Safety First: Protecting Your Brand on TikTok, Reels and The Next New App

There’s always a new app, platform, or website popping up, claiming to make brand marketing easier. Many of these apps are effective at engaging users, while others attract users but fail to provide the content moderation necessary to protect them.

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Instagram’s Reels is the latest app feature to turn heads, but some businesses are wondering whether they should bother advertising on it at all. Most remain unconvinced that Reels isn’t just another TikTok in the making.

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The Reality of Reels

On August 5, Instagram launched the aptly-timed Reels, a new short-form video extension, in over 50 countries worldwide. Embedded directly into the app, Instagram’s Reels features a vertical scroll feed and enables users to create 15-second video content set to music. Users can also edit audio and add visual effects to video before sharing it on the Instagram platform.

Sound familiar? Reels does bear a striking resemblance to its predecessor TikTok, which has been riddled with content moderation mishaps since its inception. That alone could discourage businesses from incorporating Reels (or any new app’s feature for that matter) into marketing campaigns.

But before you either dismiss the latest site or jump on the “new app” bandwagon, it’s beneficial to completely investigate the platform, placing particular emphasis on its moderation program. Today, we’ll look at what you need to know before you invest advertising dollars and time into the newest apps on the block.

Determine the App’s Relevancy to Your Audience

Having a presence on any app, be it new or traditional, is only worth the effort if you are remaining on brand by doing so. Don’t get caught up in the hype if a new platform is irrelevant to your audience and /or does not support your brand’s values or vision.

For example, if you are a cloud access security broker (CASB), then spending time creating branded content for a short-form video feed may not be the best use of your marketing team’s talents. If your business has a proven audience on Facebook or Instagram, and the platforms have helped you share brand-building content, then posting branded video clips to both Instagram’s Stories and Reels may be a convenient and worthwhile endeavor.

A business in the global car market, for instance, may find that creating content educating consumers on the environmental benefits of electric cars and sharing that content on Reels can contribute to reaching new viewers and boosting conversion rates. Additionally, Reels and other new apps should remain on your radar if you have already found success using TikTok as a marketing tool to reach your Gen-Z consumers, especially with the growing threat of TikTok’s ban.

Be prepared to be creative, however, as you only have 15 seconds to engage your audience on Reels. As such, you may want to use those precious seconds as a teaser, directing viewers to your website or social media accounts through the Reels’ clip.

Confirm the Presence of a Content Moderation Team and Policy

Before you integrate a new app or platform into your brand’s marketing campaign, it’s important to ask: Before launching, did the app have a well-constructed content moderation policy in place that was enforced by a team of professionals? Or is it rushing to put a team in place only after concerns are expressed about the possible exposure of users to offensive content?

Ensure that the app has been consistently applying its moderation guidelines to prevent inappropriate user-generated content (UGC) from landing on its platform. Ideally, the app or site will use profanity filters, image moderation, and video moderation, both live teams and AI, to filter content.

A new app could very well give your brand an edge as a marketing tool, but if it doesn’t have a content policy in place to prevent the sharing of nudity, hate speech, drug use, violence or other inappropriate content then it could do more harm than good to your brand. Content policies should clearly state what content is not allowed on the site or platform and the consequences of posting policy-violating content, including the removal of such content, such as the one Airbnb has published:

Airbnb Content Policy

Sites and platforms that roll out policies against offensive content – only after being criticized for allowing it in the first place – may likely face serious legal implications, as TikTok has.

While it's appealing for your brand to be featured on the latest platform or app, there is no history to examine, making it impossible to determine if these have had any brand damaging incidents in the past. Therefore, it is even more critical that you affirm the presence of a content moderation team and enforced content policy.

Avoid Platforms that Lack Content Moderation

If you do align your business with a platform that is behind the ball in moderating content and no obvious brand damage occurs, your brand could still be impacted should the platform face legal ramifications. Anyone who has put the majority of their marketing efforts into brand partnerships with influencers on TikTok can attest to this, as they are left scrambling to formulate a backup plan should Microsoft pass on the TikTok acquisition and the social media platform be banned in the US.

As early as April of 2019, the app was banned and consequently removed from the Google Play Store and iOS App Store on the grounds that its UGC “allegedly degraded culture and encouraged pornography.” The ban was lifted after a week, but the app was not restored to both app stores until TikTok agreed to use AI and humans for content moderation.

In January of this year, TikTok unveiled an amended list of video content that is no longer permitted. On August 3rd, President Trump announced that TikTok had until September 15th to work out an acquisition deal with Microsoft or be banned completely from the US.

While it’s tempting to blame TikToks’s history of too little content moderation, too late, for bans the platform has been subjected to, it’s also important to remember that the platform is still relatively new (compare TikTok’s release date of 2018 to Instagram’s release in 2010). And new platforms generally have a tendency to collapse at a disturbing rate. According to a Gartner study, the commercial success of mobile apps was 00.01 percent for the year 2018 (1 successful app out of 10,000 apps). And many gig economy platforms fail within 2 to 3 years.

To minimize the risk of having to quickly replace an existing (and failing) app with a new medium for continued consumer interaction, avoid platforms that lack content moderation and are therefore high risk to begin with.

Conclusion: Protecting Your Brand on TikTok, Reels and The Next New App

A major cause for concern when it comes to aligning your brand with new apps, platforms, or websites is the safety aspect: Is the platform safe for your audience and your brand? In the case of Reels, Instagram is behind the offering, and they are certainly familiar with the risks of UGC and the importance of moderating it.

Instagram’s Head of Product Vishal Shah recently explained that Facebook and Instagram’s investment in the content moderation of Reels has been a priority, pointing out “all the work we are doing from a human moderation perspective, but also from a technology perspective where billions of dollars have been invested over the years to ensure the systems are state-of-the-art. We believe we have built the most sophisticated content moderation system. For Reels, those systems get to be used from day one.”

There will always be a new app or site on the horizon. When the next one comes along, be ready to vet it and make an informed decision as to whether advertising on the latest platform is best for your brand by determining its relevance to your audience, confirming the presence of a content moderation team and policy, and avoiding platforms that lack content moderation.