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April 29, 2024

Some CT businesses keep wary eye on proposed federal TikTok ban

HBJ PHOTO | MICHAEL PUFFER Andrew Falce is the director of social media marketing at Glastonbury-based marketing and advertising firm CashmanKatz.

As federal lawmakers contemplate a potential ban on the Chinese-linked, short-form video hosting service TikTok, Glastonbury-based ad agency CashmanKatz is reminding clients to diversify their use of social media platforms.

“We tell our clients at CashmanKatz it’s very important to diversify your content; it’s very important to be all over social media because things like this happen all the time,” said Andrew Falce, director of social media marketing at CashmanKatz. “We see social media platforms shut down all the time.”

Usually, that’s because a once-trendy platform suddenly falls out of favor.

The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate in April voted in favor of a bill that could lead to a ban on TikTok, if the company’s China-based owner doesn’t agree to sell the company. In an unusual show of bipartisanship, lawmakers from both major parties agreed that China could use the platform to gather data on Americans, or try to influence their politics.

Connecticut’s seven-member Democratic Congressional delegation all supported the bill.

President Biden has said he’d sign the measure into law.

Falce said having a diverse social media presence is standard advice, but it’s a lesson his company is reinforcing with clients.

A TikTok ban wouldn’t be a big problem for large Connecticut businesses, which either use the platform sparingly or maintain a sophisticated and diverse social media profile. It’s more likely to hit “influencers,” small retailers and diverse cottage businesses launched through the platform.

“For instance, somebody who likes plants, they start creating short-form videos about plants and offering tips on how to care for your garden. And then they start selling plants through TikTok and grow a following, that becomes their small business and their identity,” Falce said.

According to, TikTok is by far the fastest-growing social media network, and is up to more than 1 billion active monthly users, including more than 150 million users in the U.S.

It’s been so successful that other social media platforms, including Facebook and YouTube, have adopted its vertical video format and style.

‘Backup plan’

Experts say that most businesses using TikTok should be able to pivot quickly to other platforms. That doesn’t mean they are happy about it.

Kayla Murphy

“I think the U.S. banning TikTok is absolutely stupid,” said 27-year-old Kayla Murphy, an influencer with 195,000 TikTok followers. “I think it’s really ridiculous. I think there’s way better things they could be doing.”

Murphy grew up in Connecticut. She lives in New York, but most of her content is still centered on the Nutmeg State. She began her career with editing and design jobs at local Connecticut newspapers, including the Bristol Press and Republican-American in Waterbury, then moved into marketing.

Her journey to becoming an influencer began on March 8, 2020, when she downloaded a short video about a visit to Silver Sands State Park on the shoreline in Milford.

The video took off in popularity, receiving 30,000 “likes” and enlisting 8,000 new followers for Murphy, who previously had 10. In 2021, she got her first paying gig — $100 to make a video clip for The Adventure Challenge, a scrapbook that directs participants to take photos accomplishing different prescribed activities. Since then, Murphy said she’s received sponsorships from Purina, Stop & Shop, FX, Hulu and others.

In January and February of this year, Murphy generated more than $5,000 in social-media sponsorship revenues.

She said she doubts a federal TikTok ban would survive a likely court challenge. But if it does, Murphy expects a comparable platform to emerge quickly, noting similar offerings already exist on other platforms.

She has more than 50,000 followers on Instagram and 13,000 on YouTube.

“You did bad business if you only limited yourself to TikTok,” Murphy said. “You shot yourself in the foot if you did that.”

Paddi LeShane

Paddi LeShane is the CEO of Hartford-based Sullivan & LeShane, which offers both lobbying and PR services in separate companies. LeShane said her firm represents several private schools and colleges that make use of TikTok.

Private schools can no longer count on the children of past graduates to maintain enrollment. So, they must reach out to prospective students, as well as parents, through various methods, including an active social media presence, LeShane said.

“If they don’t engage in TikTok, they can’t engage their populations,” she said.

LeShane said her firm also stresses the need for a diverse online presence, although she has not heard any concern from clients about the potential ban.

“You always have to have a backup plan,” LeShane said. “Like the old Boy Scout motto: ‘Be prepared.’”

Real impacts

Christopher Allen

Christopher Allen is the CEO of Avon-based iCleanse, a maker of chemical-free device disinfectant systems.

ICleanse units, which use UV-C light that kills 99.9% of pathogens, are used to mainly disinfect phones and tablets.

The serial entrepreneur bought the company in 2020, and quickly looked for ways to diversify its revenue streams.

The answer, Allen decided, was to incorporate a digital advertising component. The concept is similar to the video news and advertising clips that entertain motorists while they fuel their cars.

Much like the driver monitoring refueling, the phone owner isn’t going to walk away while the iCleanse works its magic — Allen recognized that captive consumer has value.

An iCleanse system displays ads on a screen during 15-second disinfecting cycles. Advertisements have become a key revenue source for the Avon-based company, which is negotiating a deal with TikTok.

Allen’s company now generates revenue from advertisers — including restaurants, real estate agents, plumbers and others — whose content is displayed on a screen during 15-second disinfecting cycles.

“We are the only advertising platform that takes the phone away from the person looking at the ad, so they don’t have a secondary screen to look at, which is usually the high distraction point,” Allen said.

Allen said he is currently pitching TikTok to display targeted, family friendly content on his iCleanse screens.

That opportunity could evaporate with a federal ban.

ICleanse devices can be found in locations like Hartford’s XL Center, the Connecticut Science Center, Bradley International Airport, and at grocery stores and restaurants. 

Allen said iCleanse has installed 160 devices over the past year, has contracts to install 250 more, and is in negotiation for another 2,000.

The installation costs host sites nothing, and they receive a small portion of ad revenue.

Allen said he understands privacy concerns, but believes federal lawmakers will be “hard-pressed,” and perhaps ill-advised, to enact a TikTok ban.

“It would hurt a number of businesses,” Allen said. “There are a lot of influencers that make a good deal of income, some of them millions of dollars, off this platform. As long as they are declaring it, it generates tax revenue for the federal government as well.”

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