For many higher ed admissions marketers, TikTok is a conundrum. In many ways, it is a representation of Gen Z; it’s a new type of social media network that can be difficult to access for other generations. Concurrently, a higher ed TikTok presence can be absolutely vital for your school’s admissions marketing strategy.
After all, TikTok is now the #6 social media network in the world. It has more than 1 billion monthly active users. Among Gen Z, it has surpassed even Instagram, and 43% of its users are 18 to 24 years old.
Perhaps just as importantly, TikTok users don’t just stop by for a few seconds. It’s the most engaging social media network on average, clocking in at 10.85 minutes per average session. That’s more than twice as long as any other platform. Creating a successful TikTok admissions marketing strategy means reaching potential students where they spend their time.
How to create your school’s TikTok account
Here’s another piece of good news: creating a TikTok account is exceedingly simple, even when it comes to the business account that schools will need to create. All it takes is downloading the app and building the school profile to start your higher ed TikTok journey.
But of course, that account creation is only the first step in successfully leveraging TikTok for admissions goals. Next comes a strategy specifically designed to:
- Create engaging content
- Attract the right audience
- Turn that initial interest into tangible outcomes in your admissions funnel
These seven steps can help you get started.
1. Understand your audience
The first step might sound intuitive to any experienced marketing professional, but it’s especially crucial on TikTok. Before beginning to post any type of video content, you need to know exactly who your audience is and what type of content might engage them.
Most social media channels, for example, have at least some crossover between prospective students and parent audiences. However, TikTok is the favorite social media network of less than 5% of users over the age of 35. Your audience here is almost exclusively students, which changes the messaging you might want to offer them.
It’s just as important to understand how your audience of prospective students uses TikTok. It’s all about short videos, typically created to follow a viral trend discovered via hashtags and TikTok’s algorithm (more on that below). Meanwhile, TikTok’s co-creation abilities allow users to collaborate in creating complex pieces of content like the viral Wellerman video that spawned the #ShantyTok craze.
2. Build a content creation strategy
Based on that audience understanding, it’s time to start thinking through the types of content you want to post. Because of the audience and the nature of the medium, educational content is unlikely to perform well. Instead, more casual community- and student experience-oriented videos have proven to be successful for higher ed institutions.
TikTok itself recommends a three-pronged Flicker, Flash, Flare content strategy for brands of any kind, including for higher ed TikTok efforts:
- Flicker content is reactive by participating in existing trends, like posting fun videos as part of a viral hashtag.
- Flash content is proactive, planned out, and episodic in nature. In higher education, this might be a regular series of students explaining what they love about your school or sharing important news.
- Flare content is interactive, including more owned content like ad campaigns or a dedicated effort to launch your own branded hashtag on the medium.
Ask yourself: What type of content will entice prospects on the network to visit your campus and enroll? What aspects of your school and campus can you show off to get students interested? Try posting that type of content. Then review its engagement metrics (including likes, comments, and video views) to gain further insights and improve your admissions marketing content over time.
3. Follow other higher ed TikTok accounts
On TikTok, it’s never a bad idea to learn from others. As the medium has become more popular, more higher education institutions have built their own content and admissions marketing campaigns on the platform. Find your closest competitors, and follow them to learn about the types of videos that engage prospective students. At the same time, you can also discover current gaps. Gaps give you the opportunity to try out new and unique videos that no one else has published yet.
Of course, you don’t have to limit the scope of this step to your closest competitors. Higher ed institutions across the U.S. have become more and more successful in leveraging TikTok. Their examples can serve as important inspiration for your own efforts.
Even outside of higher ed TikTok, success stories are aplenty in this still-growing medium. Duolingo, for example, successfully used the above-mentioned Flicker, Flash, Flare content approach to go from 100,000 followers to 1.7 million in just a few months, all while maintaining an impressive 19% engagement rate on its videos.
4. Engage with the TikTok algorithm in mind
The TikTok algorithm is complex. It relies on a wide range of influencing factors to determine which users see which videos and what content may go viral. How your content is served to users depends on a few core factors:
- The more users watch, like, comment on, or share a video, the more likely it will be to show up in the TikTok feeds of other users.
- The more clearly a video denotes its topic through its caption, hashtag, effects, and even the video transcript, the more it will appear to users who have previously engaged with other videos on the same topic.
- When a video uses a trending song as a soundtrack, users who are watching other videos with the same song will become more likely to see it.
- If users have hidden, skipped through, or marked your admissions marketing videos with “not interested” in the past, they are less likely to see future videos from you as you publish them.
Keeping these factors in mind can help savvy schools and admissions marketers build a higher ed TikTok presence specifically designed to succeed based on the algorithm. Focus on the topics with which your audience engages. Use the right hashtags, and reply to comments to boost your engagement and relevance. This can ultimately get a larger number of people to view and engage with your content.
5. Invest in ads to target a larger audience
Beyond your organic video content, TikTok also allows brands to create paid ad campaigns to reach a broader and more intentional audience. These ads work much like paid messaging on other social media channels. You’ll have the ability to target users based on demographics, topics of interest, and geographic area.
The most common ad type for most brands is In-Feed Ads. These are videos designed to appear organically in the “For You” TikTok feed. But advertisers can also work on more comprehensive campaigns directly with TikTok’s representatives, like a branded hashtag challenge or branded effects. These integrate your school’s name or hashtag into your users’ natural experience on the platform.
As with any digital channel, the key to success with TikTok ads is experimentation. Test out different ads to different audience segments. Then compare results to see which of them drive the most video views, clicks to your website, and inquiries. Continue testing to ensure that your admissions marketing budget is well-spent in reaching TikTok users on a broader scale.
6. Partner with other TikTok creators
We mentioned the collaborative nature of this network in the first step. It’s worth digging deeper into that piece to build a successful admissions presence. On TikTok, authenticity is key; your audience will not appreciate anything too polished or promotional.
Instead, it pays to take a different approach. Partnering with established TikTok creators, for example, is a great way to leverage the built-in engagement and expertise that these creators bring with them. The ranking site Niche, for example, works with a number of TikTok influencers to explain how to find the right college, how to apply to college, and more.
Don’t underestimate your own student population, though. They still fall into TikTok’s most dominant demographic — and are probably already creating videos on and about your campus. Find their content, and try to collaborate with them on videos that showcase your school, student experience, and more.
7. Remember to have fun with your higher ed TikTok campaigns
Finally, it’s crucial to remember the core purpose of TikTok: Gen Z loves it because it’s easy to have fun. Schools that are able to authentically get that same feeling across will almost certainly succeed in building a higher ed TikTok presence that drives engagement, interest, and enrollment.
Of course, you need to keep your audience in mind. And absolutely, your content should be goal-driven and focused on admissions marketing. But at the same time, people will believe your messaging only when they can relate to your content and believe your sincerity. Fun authenticity is how they develop the trust you need for them to continue engaging and moving down the admissions funnel over time.
TikTok is still growing, and it’s not stopping any time soon. The time to build an admissions marketing strategy focused around the network is now, especially given its popularity among Gen Z. It offers short, video-based snippets that can ultimately lead to more in-depth experiences with your school, like your virtual tour. And if you need any help building that virtual tour as a more comprehensive alternative, let us know.