TikTok's countdown begins

A lesson in managing employees on social media, Musk defends sharing violent footage online, and more...

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AI generated image of a young woman sitting on a hill looking at her mobile while the sun sets behind her with the TikTok logo as the sun,

Happy Monday!

Spare a thought for what was the growth content marketing team at Tesla. About 40 members were given their marching orders as part of wider layoffs at the struggling EV maker. This comes just one year after being brought onboard to ‘experiment’ with advertising. CEO Elon Musk responded to the news being reported by throwing shade at the team for their marketing efforts on X, posting: “The ads were far too generic – could’ve been any car.” Thanks, boss!

P.S. Read to the end to find out why Elon Musk has gone too far with X this time, and all the best reporting and resources from last week!

For anyone with us for the first time, welcome to Inbound News! Just 10-15 minutes every Monday to catch up on the previous week. I cover the stories that matter with smart analysis and resources to help make sense of all the noise. But always with a healthy dose of skepticism and self-awareness. 😉 

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🎨 Creator economy

Chick-fil-A shows how not to manage employees on socials

Miri, aka @mirithesiren on TikTok, started working at Chick-fil-A four months ago. She posted videos of the employee meal she was provided for free every day she worked there. She started each video with “It’s a great day at Chick-fil-A”, and provided a detailed and honest review of what she received. These videos received millions of views in total. She also started to post reviews after paying for the products herself, with this one now boasting over three million views. She managed to gain over 50 thousand followers during this time.

You’d think the marketing team at Chick-fil-A would be rapt with all this engaging content for free, right? Well, you’d be wrong! Miri posted a video in which she recapped the benefits of her videos, including promoting new Chick-fil-A products and connecting with the community she serves. But then she said after her last video went viral and hit 2 million views, upper management and the PR team (!) advised her that she was breaking a rule in the employee handbook.

She further clarified that the rule was in place before she started her videos, and that they were not interested in making an exception or collaborating with her. The PR team confirmed they actually love her videos, as they are fun and engaging, and they can see how much Miri loves Chick-fil-A. But to repeat, they aren’t willing to collaborate. Bless her, Miri still started the video with her catchphrase that it was a great day despite what the PR team was doing to her.

Although philosophical at the end of the video about Chick-fil-A being a business, she was rightly sad that despite her success and their love of the videos they couldn’t see a way to work together. But Miri also very cleverly signalled that she also saw this as a way to move on from Chick-fil-A and use her skills to promote other brands.

Chick-fil-A also let her keep the videos up, which was the one smart move on their part. But it’s obvious they missed a massive opportunity to collaborate with a proven communicator passionate about their brand. They could have easily chosen to let her keep doing what she was doing, and work with her to promote her content more and attend in-person marketing events.

Sure, she technically broke a rule in the employee handbook and it could be seen as rewarding this, which some other employees may complain about. But this is a classic example of the limitations of blanket rules for employee social media use. Simply put, Miri wasn’t damaging the brand and was actually achieving the opposite, which their marketing team should have embraced instead of shutting down.

She now has over 128K followers, so the publicity has been good for her. She has also snagged her first paid collaboration with fast-food rival Shake Shack to promote a chicken sandwich deal on Sundays. The first video has now gained 3.7 million views after one week, while the second video for the campaign has gained over 200,000 views after three days. The discount code for the promo was chicken Sunday, which may or may not be some nice shade thrown at Chick-fil-A.

Over to you next, Aldi.

👍️ Social media

TikTok bill signed into law

The US Senate passed a package to provide billions in aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan… and a measure forcing TikTok parent company ByteDance to sell the social media platform or face a national ban. The bill passed comfortably with a vote of 79-18.

The vote in the Senate came just days after the House of Representatives passed the bill. An internal memo at TikTok after the passing of this bill stated that they would be mounting a legal challenge if the White House proceeded to sign the bill. Their head of public policy in the Americas also told employees that they were “inspired and overwhelmed” by the support shown by TikTok creators.

President Biden then signed the bill into law as expected. TikTok CEO Shou Chew posted a two-minute video reply on TikTok, in which he stated that they “aren’t going anywhere”, and the “facts and Constitution are on our side.” The company also held a global all-hands meeting imploring employees to stay focused. Apparently not everyone is up for the fight though, with the genera counsel of both TikTok and ByteDance indicating he’s going to step down from his role once they’re ready to proceed with the transition to his replacement.

The signing of the bill into law comes after the spending of a fair amount of time and money trying to stop it from happening. Reports reveal TikTok spent over $4.5 million on a TV and digital ad campaign this year, while ByteDance spent $2.6 million on in-house lobbyists targeting Congress and federal officials during the first three months of the year.

