TikTok, an entertainment platform with more than 1 billion users, has quickly emerged as the preferred social media platform for Gen Z.
And just as the business and public sectors are starting to implement the platform into their marketing and communications strategies, so too are universities adopting TikTok as a preferred tool for showcasing campus life.
We examined seven universities using TikTok as an effective medium to tell their stories, connect with current and prospective students, and foster relationships between faculty and the larger student body. Our analysis found that audiences love relatable accounts and want to attend a university that has a personable brand.
At a high level, we came away with the following considerations for campus communicators:
- Identify and empower student ambassadors: as native users, students will always have the best content and engagement ideas
- Publicize faculty: identify charismatic faculty members and empower them to share their research in entertaining ways
- Excite the future: embrace your incoming class’s excitement and introduce them to unique aspects of campus life
- Spotlight athletics: promoting athletic performance is a surefire way to drive engagement
- Ditch the filter: try to avoid staging situations as users will be quick to call out something that looks like an ad. Aim to capture candid moments of camaraderie on your campus
- Compliment your community: show care and interest for the surrounding community and how it interfaces with daily campus life
As popularity of the app continues to grow, universities should be taking this medium as seriously as they do their Instagram and Twitter by developing a comprehensive TikTok strategy. For those looking for inspiration, these are some of the most popular university-owned accounts on TikTok:
- Louisiana State University: 550K Followers
- The University of California-Los Angeles: 58K Followers
- Indiana University: 36K Followers
- The Ohio State University: 34K Followers
Diving deeper, here are spotlight examples of how these universities are growing their TikTok subscriber base:
Empowering Student Ambassadors
- Students are the source of truth for incoming and prospective students who want to know if people on campus are enjoying themselves.
- Student opinion interviews repeatedly go viral, so this type of video is the most effective way to gain positive exposure. (ex 1, ex 2)
- Students want to feel heard. Crowdsourcing students to share their positive experiences at the university is an authentic way to strengthen the school’s credibility as a well-liked institution. (ex 3)
Side note: When deciding whether to follow a video trend on the platform, consider how it aligns with your communications goals and what potential risks could emerge from spontaneous content creation. Only post content that makes the university student body seem authentic and interested in the school. (ex 4)
- Boston College effectively incorporates its faculty onto its feed. Professor Ann Burgess shared a tidbit of her knowledge on psychiatric nursing and related it to why people are obsessed with true crime. Burgess connected with her audience by addressing the question and explaining how these stories are often portrayed inaccurately. (ex 1)
- Spotlighting faculty members makes landmark research achievements more accessible and understandable to a larger audience, thus getting more people interested in what the university is involved in and showcasing its excellent professors.
- A lack of expert opinion on your channel can be compensated by alumni spotlight videos. These videos share a similar end goal of emphasizing what the school has to offer by sharing how alumni successfully turned the knowledge they acquired at school into thriving careers. (ex 2)
Excite the Future:
- Ohio State’s video of “where students are most likely to study” highlighted the campus while also relating to the identities of students. This example reinforces the idea that the most popular videos are the ones that connect directly with what students are up to and enjoy on campus. (ex 1)
- UCLA’s video about the “lucky paw” highlights a unique aspect of its campus. This draws viewers in and appeals to people who want to be a part of the campus culture. (ex 2)
- Posting a montage of at-home acceptance videos creates a feeling that a newly accepted student is joining a passionate and proud community. (ex 3)
Ditch the Filter:
- Not many accounts posted videos that highlighted academic programs.
- It is recommended that universities build up their follower base before posting academic program updates, because these videos are not drawing attention in the same way campus life, student opinion and athletic videos are. (ex 1)
Compliment your Community:
- Prospective students are interested in knowing what the area around campus is like. TikTok has proven to be an effective way to highlight new establishments in the vicinity as well as students interacting with community members. (ex 1, ex 2, ex 3)
- For the university to thrive, the community must be flourishing by its side. The success behind this messaging stemmed from the idea that students want their university to care for them as well as the surrounding community.