You’ve probably heard the buzz around TikTok, the vertical video platform that has captivated users in the 13-24 age bracket. While TikTok can seem complicated and overly casual for a higher education institution, it is still the place where future college students are hanging out online.
If you want to talk to your future students, you need to be where they are. So how can universities get started on TikTok? What makes a winning TikTok strategy? And what brand benefits does being on TikTok actually bring to a higher education institution?
Morgan Campbell, Social Media Specialist at Indiana University Bloomington, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk TikTok and why colleges and universities should consider launching a social presence there.
Why Should Institutions Be on TikTok?
Formerly known as Musical.ly, TikTok gained its presence through the Snapchat ads that showed teens lip-syncing these crazy songs. Today, users go on the platform to post entertaining, 15-second videos. About 60% of TikTok’s users are under 30 years old.
Indiana University Bloomington started looking at TikTok last fall, asking questions such as “Do we want to get on this? Is it going to open the doors? What are we posting on there?”
“It’s definitely different than any other platform,” Morgan told us. “If you post TikTok videos on Twitter or Facebook, they don’t get as much engagement, but if you post videos that you would use for Facebook or Instagram or Twitter onto TikTok, those aren’t going to do as well, either. It’s definitely more casual.”
In some ways, that makes TikTok easy. Record on your phone, use the in-app tool to edit your videos, throw them in a timeline, and go. TikTok also has sound effects from top music songs or funny clips from videos that give their posts that special TikTok feel.
“The best video we’ve had so far is we call our Hoosier Check video,” Morgan said. “We just hung out with the volleyball team for about 45 minutes one day and ended up making three videos.”
In the most popular one of those three videos, the team stood on their court, which is brand new to them, and yelled, “Hoosier Check.” The videographer then got a different view of their new locker room, their film room, the court, and the outside of the athletic facility. It only took 15 seconds.
“Within a week, we had over a hundred thousand likes and almost a million views. I’m like, ‘What the heck are we doing to make it go this far out there?” Morgan said. “Really, with that, I think the secret was that there was a trend at the time where these teenagers would be like ‘Rich Kid Check’ and they would show off their fancy mansion. So we said, ‘Well, we’ll show off our fancy new facility.’ That ended up being the sweet spot.”
What Kinds of Videos Work on TikTok?
Morgan doesn’t recommend repurposing videos from Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter for TikTok.
Unlike other apps, when you flip your phone horizontal on TikTok, that doesn’t mean it’s going to flip as well.
“Another thing we found that really helped lift our videos is hashtags,” Morgan said, “because that’s how users will find these trendy or funny videos. Until you gain that audience that’s going to keep coming back to see your videos, hashtags are a very helpful tool to get out to people that have never heard of this before.”
Sounds are also important on TikTok. If you use a sound that someone else has already use, you can tap on that sound and it’ll take you to the whole gallery of everyone that has used that specific sound in their video.
Why Higher Ed Should Be on TikTok
Some people cringe when they first get on TikTok, but once you start liking videos that interest you or ones you think would be beneficial to your university, your feed will start pertaining more to your interests.
“I think what institutions should do,” Morgan said, “is at least save their account name right now and do their research. You’re reaching all these prospective students that may not even be in your area or in your state, but they’re looking at you from out of state, out of country, even, and being like, ‘That could be my dream college.”
Where else are you going to reach an audience like that so directly?
TikTok also helps give that authentic, genuine look to your institution. On YouTube, you can put up fancy commercials and hope parents or teenagers see them. But on TikTok, current students can show the viewers what they can do on campus, what the campus looks like, and ultimately help them see themselves on that campus in the future.
Next Steps for Colleges Getting Started with TikTok
“Research, research, research,” Morgan said.
Read articles. Make your own personal TikTok account. Follow other accounts, especially higher education institutions and sports teams.
“Just watch those videos and see how you can take that concept,” Morgan said, “and apply it to your own campus.”
It takes about three months to create all the content first because if you are putting something out every other week, you need a backpack full of ready-to-go ideas. Then again, if you’re trying to be on a trend and you wait even two weeks, sometimes it can be already dead.
TikTok is not an easy channel to really conquer, but it can benefit those who are anticipating the coming higher ed cliff. As Morgan told us, “I think it’s good to start early rather than later and then being behind.”
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