviewing somebody from a UK, a lady who was in charge of a 500 people company. And then their PR person was there and they liked my interview. They really liked the final output. And then so she was connecting me in the future with quite high profile people in the United States to do interviews with. And one of them was Oleg, who was a CEO of a company, People.ai, they’ve raised a lot of money in Silicon Valley and there were a few other people that was purely on a podcast format and I don’t think I released it.

 

Sergey Ross

Well, actually one video is on my YouTube, but it was mostly on Spotify and Apple podcasts. So there was an experimentation on a podcast front purely because I really like interview genre in general. And that was another experimentation that I actually started with before going into video.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, so let’s talk about best practices and some of the learnings that you’ve been able to garner along the way. So let’s take your company for example. You’re launching or you’ve launched a new company called Sway. So take us through your thought process when you’re actually developing, let’s say, your content strategy for this. How would you go about it, understanding who your audience is for Sway?

 

Sergey Ross

Yeah, I think it starts with a unique point of view. What are we trying to say? Who are we trying to be? Very generic, very vague answer, but it’s true. You need to have a certain unique position. And what is the unique position? For us, it’s just making videos that want to be consumed by people and videos that are quite simple to make, but maybe they’re not the sexiest looking, but they’re focused on consumption and they’re done at scale. So we look at the distribution from a YouTube perspective or from a creator perspective, not from a traditional creative TV person who edits videos. And that’s what they do because we look at it as marketing people. So what we have done, we obviously built a website, we looked at the point of view and then we identified a few topics that we have a very strong opinion on. What are the challenges in the industry that exist? What is the gap that we’re trying to fill in the market? And we started speaking about it on LinkedIn. We started posting either a podcast with my co founder, a few soundbites short clips there, and text based posts.

 

Sergey Ross

That was just the initial start. And then later on we started a podcast called Winning on Video that is very specific with people who know a lot, where we will speak about what specifically have they done to grow certain channel that makes that just purely for brand awareness. The other thing we’ve decided to do is, and that is related to our goal, which I’ll speak about in a moment, is to build a database of the best B2B companies that do video really well and break it down and show exactly why they do video well. For example, Zoominfo did a specific series that worked really well. Why? Well, there’s scripting, then there’s distribution, there’s thumbnails, there’s titles, we’ll break it down and we’ll show what it is. Plus there will be a short interview with that content creator from Zoom Info that led the whole effort. And so we’ll have a database, you would call it a Swipe file of the best B two B companies that do video well. And we will explain why they do well. So you could copy it or you could take an inspiration from it. And the reason for that is because for our company, for Sway, we wanted to be an influencer style company, not just purely to make money and to edit videos, because there are lots of companies that do that.

 

Sergey Ross

What we want to do is build a community to help, to teach people how they can do it themselves, how to build a video framework and the whole video engine and apply it within the company so they can consistently produce videos, almost like a YouTuber, but do it on a B2B level, because there’s a giant potential for that. And so that’s the reason we wanted to focus a lot on brand awareness and focus a lot on content that people would find interesting just in general for video. And then later on we will speak about specifics in B2B. Does that make sense?

 

Hessie Jones

Yeah, it does. So in terms of efficacy for each channel, how do you know? Tell me about the algorithms and this is purely from a performance perspective, what are the signals that we need to be aware of that will make some of the content that we put in some of these channels more effective? How do you do that?

 

Sergey Ross

Yeah, I think context with the platform, what is the context and who’s on the platform? If it’s LinkedIn, it is something a little bit more professional. So maybe taking it a few notches down on memes, but still being personal, you still don’t want to sound like we started this webinar at 08:00 p.m., go sign up, that’s a bit weird. Or we install this new poll bar in our office. Not the most engaging content, not the most original. So context of the platform, it’s more related to business, it has to be relevant to the audience, something that people would find valuable. How do you know what is valuable? You would find out who you want to speak to, like what are the types of people you would want to be speaking to. We knew it with Sway because it was quite obvious. It’s directors, VPs of marketing or content leads because that’s who is involved in video production. So for us it was relatively easy. You would need to find out who you need to speak to and just follow a lot of people who are active on LinkedIn and see the type of content they like and what resonates with them.

 

Sergey Ross

Understanding that context helps you identify the type of posts to create. It’s almost impossible to do it any other way. It’s going to be very difficult if you’re just posts about something that you have a cool idea about. It may perform, but most often it will not. It’s just finding and spending a lot of time browsing and clicking and viewing comments and seeing what resonates with these specific people, which is extraordinarily hard to do. We can make a separate episode where I could speak how to do that because LinkedIn doesn’t help, owned by Microsoft, but it’s just finding that context and it’s a similar thing on YouTube.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, I just wanted to add it’s funny because I forgot that LinkedIn was owned by Microsoft, but on that point you could actually take their ChatGPT and see if you could filter specific accounts and say, okay, what is the commonality in terms of popular content based on views or whatever among these specific?

 

Sergey Ross

Oh, nice.

 

Hessie Jones

No, I’m saying you could probably do that at some point.

 

Sergey Ross

Probably do, exactly. Exactly. I think that’s a hope. That’s a hope. But the way that LinkedIn has evolved, it does leave a lot to be desired, especially with how Sales Navigator works. But yes, there’s certainly a potential.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, let’s pivot a little bit on audio. So podcasting, you do podcasting as well. Tell me about your views on, I guess, the current state of podcasting today. I think because of, I don’t know, I’ve heard seen reports about how podcast shows, it’s increasing, it’s on the rise. Listeners worldwide are growing. I think I saw something like 465,000,000 listeners as of 2023. But on the flip side, the actual advertising revenue year over year is actually going down. So what are your thoughts on that?

 

Sergey Ross

Podcasting, a lot of shows, very few good ones. Very few, because very few understand how to do a good interview and how to stand out. That really comes down to marketing. It comes down to finding good guests. With podcasting, primarily, you’re looking for either to create high quality content or to build relationships to sell something later. It’s very difficult to do both. It is possible, but very difficult. So if you were to do high quality content, I would probably recommend just to steal the format that CNN, BBC Garden and Sky News use when they interview somebody. And it’s a four or five minute interview. It’s a short, very specific, very to the point that one is easier. If you could steal that format, make a short interview with somebody who knows what they’re talking about, that show will already resonate and probably do well. The reason I’m suggesting that and not doing more like humor or comedy or more creative styles, it is possible if you already have that potential, but it’s very difficult to do and there’s a lot of nuance. If you want just like a copy paste model, a media model works quite well.

 

Sergey Ross

If you want to do longer interviews, that’s fine. That’s probably going to be more of a relationship building component. We’ll have very few listeners.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, perfect. Okay, so let’s talk about how you track performance. How do you attribute content execution from the perspective of actually leads and conversions?

 

Sergey Ross

Yeah, you would ask a person, Where did they come? And you would ask, Where do they come? How do they hear about you? And if the content was really good, they’ll tell you, I actually saw this webinar, I saw this podcast, it was amazing. And they will mention it either in the message or in the phone call. That would be the way to know that it worked. Another way if they liked it, another way if they commented on it, an assure way would be to ask them. It’s very difficult to attribute it directly with some software.

 

Hessie Jones

Oh, you can’t okay, so you’re saying that it has to actually be somehow captured either through talk or some kind of email or, I don’t know, text.

 

Sergey Ross

Yeah, it’s very difficult to do it any other way to do it. At scale. It’s more likes and comments, but in terms of there is software that promises to do so, but I’ve rarely seen it work the way that it should.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, so how do you know, like, over the long haul, let’s say you’ve done 50 videos already. How do you know when things are working, when things are resonating?

 

Sergey Ross

Yeah. People will tell you about it. They’ll comment on it. They’ll send you a direct message. Anytime you speak with somebody, your audience will mention it to you. You also will see the metrics on whatever format of the podcast or video you’re doing. You’ll just see a certain spike quite quickly. You’re averaging 30 views. Another video does 200. That’s awesome. Amazing. What did we do differently? So the baseline always varies depending on the platform, depending on the type of content. But then if you see a certain spike, then you would know, okay, something worked well.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, so last question. What does the future look like with these emerging formats? You yourself, I would assume, are Gen Z. Right?

 

Sergey Ross

You are a Gen Z millennial. I think I’m a millennial. I’m not very fluent on the cutout.

 

Hessie Jones

I don’t know. I have a feeling 1999-2000 is when millennial ends, or sorry, Gen Z starts, but you probably have a similar mindset or you know, what resonates with them. How do you think content is going to evolve in the coming years?

 

Sergey Ross

I think it’s going to be short form. Short form is going to be even more powerful because it just works so well. It’s not going away. And certainly certain United States officials could say that it’s distracting, it destroys our kids. I understand that point, but we’re long past the point of trying to put it back. It’s just not happening. It’s going to be short form content, bite size content. Likely we’ll see competitors to Twitter immerging because people will always want fast information, contextual information that is fun, and it’s memes. It is short videos. We’ll likely see evolution of that. The bigger evolution will happen with AR. Likely, Apple will be announcing their headset later this year. It will be the first one, certainly the biggest company ever to get into it. It’s not going to be VR like Meta has done, and other companies, but it’s going to be AR. It’s still going to be bulky with an external battery, but we at least will get a glimpse of what could we do with communication when our real world is overlaid with virtual world. And that could be an interesting preview of what’s about to come, because I could imagine content, certain content will appear from it, but it will always come down to whether this can be replicated to the masses and not follow the Google Glass trajectory.

 

Hessie Jones

I don’t think I’ve heard of Google Glass in the last couple of years. I have a feeling it’s kind of secretly tucked away.

 

Sergey Ross

It’s been discontinued. It’s been discontinued.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, perfect. Okay, so I think that’s all we have time for today. Sergey, where can people find you?

 

Sergey Ross

So use Sway co use Sway co that’s our company page if you want to connect on LinkedIn, probably is the easiest. I don’t remember the actual URL that I use. I think it’s Sergey Ross Live. Sergey Ross Live. I think without periods, commas, or spaces. I think that’s what it is. And we could probably put something in the description. And if you guys really want to connect, leave a comment to this page when this comes out, and I’ll find you.

 

Hessie Jones

Okay, perfect. Thank you so much. So if you and our audience have any ideas on topics that you want us to cover, please email us at communications@altitudeaccelerator.ca. We’re also on podcasts, so Tech Uncensored wherever you find your podcast. Thanks for joining me today. I’m Hessie Jones, and until next week, have fun and stay safe.

 

Host Information
Hessie Jones

Hessie Jones is an Author, Strategist, Investor and Data Privacy Practitioner, advocating for human-centred AI, education and the ethical distribution of AI in this era of transformation. 

She currently serves as the Innovations Manager at Altitude Accelerator. She provides the necessary support for Altitude Accelerator’s programs including Incubator and Investor Readiness. She will be the liaison among key stakeholders to provide operational support and ultimately drive founder success. 

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