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In Utah’s robust influencer economy, a TikTok ban could upend hustles and day jobs

A screencap of Kendall Rodriguez, known as @QueenofSLC on TikTok, with one of her weekend update TikToks ahead of Salt Lake City's NBA All-star weekend.
@QueenofSLC
/
TikTok
A screencap of Kendall Rodriguez, known as @QueenofSLC on TikTok, with one of her weekend update TikToks ahead of Salt Lake City's NBA All-star weekend.

Concerns about national security threats from China and youth mental health are causing some governments to pursue banning the popular video platform TikTok.

Back in December, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox banned the appon government devices, and state agencies removed their profiles. Nearby Montana’s legislature recently approved a full ban of TikTok that would go into effect in 2024.

If a full-fledged federal or state ban were to happen, it could be costly for social media content creators and influencers who financially rely on their presence on the app.

The impact would certainly be felt in Utah where there is a robust influencer culture. Ever since the early days of the internet, “Mommy Blogs” have had a stronghold in the state. Earlier this year, Salt Lake City hosted the inaugural Content Creator Conference featuring Utah-based personalities who have created empires, like Rachel Parcell and London Lazerson

“They share their life, they share their successes and failures, and they become your friend,” said Megan Bowen, a social media expert and owner of Meg B Marketing. “Some of them do it by sharing tips and advice, and then other people just do it by sharing their daily life. And once you get that trust established and that kind of genuine self out onto the Internet, then it really becomes pretty simple for them to start selling.”

According to ZipRecruiter, a TikToker in Utah makes an average of around $4,200 a month. Bowen said compensation can vary depending on the agreement an influencer has with the brand they are working with.

“Creators can make a lot of money in different ways. Number one, I as a company pay you $1,000 to talk about this thing, it's a straight fee. Then there's things now affiliate shopping that's a little bit more commission based,” Bowen explained.

A potential ban on TikTok would hurt not only the creators but also businesses who look to influencers to help bring in extra traffic to their establishments.

And the title “influencer” is well-chosen. A 2021 study done by marketing platform LTK found that 92% of Gen Z'ers in the 18-25 age range make purchases based on seeing an influencer talk about or promote something. Another survey from Bankrate.com found that over half of social media users have made an impulse buy thanks to an influencer.

The figures aren’t surprising given the reach an app like TikTok has, said Micheal Burke, PR Intelligence Lab Manager at Brigham Young University.

“When I think about the instant gratification nature of Tik Tok, the impulse buy component for young people is probably really strong.”

Pushing content on social media isn’t a walk in the park. It requires time for filming, writing and editing a piece that is satisfactory to a paying client and attractive to the audience's eye.

“So for some people, this is a job. Like if you're going to invest that much time in it, that means you probably are giving up whatever it was you were doing before,” Burke said.

Or in the case of Kendall Rodriguez, who brands herself as the Queen of SLC on TikTok and Instagram, fitting it in along with her 9-to-5 day job at the University of Utah.

With just over 52,000 followers, her niche is creating content that displays the fun and entertaining things to do in the Salt Lake Valley. She moved to Utah from Southern California eight years ago and wanted to speak to other transplants or Utahns who may be unaware of small businesses or happenings in and around the valley.

“I've received so many follow up messages from managers or like, you know, the owners of these shops or restaurants that were kind of flying underneath the radar. And then I posted about them and their sales have gone through the roof or they've had so much foot traffic.

Helping a brand get some extra eyes on their business is something Rodriguez genuinely enjoys doing, but she has also been able to score some monetary deals.

“It's really random. So I am making money, like here and there, but it's not enough where it's not consistent. It's like a brand says ‘Hey, we want to do this with you.’ We negotiate a price and then I execute the contract.”

Rodriguez said a ban would be a breach of privacy, but that she’s not really worried about it. She doesn’t think a ban would go beyond the government sector, much like how Utah’s policies are currently set up.

But if it were to happen, she said she’d go to YouTube or focus more attention on her Instagram, even though she prefers the community and aesthetic of TikTok.

I've started to slowly upload my content from TikTok onto [YouTube], but I have not been consistent about it. But I'd like to be by the end of this year.

Megan Bowen said diversifying like this is a good strategy, and recommends creators have a presence on more than one platform.

“I mean, you think of anything else, like any other job. If you don't adapt or pay attention to where the market is going, then your job is no longer relevant. So I think that's the same here.”

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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