TikTok Bytedance

TikTok's Is So Busy Tackling External Issues, It Is Failing in Internal Communications

Chen Du

posted on August 1, 2020 11:12 am

The rumor that the US Government is going to ban TikTok has been going on for weeks. Following that is all kinds of reports of ByteDance, TikTok's current Chinese owner, is considering a range of options selling the short video app.

Reuters reported in July 29 that Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic, both of which are existing investors in ByteDance, are seeking to take over TikTok in a deal that is going to value the company at about $50 billion. 

Then, the New York Times reported that Microsoft is also in talks to acquire TikTok. The news came out on the same day that US President Donald Trump spoke to White House reporters that it is banning the app.

On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, it would seem that the majority of employees working on TikTok in ByteDance's Beijing and Shanghai offices were kept out of the loop about what is happening now and next. Everything feels normal and not normal at the same time, according to multiple TikTok sources who spoke to PingWest's Chinese edition. The company is under a great deal of outside pressure, but these employees aren't being briefed sufficiently about them.

The news of major corporate events like the appointment of ex-Disney executive Kevin Mayer as TikTok's new CEO, and the sudden ban in India, were spreading among TikTok's leftover Chinese employees only after the media reported them. 

TikTok still has teams totaling about hundreds of employees in China working on the short video app for the global market. These teams are located in ByteDance's Beijing offices, as well as Shanghai, where, the predecessor of TikTok, was headquartered. PingWest's English edition previously reported that the ByteDance is erecting internal engineering and administrative firewalls between teams of its Chinese products and its global products, including TikTok. 

A number of sources, including entry-level employees and mid-level managers, said that they were not aware of the events beforehand, and rarely briefed about them afterwards. 

These people, across a few domestic departments at TikTok and ByteDance's corporate offices, said that the internal communication regarding major events such as the potential selling of TikTok, the ban in India, and the potentially imminent ban in the US, were basically non-existent. 

In the case of the Indian ban, the lack of internal communication caused uncertainty to grow among TikTok's employees who are in China. Prior to the ban, they were still working on the short video app's important affairs, including the coordination of operations, advertisements, local events, etc., in overseas markets including India. Some of them were no longer able and required to do that specific portion of their job after the ban, but their leaders were reluctant to brief them through internal channels on what's going on, and more importantly, what is the company planning to do. 

Most employees had to resort to reading about current events about their company in the news, but they also found that what they read isn't necessarily true, and are often over-exaggerated. For example, The Information reported that ByteDance told some investors that it plans to develop another hit app for the domestic market. 

Numerous ByteDance employees told PingWest that these seemingly secretive plans and projects are actually quite abundant internally. There are countless secret projects in different development phases in many business lines inside ByteDance. In fact, sources said, that these secret projects delegate hiring matters to one executive specifically, who him/herself does not even know what they are about. These projects are usually referred to internally using alphabets that consists of the initials of the specific business lines they belong to, and other random ones.

The vacuum of up-to-date internal information augmented the perception, both internal and external, that TikTok and ByteDance have trouble faring the mounting external pressure.

A number of employees told PingWest that the general feeling they get from speaking to managers and executives is that "everything is fine", and that there's no need to discuss these issues, which is both unprecedented in terms of the seriousness of current events, and normal, considering the fact that ByteDance, a Chinese technology company growing unbelievably fast, had never been known for transparency, until recently.


This report is based on the original Chinese version published by PingWest's Chinese edition, which you can read here.

With contribution from Wang Zhaoyang.