New and Next: TikTok for Higher Education

Hayley WarackVP, Digital Strategy & InnovationJuly 24, 2020

TikTok is rightfully considered an app aimed at Gen Z and thus probably not on the radar as a recruitment tool for most graduate and online programs. However, given the history of how many other social media channels and apps migrated from younger users to older ones, it is important that those responsible for marketing online programs—and even graduate programs—become aware of its recruitment potential. Consider that 71 percent of graduate students today are under age 35 and 48 percent between ages 25-35, making the bulk of today’s graduate students millennials. Another 23 percent are under 25, meaning they are at the leading edge of Gen Z (the oldest members of Gen Z are exactly 25 years old today).

TikTok is a rapidly growing social media platform that allows its 1.5 billion users to create, share, and discover short 15-second videos. The average user accesses the app more than 16 times daily, spending a total of 81 minutes per day. TikTok has become Gen Z’s go-to social media platform, with 16-24-year-olds comprising more than 40 percent of TikTok’s users. They spend an average of 347 seconds per session, which is 4 times longer than other social platforms like Snapchat.

The University of Florida, Syracuse University, and Indiana University Bloomington have all recently joined the fun by leveraging the platform to create and curate content to engage students, current students, and their community. And while this may seem like a stretch for some institutions, many felt that way about Instagram just a few years ago.

Campuses have already started using TikTok for higher education

How campuses are currently using TikTok for higher education

With its rapid growth, high engagement, and over 60 percent of TikTok’s users under the age of 30, it’s a great social media platform for institutions to leverage to engage with prospective students. Many universities are creating TikTok accounts to create their own content as well as curate content from users who are engaged with their brand. All content is aimed to showcase an authentic and genuine look at the university, student life, and campus culture.

Here are a few ways universities are leveraging TikTok right now with short videos:

  • Notable alumni features and overall alumni stories
  • Informative videos highlighting specific majors and courses
  • Campus news updates featuring events and announcements
  • Student ambassadors sharing a day in a life of a student
  • Challenges and contests around university initiatives or campaigns
  • Tours of campus, buildings, and classrooms
  • Curated college acceptance and graduation videos
  • ….and so much more. Check out this University TikTok directory to explore how other universities are leveraging TikTok.

Which institutions are leveraging TikTok successfully?

University of Florida
President Kent Fuchs is becoming a TikTok star on @UF’s account. Beyond that, University of Florida does a great job of hopping on trends, highlighting campus culture and student life, celebrating alumni, and so much more. Check out their 15-second campus tour:

Syracuse University
From highlighting their athletics and marching band to showcasing their beautiful campus and winter campus life, @syracuseu does a great job of involving current and prospective students, such as with this acceptance video with almost 150,000 views (watch on the @syracuseu page).

Indiana University Bloomington
Indiana University Bloomington’s TikTok account is extremely authentic, diverse, and creative. @iubloomington plays on TikTok trends and plays up their rivalry with Purdue University. They also do a great job of highlighting majors, campus life, and notable alumni. And all of this is done by significantly incorporating their students and prospective students.

5 recommendations for getting started and best practices for using Tik Tok

Enrollment marketing usage of TikTok within campus marketing and social media teams is increasing. However, with the platform and content changing so rapidly, it may seem like an overwhelming and complex tool to add to the mix. We recommend the below steps to get started.

  1. Setup, save, and secure your brand page to start gaining followers. Many universities have started to do this while they continue to research and develop a marketing plan focused on how to best leverage the platform.
  1. Research and strategize. Content and trends are changing daily, and every university is using the platform differently. Explore what other universities are doing and develop a strategy and plan on how to best infuse your brand and incorporate your audience into your content.
  1. Be authentic and creative. This is not the platform to drive enrollment objectives or a platform to repurpose highly “produced” videos for YouTube. Users come here for authentic, engaging content. Incorporate your students and faculty, highlight campus life, and don’t be afraid to have fun.
  1. Use hashtags and sound. Hashtags are imperative to gain an initial following and are also an important way users discover content. Music and sound are also key components of TikTok’s ecosystem.
  1. Analytics. As you start creating more content, understanding the impact of your account and videos is crucial. Upgrade to a Pro Account to access their analytics tool to view insights like follower growth, video views and trend videos.

What’s new

Earlier this month, TikTok opened their self-serving advertising platform to all businesses. The platform is incredibly intuitive and offers advertising capabilities similar to Snapchat and Facebook. From building awareness to driving conversions, TikTok provides a variety of campaign objectives to meet any goal as well as audience targeting options to reach and engage users based on their interests and platform behaviors.

As TikTok continues to grow rapidly, and as advertising on Facebook and Instagram continues to be in flux, TikTok advertising is definitely worth exploring. You don’t even need a brand account to run ads. Learn how to get started.

What’s next

In June, TikTok announced plans to commission experts and institutions to produced education content for its platform as a way to diversify their short-form content and capitalize on the ever-growing online and micro-learning trends.

TikTok’s usage and engagement often centers around hashtags. Earlier this year the platform reported more than seven billion views of the hashtag #LearnOnTikTok. Rich Waterworth, TikTok’s general manager for Europe said “LearnOnTikTok is about us investing in partners and content creators with a breadth of professional content”.

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About the Author

Hayley Warack is an expert in creating dynamic advertising strategies and integrating engaging storytelling and content in digital strategies. Hayley has been in the digital marketing world for over 10 years, with the last five years...

Read more about Hayley's experience and expertise

Reach Hayley by e-mail at Hayley.Warack@ruffalonl.com.

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