A short note about this blog: Normally, our team of social media experts would lean towards not adding a platform like this to your social media toolbox. It can be volatile, unpredictable, and adds something extra to your already busy plate.
However, since the COVID-19 outbreak, TikTok has proven to be a viable tool to connect with current students — especially current juniors and seniors — who are feeling particularly isolated during this time. If your school does have students in their teenage years, and you have the capacity for it, TikTok can be a great new platform to spread positivity and to build a strong community mindset amongst current students.
Social media is no-doubt volatile. Apps come and go, algorithms change, and in the blink of an eye, something brand-new is trending. Our inboxes here at Finalsite are often flooded with questions each time a new platform emerges — because like us, you want to be on top of the trends that can help you reach more people! Most recently, the question we’re hearing is, “Should my school be on TikTok?”
Depending on your school’s resources and goals, there may be a time and place for your school to give TikTok a try. Much like our recommendations for Snapchat, TikTok account seems to live under the category of “unnecessary.” Nevertheless, we want to provide you with what we know right now to help inform your social media plan.
What is TikTok?
At first glance — and to describe it in its simplest form — TikTok is a video-sharing platform that encourages users to craft short, 15- to 60-second videos (similar to Vine, if you remember that short-form video platform from 2013-16).
On TikTok, users can create and upload videos that range anywhere from comedic skits to singing duets and dances, most often set to music. Much like other platforms you are familiar with, you can follow hashtags, head over to the Discover section to explore new content, or comment, like, and share — you name it. The app also goes by Douyin in China and is wildly popular in that country.
Does TikTok have a place in my school’s social media plan?
Unsurprisingly, Generation Z dominates the TikTok space; About 60% of the platform’s users are younger than 24 years old, and the majority are teenagers. Even Millennials like myself, who up until this point have been on top of social trends, are not as in-tune with this young platform. (Is anyone else starting to feel old?)
This makes sense. Gen Z is really the first generation to grow up online. They are engrossed in social media, expect to be entertained immediately, have a short attention span, crave video over any other content type, and have a mobile-first mindset — all boxes that TikTok checks.
Now you might be thinking, “I keep hearing about TikTok and just want my school to be involved in the trend!” As with any other platform, you should first take a step back and not only think about the ramifications of the platform, but you should also be honest about your goals. There are a number of questions to ask yourself before incorporating TikTok into your school’s social media plan:
- What are our goals for social media?
- Who do we need to engage with to meet these goals?
- Are we already active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn?
- Do we have the capacity for additional content creation?
To comfortably add TikTok to the mix, your answers to these questions should be:
- Engage our current and prospective students to drive awareness and demand for our school’s education and culture
- Teenagers / Gen Z
Unless your school is already social media savvy and is looking to engage with this demographic, it won’t do much for you except add another job for your communications team.
Still considering TikTok? Here’s what you need to know.
How do you find content on TikTok?
TikTok is populated by user-generated content, which is a tactical choice, considering the nature of its younger demographic. This makes TikTok different from the channels you know and love. Breaking the mold of the typical social media platform, its unique algorithm is more concerned with introducing you to new content, rather than ranking content based on who you follow. Because of this, brands and organizations are consequently facing a challenge.
If you download TikTok, your feed will be filled without requiring you to follow anyone. The interface will begin by asking you questions that determine your interests — and POOF! — you can start endlessly scrolling through content before you even create an account.
This is uncharted territory for social media. We’ve become so accustomed to usual best practices that the idea of your content performing solely on the basis of genuine interest changes the game. To reach users, your content has to match what your intended audience is interested in, and it must be engaging enough to garner a following. General social media mistakes, like not posting enough or not using hashtags, still apply here.
How can my school use TikTok?
If you answered our TikTok checklist with the answers above, you might have an exciting new venture to consider! There are a number of schools that are already crushing it, so there is plenty of content for you to look to for inspiration.
One school that is using TikTok and is using it well is McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. McCallie offers the perfect example of using the platform for its intended fun nature without compromising the “cool factor” for its young students — which is not an easy feat. When we caught up with their marketing team at Finalsite University, they shared that they even had one prospect attend an open house after he found their videos on TikTok!
Their first TikTok video appeared in August 2019 with a clip of their football team entering the field for a game. Since then, they have grown to over one thousand followers and have garnered an astonishing 18.5K likes.
Their content has a large focus on their students and faculty. This works, because current students naturally want to participate, and prospective students get to see the school’s culture up-close-and-personal. McCallie smartly participates in TikTok challenges, in which users will post videos with a challenge hashtag, performing similar tasks to a particular song.
Here, they show off their football players who also participate as candlelight singers and showcase their Dean of Students with the #starwarschallenge hashtag!
These videos are quick and light-hearted, and they no-doubt take cues from their own students. If your school has the capacity and appropriate goals to have a presence on TikTok, be sure to get your students involved! They’re the ones using the platform, so they can help you stay on top of these challenges and will likely be excited to help generate ideas.
I heard TikTok isn’t safe, is that true?
With a young user base comes privacy concerns. TikTok already received backlash and a subsequent lawsuit back in 2019 for gathering user information of minors below the age of 13. To aid in combating this issue, TikTok recently announced plans to open a content moderation center as a means to boost transparency. This center may be what schools need for that added level of assurance, as it will offer more details on privacy and security.
TikTok has introduced totally new territory for schools that are on social media. It’s a platform that thrives on Gen Z’s desire to be fed quick, user-generated content — and it poses a challenge for brands and organizations that need to reach users in an organic way. Aside from its privacy and bullying concerns, TikTok only has a place at schools that are already performing well on other channels and that desire to reach and engage with current and prospective students. When done right, TikTok can be an excellent recruiting and nurturing tool for younger demographics.
Remember: this recommendation comes from everything we’ve learned so far. TikTok is a brand-new platform, and we’ll continue to keep an eye on it to see how it evolves.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
In her position as Inbound Marketing Manager, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website and social media communications at Finalsite. With over five years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their branding, SEM, SEO, social media, and inbound efforts. She holds and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite