TikTok for Educational Leaders: A Macro Overview

It’s not just for the kids anymore. Here’s how leaders at educational institutions can leverage TikTok for growth.

TikTok for Educational Leadership
Image via Josh Rose, Unsplash

As of September 2020, TikTok has 1 billion users, in over 150 countries. In Europe, TikTok announced they have over 100 million active users, and it’s estimated they have the same amount of users in the United States as a high profile legal battle over the app wages corporate war.

However today, we aren’t focusing on the legal status of TikTok.

Regardless of personal opinions about the platform, it’s a far-reaching social media with explosive growth, and offering much opportunity to educational leaders within institutions. TikTok is an app that’s similar to Instagram, however some say with much better features and usability, and has an emphasis on video and music. While the perception of TikTok is that it’s a young person’s domain, that is increasingly untrue — 37% of users in the U.S. are over age 30, however it is still predominantly popular with the demographic aged 13–24.

This key segment that educational institutions recruit from are tech savvy, pushed into extreme digital adoption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore consuming more media than ever before, and have come to expect schools adapt their course offerings to digitally-native formats.

Why You Must Jump In Cold

The largest barrier to social media adoption for many leaders is the hurdle of learning yet another platform with unfamiliar features. It’s totally normal to take some time to get a handle on things!

That being said, you can’t wait to get onto TikTok. It’s important to move quickly, for a few reasons. The first is that it’s relatively easy, (in comparison to Instagram,) to gain a sizeable following on TikTok. The second is that media consumption is way up post-pandemic, and users are constantly seeking new content.

Moreover, institutions need to be more agile and consider modifying their media mix. The ways that consumers have adapted their media consumption has shifted rapidly in the last six months of the Coronavirus pandemic.

As always, consumers look to their peers to inform them on social perceptions, and if your friends are all on TikTok and considering which college to attend, it’s likely that you will be as well.

That said, jump in cold. If you haven’t already downloaded the TikTok app, do it now. Playing around on the app for a few minutes today is a great way to orientate yourself, have a better understanding of the app for the purpose of strategic planning, and get a feel for what content is popular.

If you have reservations about downloading TikTok onto your phone because of controversy surrounding personal data, and a concern for the status of it’s U.S. based acquisition, we understand. If this is the case, it’s recommended you get a phone at your institution that is solely meant to manage your TikTok presence.

How TikTok Fits Into Strategy

Every educational institution needs a plan for social media. Social channels are a diverse mix of media that connect your school or program directly with individuals and groups.

Social domains online are often where PR crisis begin and spread, where #challenges that drive the cultural conversations forward happen, and where business transactions take place. You owe it to your institution to account for all of your stakeholders and their respective personal relationships and networks by crafting a media plan that includes the following aspects:

  • Create your Messaging Plan: Strategically, your messaging plan should be your brand values, defined as sentences, and adopted for each media channel in consideration with the current newscycle and trends. At Werner and Media, we like to divvy up messaging plans for a brand into annual and quarterly messaging, with annual messaging being your more “evergreen” messaging topics surrounding your brand, and “quarterly” messaging being more seasonal topics, or current events in the news.

  • Create your Social Media Plan: This should be the go-to resource for your institution that includes policies, contact information, and a “response chart” that keeps community managers, (or customer service reps,) aligned across the board. It’s likely you already have something like this, but you want to update it every year as the platforms and algorithms change.

  • Do some TikTok-specific research: Like many social media platforms, TikTok evolves everyday, with popular #hashtagchallenges popping off in popularity, new influencers coming into the fold with massive follower growth, and popular topics and trends emerging. A core component to most TikTok posts is music or audio that the user pairs with a post. Some of these audio takes go viral, with lots of users jumping on the same tune to create their version of the video content.

  • Look up influential creators on TikTok: As a platform, TikTok is unique in how it has bolstered some teens to mega-stardom. These influencers have tens of millions of followers, and drive much of the teenage cultural conversation. Savvy brands have jumped on the opportunity to reach this upcoming consumer demographic with content that is perfect for teenage concerns and preferences.

  • Consider the most “fun” aspects of your institution: The things that go viral on TikTok are funny, educational, or on trend (like a hashtag challenge.) Integrating sports teams, students body organizations, fraternities/sororities, or clubs on campus into your TikTok feed is a good way to keep the content flowing and relevant to the interests of your students and prospective students.

  • There is also an aggregation of local content on TikTok: Users in your greater metro area, for example, will be able to see your TikTok posts. There’s two feeds on TikTok — a “Following” feed for users you follow, (similar to Instagram,) and a “For You” feed that features local users and similar accounts to the ones you already like. This is great for promoting onsite events, reaching local prospective students, as well as reaching local business partners.

What Some Educational Brands are Doing on TikTok

Here’s some educational brands who are doing cool stuff on the Tok. Take down some notes or ideas to inspire your own TikTok launch:

UCLA Diversifies TikTok Content

[Check out these posts on TikTok from @eli.christian17 and @leilahieronsberns] A few athletics programs at UCLA have their own presence on TikTok, allowing gymnastics content not to overlap into soccer content, although they do have a UCLAAthletics official account that is a blend of all the sporting programs at the school.

UCLA Athletics also features content from many contributors, using User Generated Content to stay on top of their editorial goals, and to create content that feels truly personal to prospective UCLA athlete.

University of Limerick Creates Editorial Segments

[Check out these posts on TikTok from @universityoflimerick]

Capture interest and stand out by branding your content. You can do t his by creating editorial segments that re-occur on your feed. This can done on any social media platform and Youtube, and is an excellent strategy for engagement.

The Irish University of Limerick has chosen student ambassadors to create segments like “Some Good News.” Using social media in this way gives you the opportunity to build up brand ambassadors — “influencers” who work for your institution and can regularly contribute. A good person to consider for such a role would be a senior level communications student seeking an internship, for example.

University of Georgia Promotes Critical Health Information via TikTok

[Check out these posts on TikTok from @universityofga]

Encouraging students to responsibly wear masks and remain socially distant is a challenge for all educational institutions during this time. @universityofga uses TikTok and student ambassadors to issue mask mandates, and are creative in promoting their usual on-campus events which have now been adapted for virtual, (like their student job fair.)

By using a direct channel of communication to students in a way that is native to that platform, (for example, you’ll see that their Instagram content is much more visual, with high quality photography, as a nod to their understanding that their audience on IG is much more diverse and sophisticated,) UGA is creating TikTok content that is genuinely helpful, but in a format that will specifically get students to listen.

TikTok University

[Via @tiktokuniversity]

TikTok understands its own demographical advantages. That’s why they created @tiktokuniversity, an ode to colleges and universities that includes reposts from students,

professors, and campuses. These TikToks include relatable content that anyone who’s been to a school program can empathize with.

While the account is still slim on content at this time, it’s steadily growing and has a targeted group of followers.

Werner and Media is a media consulting firm helping our clients adapt to the new world of fragmented media. From content to coverage, our services solve problems for brands, including content strategy and media relations. For more information, visit www.wernerandmedia.com, and subscribe to our monthly email drop MACRO/Micro Media for more great content just like this.