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Getting started with TikTok in Education Marketing & Recruitment

September 14, 2021

If you come out in a cold sweat at the thought of this, just read our last article on why you should use TikTok in education marketing & recruitment. We probably all felt the same about Instagram when everyone was telling us that this was the next thing, and look how that worked out. This time, we're going to assume you've downloaded the app, had a browse around, given the idea time to percolate, and are a little bit curious about just how this works.

Now, advanced TikTok users will be interested in the ads feature, and approaches such as influencer marketing, but that's not where we are aiming here yet. As a matter of fact, we suggest first building an organic audience before getting into the nitty-gritty of TikTok Ads.

TikTok is investing money in creating educational content, and the platform is starting to be taken more seriously by education institutions all over the world. That said, the playing field is still relatively open. There are big players like the University of Florida and McCallie School for the K12'ers, but so many other institutions are just dipping their toes in the water. It is a great time to dive in.

As we have already mentioned, engagement rates on TikTok are sky-high, and the next generations of students are already there. Using this platform to reach them in its most organic way is relatively low cost, but that doesn't mean it should be approached without a well-thought-out basic strategy.

And that's where we are aiming today: to look at some principles of using TikTok to good effect, in a way that will help you build a sense of what works and what does not, before stepping up to ads and all the rest.

You don't have to dance

No. Not unless you want to. One of the main misconceptions of TikTok is that it's all about lip synching and dance challenges. In promoting your institution, it's important to look at the broader principles at work here. TikTok users love challenges, and this "challenge culture" is, according to the book Generation Z goes to College, part of the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of generations Z and Alpha. This means they are less bothered about consuming content, and much more interested in creating it.

And what about you? The marketing team, campus manager, teacher, or administrator? The thing is, it really is open in terms of who should get involved. Check out the hashtag teachers of TikTok to see some of the really creative ways that staff are engaging directly with students, but also you will see that your average institutional TikTok account is almost entirely student-generated content, such as the account of Indiana University. There are usually a great many local challenges too, and picking up on these is a guaranteed way into high engagement.

Some administrators and leaders in education might feel a touch uncomfortable at seeing all of the content that is filmed in the corridors and classrooms of their institution, but you don't have to share it. What is important, is to embrace and learn from it. How authentic is the feedback you really get from students about their experience? Want to know what they really think and feel? You will find it here.

Raw, authentic and awkward

Raw content is encouraged. You might think it counter productive to showcase videos of all the things that your students are finding challenging about their studies, but trends such as the #collegegotmelike hashtag were picked up by many institutions, such as the University of Limerick, in Ireland.

In this, users would make short videos about how stressed they were, the mistakes they had made in missing deadlines, or just the struggles of getting out of bed for an early class. We all know that college has challenges, and sharing them in this fun way gave the institutions a very human, authentic appeal that complements the glossy course brochures, rather than contradicting them.

Several schools from around the world, for example, asked their students to post TikToks for the #backtoschool challenge, where users would make short videos showing how they were prepping to return after the holidays. Tagging and hashtagging their schools was a great way to generate authentic and fun content that gave a snapshot of student life, with real students producing raw content.

If you do want to jump in, go for it, but make it fun. TikTok is all about embracing awkwardness and cringe-worthiness, so don't aim to make it polished, because authenticity is the key at all times. Self-deprecate, be a little silly, or leave it to others: that's the best advice we can offer on this one.

Make it short, make it punchy

We are really comparing TikTok here with Instagram, for easy reference. On Instagram, you can create short, engaging videos to market your course or institution, but on TikTok, the videos are really short. The videos are 3 to 15 seconds long. However, you can combine them to produce something up to 1 minute in total.

That said, TikTok says that ads of 9 to 15 seconds are optimal. The sheer amount of content on here should make clear why, as users are unlikely to engage with content 1 minute long unless they are really really interested.

To grab the attention of people who may not already be checking you out, your content needs to be punchy. Think about those YouTube ads that have a few seconds to get you hooked before you click the skip button. TikTok doesn't only have great filters and songs, but also a host of post-production tools that you can play around with to make your content stand out. Though the content is short, the creative potential is endless.

Tap in to trends

TikTok is built on trends. These trends can be around current events, local hot topics etc. Some of these don't last long, such as the trends you find on the "discover" page, so you have to get in there quick. Unlike the mentality of content on other platforms, on TikTok copying others is really the done thing. You don't need to reinvent the wheel and be hyper original to get started- just jump in and do what they do, with your own spin on it.

Share the content on other channels too, because users who engage with it there and follow the thread to your TikTok page is something the TikTok algorithm really likes. Make the most of the trends as they emerge and disappear, because when things are hot on TikTok, they are smoking hot. Make time available on a regular basis to see what is driving engagement. Your students will be only too happy to tell you, and you might even find yourself pulled in to a video demonstration!

Build your strategy

We said at the start that TikTok was really a low cost and high engagement way to interact directly with students, current and prospective. The thing is, that essentially "playing" on TikTok can really give you unique insights into what works and what does not, so that if and when you do invest in ads, you will be better prepared.

Ask your followers what questions they have about the experience at your school or university, and use TikTok to answer them. Challenge students to showcase what life on the MBA course is like, or what they wish they'd known when they started school. All of this is not only amazing content for prospective students, but can feed back into improving the overall experience for students too.

Do open a pro account. It is free and gives you the dashboard for analytics, on which you can really start to figure out where future ads and campaigns might be targeted. There's no rush. Just being there and showing the fun side of your school or college through the eyes of your students is already an achievement.

When you are ready to take things to the next level, NEO is ready to support you. Our only requirement is that you send us your request in the form of a dance.

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