TikTok tactics to transform your higher ed. marketing strategy.

Pop quiz! What app has more users than Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn combined, with 43 per cent of its global audience ranging from ages 18 to 24 years old?

Bingo! It’s TikTok.

If your institution doesn’t have an account yet, stop reading this, drop everything and go sign up. You need a higher ed. TikTok presence if you want your institution to be seen as relevant by your core audience of Gen Z-ers (Just consider the stats!). And don’t worry, this article will be here when you get back.

On the flip side, maybe you have an account, but your short-form videos haven’t resonated as you hoped. Or perhaps your followers haven’t grown since last summer’s freshmen orientation.

Either way, we’re here to push your higher ed. toward TikTok virality.

TikTok requires a different strategy than your higher ed.’s other social media channels.

All social media platforms have their specialties. But TikTok wins out in its ability to capitalize on users’ short attention spans.

This isn’t by accident. Content on TikTok is consumed in rapid succession, with a new video automatically popping up after the one before it.

“Consumers don’t want more choices… TikTok has taken this to a new level by eliminating the burden of choice entirely.”

Scott Galloway, NYU Professor

NYU Professor, author, and strategist Scott Galloway proffers this relentless viewing has to do with not distracting the user to take another action by simply not giving them a choice in the matter. “Consumers don’t want more choices, they want more confidence in the choices presented,” he says. “TikTok has taken this to a new level by eliminating the burden of choice entirely.”

While this may sound like a boon for getting eyes on your content — think twice. Users do have the choice to skip your stuff if you either a.) haven’t built up a reputation for creative, compelling videos, and/or b.) you don’t hook them right away. Users know the next entertaining thing is a millisecond of a swipe away.

Bottom line? You need to work from a foundation of best practices when you brainstorm and create new content for your campaigns. Not only will you craft a solid social media reputation that promotes your brand, but you’ll also feel grounded when the inevitable tide of TikTok trends tosses your once-relevant ideas overboard. 

5 do’s and don’ts to expand your higher ed. TikTok reach. 

Anyone can make a TikTok. Your neighbor’s 10-year-old can probably give you a quick tutorial in the time it takes you to read this article. But to make the most out of your marketing content on the app poised to overtake YouTube, you need to do it right. Here’s how.

1. Do: Be relatable.

You don’t have to be perfect on TikTok. You just need to be relatable. Think about what your students would find humour and comfort in, and don’t feel the need to keep things so buttoned up. The stress of getting exam grades back, finding the best secret study spot on campus, or that first day of class feeling. Tap into what makes us all human. Then, speak to it.

@torontomet The nerves before logging onto D2L #university #student #reality ♬ My sound is blowing up – LLS
@syracuseu Roll camera…and playback #fyp #college #syracuseuniversity ♬ original sound – Syracuse University
@uarizona At least you’re not at ASU #College #GamerMoment #fy ♬ original sound – University of Arizona

2. Don’t: Ignore what’s trending.

Don’t think you can pick up on a trend that went viral over a month ago. Life moves pretty fast on this platform, and users will notice when you’re hopping on something stale. Make it easy to react to what’s buzzworthy by ensuring everyone on your team has authoritative access to posting videos. This way, anyone with an idea can jump on the latest trend, post it, and make an impact. Oh, and trends on TikTok don’t just mean dances or challenges, either. They also mean visual ways of telling a story using types of cuts in video, green screens, filters, and sounds. Keep that in mind when you’re looking for the next bandwagon to join.

3. Do: Use hashtags, trending sounds and keywords, and analytics.

Like other social media platforms, you can boost your content’s visibility by using hashtags, trending sounds, and keywords. What hashtags are your students already using? Build content around their conversations using the same hashtags to get in their algorithm. And create a branded hashtag that’s unique to your institution for your audience to begin using. Of course, you can’t find out if any of your tactics are successful unless you have analytics to show you. Upgrade to a Pro Account to use TikTok’s analytics tools, just like you would with Facebook, Google, Instagram, and the like so you can monitor what’s working and what isn’t.

4. Don’t: Only target current students.

Your current students aren’t the only ones paying attention to your social media presence. Prospective students and members of your community are keeping tabs on you, too. Using your higher ed. TikTok as a recruiting tool is obvious, but less so is reminding those in your local geographic community why your institution is a great alternative to another institution somewhere else. You could even teach your community something interesting about their neck of the woods.

