When TikTok first started gaining momentum a few years back, many higher ed social media managers were skeptical. Already stretched thin with limited resources, did universities really need to be on yet another social network? Would TikTok be a flash in the pan? Would students want to see their universities there?
Today, TikTok is still going strong and shows no signs of slowing down in its immense popularity. Any remaining skepticism about whether or not higher ed should care about TikTok must face facts: Universities that don’t factor it into their social media strategies risk being left behind.
But getting on TikTok and doing it well are two different things, so before launching an account, colleges and universities need to consider the following questions.
What is your purpose?
First, and most importantly, you need to ask why your university needs a TikTok account? If your answer is something like ‘Well, it’s where the young people are these days’ then you need to re-evaluate your reasoning.
Before starting a TikTok account for your university, as with any social media account, you need to determine your goals first — and simply ‘connecting with young people’ isn’t enough. What do you hope to accomplish? Increase student applications? Increase attendance at events? Share university news and updates? Would these goals be better served with paid ads on TikTok or by using influencers to create and distribute content for your institution rather than maintaining a university account?
Do you have the bandwidth?
Next, and just as critically, you need to ask if your social media team has the bandwidth to successfully run another platform. Running a TikTok account is time consuming. Even a simple video can take hours to film, edit, create captions and transitions, and publish. Chances are, your social media manager is already overworked as it is. Is there something that you can take off their plate to make room for TikTok? Can you hire student workers to assist? Or is it finally time to expand your social media team beyond the single overworked social media manager?
Who will be your face?
Unlike other social platforms, TikTok requires on-camera talent for almost all of your posts — and this should consistently be the same person or small group of people in order to develop trust and brand recognition among your audience.
In her article about their TikTok strategy, Victoria Tran, the community manager for the popular video game, “AMONG US,” states that “it’s beneficial for a TikTok account to have 1 person (or character) continually and distinctly appear in videos. Scrolling through videos is quick and not everyone checks the username/profile pic, so a distinct face someone immediately associates with your TikTok account helps people identify your content easily.”
Before starting a TikTok account for your university, as with any social media account, you need to determine your goals first — and simply ‘connecting with young people’ isn’t enough.
This can be a challenge for higher ed, as students are unlikely to identify with a 30-something marketing manager and student workers often move on from semester to semester. And while putting someone in a mascot suit might work for some videos, it’s probably not best for every situation. For universities, the best option might be to have three or four personalities that can be featured in videos and rotate in new talent as students graduate or move on.
How will you handle the comment section?
The real magic of TikTok doesn’t happen in the videos, but in the comments. The comment section is where you will build community, answer questions from students, and get feedback as well. It is vital that you have someone monitoring the comments and answering questions there. Many schools have opted to outsource their TikTok accounts to ad agencies to run paid ads and often have comments disabled as an ad agency is not equipped to answer prospective students’ questions about financial aid, registrations, etc. This is a huge (read: massive) missed opportunity for these schools and, honestly, a waste of valuable advertising dollars. If you are going to have your agency produce paid TikTok ads for you, be sure you leave the comments on and have someone on your staff available to reply.
Who on your campus really needs an account?
When it comes to social media, every department on campus seems to want their own account and we can debate whether these are all really necessary. (I’ve actually seen one campus where the campus locksmith had a Facebook page.) But when it comes to TikTok, I’d argue that less is better. Creating regular video content for TikTok is time consuming and requires specialized skills that most campus departments just don’t have. If a campus department needs to reach an audience on TikTok, it’s best to partner with a central marketing office to create the content and release it on the main channel rather than start their own. For most campuses, an account for the main university and another for athletics should be more than enough.
Who is talking about your university on TikTok?
Finally, whether or not you decide to launch a TikTok account, you have to monitor it. That’s because the TikTok algorithm gives anyone the chance for their content to reach a large audience, not just those with large follower accounts. An account with 50 followers has just as good of a chance to go viral as an account with 50,000. This means that videos posted to TikTok by students about your university, positive or negative, have a chance of spreading. So it needs to be a part of your daily social listening routine, running a search of keywords associated with your school and location to see what students are saying and what is spreading.
Ultimately the choice to start a TikTok account for your university comes down to each individual institution’s goals, resources, and audience. Starting a new university social account should never be taking lightly or down out of fear of missing out. It requires thoughtful consideration, planning, and the expertise of an experienced social media manager.