Small businesses are living in limbo as a possible TikTok ban lingers in the United States.
“I didn't think there would be that many people out there that liked to watch some redneck from south Mississippi make soap,” said Jessie Whittington, owner of Country Lather Soap Works. “I’m sitting at 71,000 followers right now and that baffles me.”
Whittington started her business in 2020 and posted her first TikTok a few months later. She went from being a school bus driver, which she still does, to a business owner with an online customer base.
“I’ve never been a big social media person,” she said.
Other small business owners like Callie Goodwin found their customer base on TikTok as well.
"I decided to design my own cards,” said Callie Goodwin, owner of Sparks of Joy Co.. “It really took off when I started posting to TikTok." Goodwin started her business making pre-stamped greeting cards in 2020 right after the pandemic started.
“Over the last two and a half years, we’ve sold over 30,000 cards and 95 percent of my orders come because of TikTok,” Goodwin said.
Earlier in March, TikTok’s CEO Shou Chew testified before Congress. The Chinese-owned social media app is being questioned by the government for possible national security concerns due to ties to the Chinese communist Party.
Business owners said banning the app, which reports more than 150 million users in the United States, would hurt their business.
“A lot of small businesses have been very successful on TikTok because they've been able to directly get to their consumer without even having to sponsor their content,” said Sally Baalbaki-Yassine, a marketing professor in the College of Business at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Small businesses use different media platforms in different ways. They all have different strategies because they have different algorithms and ways that they show content to the consumer.”
“It just shows the power of how the TikTok for you page really allows you to get outside your bubble and outside the people you know and follow, because that's how the other platforms are set up,” Goodwin said.
In some cases, it’s been too much of a good thing. Viral videos can bring in a flood of customers that businesses may struggle to keep up with.
“I did have a TikTok that blew up. It got 1.3 million views and it brought in 800 orders over the course of 3 weeks, which is not something I was able to keep up with super well,” Goodwin said.
However, small businesses said without the platform, they aren’t sure what the future would hold.
“I would not be where I'm at right now without TikTok. I wholeheartedly believe that. I've grown to the point where now, I’m building a shop, because we're tired of living in a soap shop. I still work from home and there's soap stuff everywhere,” Whittington said.
“There are security issues all the way around. We live in a world where the internet is never going to be completely safe, so just realizing that an immediate ban on TikTok would impact not only small businesses, it would impact educators and the people that have built massive communities of friends,” Goodwin said.