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Using TikTok in Higher Education Marketing

9 min read

Thaís Roberto

TikTok is one of the most popular social media platforms in the world. However, many brands are either reluctant to add the platform to their digital marketing strategy or unsure how to use it effectively to their advantage. Here, you will see how Gen Z’s favorite video app can be used to attract your future students.

Being discovered through TikTok

Channels like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube attract mostly current students and alums, but TikTok is where your university can reach prospective students who have never heard about your university.

TikTok’s algorithm feeds off what type of content the user consumes the most, as opposed to what accounts they follow, meaning that TikTok is, essentially, a discovery platform. When the algorithm identifies your content as relevant to a certain niche, the app will recommend your videos to interested users, even if they haven’t interacted with your university’s account before.

Finding future students is what the University of Cambridge had in mind when launching its TikTok profile. In an interview with Times Higher Education, Anu Hautalampi, head of social media at the University of Cambridge, said: “As our social media platforms are aging, the users on them are also aging. And we noticed that we weren’t really reaching the prospective student audiences anymore.”

However, simply repurposing the same content from other social platforms won’t work. Knowing that your videos will likely be the first impression TikTok users have of your university, it’s essential to adjust the kind of content you put out.

Showing an authentic experience

Unlike Instagram, where everyone is encouraged to share their best self, TikTok users look for authenticity. While the more serious, academic, or motivational content can perform well on other platforms, the most successful videos on TikTok will be short, fast-paced, and entertaining.

A TikTok audience wants a glimpse of what university life is like. They look for both enjoyable and helpful content - videos that can make them laugh as much as show them something new or help them in their daily lives. To captivate your future students, focusing on the student experience is vital.

TikTok experts suggest a mix of study hacks, quick meal ideas, and career advice can successfully engage a broad set of students. “A day in the life” videos and Q&As are also simple yet effective ways to display authenticity while encouraging further engagement from your audience.

The experts recommend universities avoid using corporate logos and other branded items and let the academic expertise and student experience speak for themselves instead. Having the students on camera mention the university they’re from or wear branded merchandise in their videos is a much more subtle and natural way of associating the content with your brand.

Tapping into your in-house talent

Launching partnerships with well-known social media influencers can be an excellent way of quickly drawing more eyes to your university. But, when it comes to forming a long-term relationship with a content creator, there are no better candidates than your own students. They already know your university better than anyone and can bring the authenticity that TikTok users want.


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“You have that resource on your doorstep. A lot of the students at your university are already active on TikTok; they’re probably creating some really great content,” says Hannah Bennett, brand partnerships manager at TikTok. “I would definitely recommend having that discussion with your own student community and seeing who is already creating content. Can they do that for your university as well?”

Having students as a recurring presence on your profile will also add another layer to the personal connection with the audience. TikTok users prefer to engage with familiar faces, so a simple video made on the phone by a well-liked figure will perform better than grandiose campus footage captured with expensive drones.

Expand your strategy through comments

While TikTok is undoubtedly the most prominent video platform in the world right now, it offers even more ways to convey your message to your audience. Many universities and brands have been doing a remarkable job using the comments section to build an even closer relationship with the app’s users.

Besides having a laugh with funny brand comments on popular posts, Gen Z often develops a friendship-like relationship with their favorite brands through their interactions.

Mikki Collins, who runs the popular TikTok account for the University of Chichester, has successfully incorporated comments into the platform strategy. “I’m going to be a bit sassy, I’m going to call everyone ‘bestie,’ and it’s worked - more people are responding and reaching out,” she says. “It’s become really informal, and more and more applicants and students want to reach out to us because we’ve created this informal barrier between the two.”

Meeting your future students at their level

Every social network has perks, but none offers the opportunity to build a connection with your audience as genuine and authentic as TikTok. Recruitment efforts have adapted and evolved over the years, and now, letting your own students promote your brand on social media has proven to be a very effective - and inexpensive - way of reaching millions of viewers around the world.

By investing in a TikTok account, your university can stay ahead of the curve and meet the next generation of incoming students at their level - as unexpected as it may be - through dance videos, Q&As, and trending challenges.

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