Brandon Doerrer
Apr 9, 2023

Meta’s Reels is building a home for TikTok refugees

Leading TikTok-focused agencies are encouraging clients to diversify their social media presences, with the Meta product getting the first look.

TikTok creators won't be totally left in the dark if the app is banned, say experts.
TikTok creators won't be totally left in the dark if the app is banned, say experts.

As the Biden administration threatens to ban TikTok in the U.S. and entities at the state and local level do the same, agencies focused on the platform are weighing what to do if the app disappears.

If a consumer ban does happen, other social media platforms have comparable offerings that would make transitioning from TikTok feasible, says Evan Horowitz, CEO and cofounder of Movers+Shakers.

One benefit of Meta closely copying TikTok with Reels is that agencies such as Movers+Shakers, which markets itself on driving brand success with millenials and Gen Z, see a doable transition to Reels should a ban occur.

The youth-focused agency holds webinars and writes blog posts on Reels and YouTube Shorts for the public and conducts lunch-and-learns and seminars that tailor social media strategy for clients. While the firm always encourages clients to diversify their social media presences and at least test emerging platforms, as it did when it made E.l.f. Cosmetics one of the first brands on BeReal, it is specifically advising to do just that in the light of a potential TikTok ban, Horowitz says.

About 30% of clients want Movers+Shakers’ advice about TikTok specifically, compared to 70% who are looking to connect with Gen Z and millennials more broadly, Horowitz said.

“We don’t want to be known as a TikTok agency,” he says. “In general, we’re not seeing that right now.”

The Biden administration has told TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, that it will not ban the app if it sells its shares. In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before a skeptical Congress, saying the company would prioritize the safety of minors in response to accusations that the platform negatively affects young users’ mental health. On Tuesday, the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office fined TikTok £12.7 million, or about $16 million, for privacy breaches involving more than 1 million U.K. children.

Before Congress, Chew said that TikTok does not share data of U.S. users with the Chinese government and has never been asked to. Before the hearing, Chew posted on TikTok saying that the app has more than 150 million users in the U.S.


Our CEO, Shou Chew, shares a special message on behalf of the entire TikTok team to thank our community of 150 million Americans ahead of his congressional hearing later this week.

♬ original sound - TikTok

Last month, creators showed up at the U.S. Capitol to protest the ban. At the start of March, the American Civil Liberties Union released a statement pitting a TikTok ban in opposition with the First Amendment.

Gassed, a TikTok creative and media buying agency that revolves around the platform, recently said that it has expanded its services to cover Meta as well, but said that decision was not in response to reports of a TikTok ban. 

“We still want to be known as a TikTok agency,” says Dean Rojas, president and cofounder of Gassed. “But we’re changing our identities a little bit to be, instead of TikTok-first, user-generated-content-first.”

Many brands post short-form video content on both TikTok and Reels, and as Gassed leans more into Meta, it will formalize sending TikTok and Meta creative to every client so they can compare how that content performs on both platforms.

“It’s included in our deliverables now versus an add-on here and there kind of thing,” Rojas says.

Purpose-focused comms agency Fenton updated its primer for organizations that want to increase their TikTok presence at the start of the year. Given that a TikTok ban would hit clients without a diverse social media presence hardest, the firm is encouraging the foundations and nonprofits it works with to create short-form video content that works on Reels and YouTube Shorts, as well.

“We’ve been preparing our clients for moments like these by encouraging them to build more direct communities,” says Shakirah Hill Taylor, Fenton’s chief digital officer. “Through email programs, Discord and other micro-communities, they have more direct control over how folks congregate.”

Taylor also says that active internal comms will help agencies keep clients informed on how to prepare for a TikTok ban.

“Right now, I’m advising folks to just hold steady,” she says. “No one needs to be jumping ship at this moment. Host your videos somewhere, don’t just leave them on TikTok.”

While Reels has struggled to monetize and capture interest to the level of TikTok, losing one of its biggest competitors would likely be a boon for Meta. 

While an opportunity for Meta, there would be hiccups for TikTok-first agencies as they make the switch. Ads are more expensive on Meta, meaning clients’ dollars won’t stretch as far. Obtaining 1,000 impressions on TikTok cost VaynerMedia half as much as it did on Instagram Reels, the Financial Times reported in January.

“That would be a tough pill to swallow,” said one ad executive who leads an agency that’s partnered with TikTok. “But I think they would just eat it and they would still spend their budget on Reels because if, as I’m predicting, creators were to by and large shift to Reels and the users follow them, you’re paying for an audience, and if that audience moves someplace else, maybe the pricing and structure is a little bit different but you’re going to follow.”

They added that a ban would push their agency to consolidate creator budgets across fewer platforms, with most TikTok creator funding going to Meta. It would also have to re-evaluate which creators it partners with, as creators that excel on TikTok don’t necessarily perform as well on other platforms.

“Creator relationships in which the creator is heavily leveraged to that platform specifically could be compromised in some way,” the executive says. “It’s probably kind of frustrating and difficult for the brands, but more frustrating and difficult for the creators themselves and the agencies who represent them.”

Around the 2020 presidential elections, Movers+Shakers ran a TikTok campaign that was deleted due to the app’s stricter free-speech rules at the time. The agency was able to post that content on Reels and continue working with the creators it had partnered with, but it did have to rework how much it paid influencers depending on audience size across platforms.

If TikTok were banned as campaigns are taking place, “there would be cases where you have to eat the losses,” Horowitz said.

Despite the political headwinds facing TikTok, analysts are anticipating significant paid media spending on the platform this year. Last month, WARC upgraded its 2023 ad-spend forecast for TikTok by almost $2 billion to $15.2 billion, saying that three-quarters of marketers plan to increase their activity on the platform. That means the app would reap a 52% increase in ad revenue over 2022 and account for almost a third of the advertising business of rival Instagram, which, like Reels, is also owned by Meta.

Despite a possible ban, Horowitz sees TikTok as one of the best platforms for connecting with young audiences and is recommending clients invest heavily in the platform.

He added that clients have not adjusted their social media budgets in the face of a ban. Movers+Shakers was on track to double its revenue to $38 million halfway through 2022, and created viral TikTok campaigns for brands such as E.l.f., Nerf and Neutrogena.

“We recommend they continue to increase their investment there because that’s right now one of the best tools that we have to drive cultural relevance,” he says. “Should that change, and it will, whether TikTok lasts 10 more days or 10 more years, we’ll continue to be that strategic adviser to our clients on how to be more culturally relevant and which tools are going to be the most effective.”




Related Articles

Just Published

1 hour ago

40 Under 40 2023: Ruchika Gupta, Beam Suntory

An ambassador of female leadership, Gupta is building a team of thought leaders at Beam Suntory and inspiring them to achieve their highest potential.

1 hour ago

Why does such a lack of transparency still exist in ...

Although many adtech players remain incentivised to keep the ecosystem opaque, new business models and auditing practices are challenging the status quo to demonstrate value for clients.

2 hours ago

Swatch switches media duties to Publicis from ...

Swatch is the second long-term client after Dyson to depart from GroupM to Publicis this year, following news of a bribery scandal in China in 2023.

2 hours ago

The Scott Calorie Absorber Pro converts a kitchen ...

The clever campaign reimagines the humble drying towel as a mighty health supplement in a bid to tackle Malaysia's growing obesity epidemic.