5. Do: Have fun.

In case you haven’t noticed, inhibitions are largely shed on this particular social media app. Content is silly, fun, and very often nonsensical. It may not make sense to an older generation, but you know what they say: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. So get everyone involved — even your president. Of course, you should still aim to be informative. But leave plenty of room for the fun stuff — just because.

@uf Nailed it. #nosepainting #universityofflorida #gogators ♬ Interior Crocodile Alligator – Chip Tha Ripper

Content ideas to revamp your higher ed.’s TikTok channel.

Your goal on TikTok isn’t just to entertain and inform your audience. It’s to connect with them, too. Pay attention to what they’re talking about, find out what’s important to them, and craft your messaging around that.

As you cut your teeth on short-form videos the TikTok way, test the waters to see what resonates most. Conducting a competitive analysis of other institutions’ TikToks can be helpful, too. You’ll either get great fodder for what type of content could work at your school — or know what to avoid.

Here are a few content ideas to get you started.

1. Do a student takeover.

Give students the reins for a day in the life series. Work on a plan with them to showcase what an authentic campus experience is like. Protip: Offer a student TikTok ambassador as an on-campus student job. 55% of TikTok users create their own videos on the app, so surely you have a lot of students already putting out their original content. Better yet, use TikTok’s reshare feature to repurpose student-made content about your institution, for free. “Don’t make ads. Make TikToks.” -TikTok.

@iubloomington Follow along with Gabby to see a day in the life of a junior in the Kelley School of Business taking iCORE #iubloomington #dayinthelife ♬ Piano sleep LoFi slow midnight(808930) – Gloveity

2. Feature famous alumni.

Ask notable alumni to get involved to talk about their experiences and share career advice or life tips. You could set up a series of alumni videos answering similar questions, do an alumni takeover, or simply involve alumni in a fun video campaign.


big fan

♬ Cap – burrell

3. Spread news and information.

TikTok isn’t just for dancing and jokes. Use your platform to spread important news and information. Yes, you’re already pushing out valuable information through emails, website updates, and Twitter. But what if your students aren’t checking those platforms? Check out how the Toronto Metropolitan University used TikTok to promote a survey about their mascot or how the University of Toronto spread the word about COVID-19 vaccinations.

@torontomet Visit our website to fill out our survey! #ontario #university #update ♬ News, Serious News, Documentary(1112455) – thaik
@uoft With the return to in-person learning at #UofT ♬ original sound – University of Toronto

4. Go all-in on recruitment.

TikTok could be one of the most underrated recruitment tools. Think about it: You can show prospective students what to expect or convince them to enrol. Give them a glimpse into what the cafeteria situation is like. Connecting with prospects where they already are and showing them what they won’t find in a viewbook can be a game-changer. Remember — each laugh or eyebrow raise from your target audience could mean inching yourself into their list of top choices for a future alma mater. And maybe they’ll record their acceptance reactions, just like these students at the University of Florida did.


we love to see it

♬ Sunroof – Nicky Youre & dazy

@syracuseu Tag yourself, we’re the stuffed Ottos #fyp #foryou #dormlife ♬ original sound – Syracuse University
@iubloomington This is your sign to apply to IU today. ⚪️ #indianauniversity #iubloomington ♬ Dougie x Breakfast x Chosen – Kuya Magik
@pepperdineuniversity Vegans at #pepperdine feeling the cafeteria. #school #college #studentlife #vegan #collegevegan #veganstudent #malibu #pepperdineuniversity ♬ Omg so much people used my sound – Layla &lt3

5. Wax nostalgic.

This is more for your alumni audience who miss the days of waking up too early for exams, staying up too late with friends, and living their best life. Playing on nostalgia works. Current students may not get it yet… when they’re alumni, they’ll appreciate the trips down memory lane, too.

@vanderbiltu Just a few of the places Vanderbilt alumni told us they miss the most #Vanderbilt #College #Campus #fypシ #Nashville ♬ original sound – VanderbiltU

The next big social media platform may very well be on its way, but for now, TikTok is king. To reach your audience, make a connection, and push your brand’s messages forward, all you have to do is bow down — and post.

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