The expected litigation will take time to wind its way through the courts, and TikTok has had some prior court wins nationally in 2020 and last November in Montana. But arguments in these cases were somewhat different. Assuming the intent of the law remains, ByteDance will either have to sell TikTok or withdraw from the US market. One report indicates ByteDance will prefer to shut down TikTok if litigation fails.

Like I said in the last issue of Inbound News, if they do sell it, it will likely be without some of its key IP. Such a scenario reportedly may include selling it minus the algorithm that was created before they applied it to a social media platform. It’s not clear who would still want to buy it at that point. And even if someone does, it’s not exactly easy making social media profitable, including currently TikTok itself despite its popularity. There’s a good chance whoever does buy it will live to regret it. Shades of News Corp’s purchase of MySpace perhaps (search it up, kids). With most rivals already copying TikTok’s playbook for their own platforms, plus likely antitrust scrutiny, don’t expect any of them to line up for it either. They will gladly take their creators and ad revenue though!

If you’re a creator or brand reliant on TikTok, you really need to build your audience on other platforms. The good news is that TikTok has nine months to be sold to someone else, which can be extended another three months by President Biden if they have found a buyer and need more time to wrap up the sale. Litigation may extend this timeframe further, but better to plan for the worst while hoping for the best if you’re dependent on TikTok. There are plenty of other short-form video options nowadays, including Reels on Instagram and Facebook, YouTube Shorts, and Snapchat, while even platforms like LinkedIn are now prioritizing video.

And if you’re wondering, TikTok Notes, Capcut, Lemon8, and any other app owned by ByteDance is covered by the broad text in this law. So best to also wean yourself off any of these apps you’re currently using. If you haven’t already, make sure you’ve exported all your content from all ByteDance apps and continue to do so until we know their fate.

Season 20 Fire GIF by The Simpsons

Are you right on that edge, too? Source: Giphy

⚡️ Social media quick bites

Meta (Instagram / Threads)




💫 AI quick bites

✍️ The best reporting last week

The robotic nerd from “The Social Network” is no more

The Meta-morphosis of Zuckerberg: Vanessa Friedman investigates what’s behind the change in the New York Times. [Free article]

LinkedIn’s AI-powered collaborative articles divide opinion

“Cesspool of AI crap” or smash hit?: Sharon Goldman writes in Fortune about the disconnect between user reactions and LinkedIn’s PR pieces.

The story of how Google Search died: Edward Zitron pulls no punches analysing material from Google’s antitrust trial to see where it went wrong.

Ads for explicit ‘AI girlfriends’ are swarming Meta platforms

Thousands of ads found: Emanuel Maiberg in 404 Media and Lydia Morrish in Wired both write about Meta promoting the dubious services to users.

Gen Z are recreating MySpace with new Nospace app

Making social media social again: Tanya Tianyi Chen writes in Bustle about Tiffany Zhong’s app that has over 380,000 people waiting for its release.

🧠 Resources to level up

7 content marketing conferences to attend

The best ones in 2024: Ryan Law from Ahrefs details the ones he’s looking forward to the most this year.

Move past ROI when calculating the impact of content

Focus on the full business value of content: Michael Estrin explains the ideal measurement strategy on the Content Marketing Institute blog.

Organic vs paid social media

The ideal hybrid strategy: Tamilore Oladipo from Buffer explains the value of using both organic and paid social media in your overall marketing strategy.

Hone your competitive edge against generative AI

5 ways to succeed: Amanda Nativdad explains on the SparkToro blog how you are your moat against the onslaught of AI-generated content online.

TikTok influencer marketing

Guide to successful campaigns: Alyssa Hirose breaks down examples of how to do it right on the Hootsuite blog (for the next 9 to 12 months at least!).

😲 Really?

Elon Musk really needs to grow up

Arguing to publish footage of a stabbing: Two weeks ago, Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was stabbed while saying mass at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church in a suburb of Sydney, Australia. A live stream on the church’s website showed a teenager mounting a knife attack on the bishop, who was injured along with three others who came to his defence. The incident was subsequently deemed a terrorist incident and seven teenagers linked to the attack were arrested. Australia's eSafety Commissioner, an independent regulator, threatened social media companies with large fines if they did not remove videos of the attack that are circulating online. X agreed to block the video from Australian users, but refused to do so globally. A federal court in Australia has now ruled twice for X to remove access to the video globally as the Australian Federal Police argued the footage could be used to inspire further terrorism. Musk has repeatedly used the phrase “eSafety Commissar” in a childish reference to communism and is framing their refusal to remove the footage in terms of standing up for ‘free speech’. The Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has stated that Musk "thinks he's above the law but also above common decency." It’s hard to argue with that, and it should be impossible to argue that allowing footage of a person being violently stabbed somehow equates to ‘free speech’.

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