Is now the time for universities to adopt the video sharing platform TikTok?

TikTok is the Instagram for the mobile video age. A social media app, it enables users to film short videos of themselves lip-syncing to songs or doing comedy sketches.

This relative newcomer to the social media space has some crossover with other short-form mobile video apps like Snapchat and Instagram Stories. It's easy to use, quick to publish and the videos people create are typically very funny, which lends itself to shareable viral content.

And like it's rivals, growth has been explosive.

In February it exceeded one billion installs and this year it is the third most downloaded app after WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and notably above Facebook and Instagram. And on iOS it was the most downloaded app in the first quarter of this year with over 33 million installs.

How universities can engage students through TikTok

TikTok is especially popular with teenagers. Where Millenials choose Instagram, Gen Z are also opting for TikTok (41% of users are between the ages of 16 and 24).

They can access the platform from the age of 13 and are reporting that they feel more included in this new digital community which isn't overridden with paid influencers. They seem to like the format's rawness and the realness resonates with them.

And institutions are therefore beginning to think about how TikTok can fit into their social media initiatives.

TikTok has experimented with advertising over the last year but has not yet set up any formal profit-sharing system yet. However, they are getting closer to the point when institutions will be able to advertise on the platform.

In the meantime, there are three main ways that universities could use TikTok.

  1. Firstly, institutions could create their own channel and upload video content or set challenges with related hashtags.
  2. By connecting with existing students and interacting with their content institutions can begin to create new engagement opportunities.
  3. TikTok is all about user-generated content. So by working with student influencers university-related content can be developed for the platform to gain large audiences quickly.

The University of Florida is setting the TikTok adoption trend

The University of Florida was one of the first institutions on the platform making TikTok part of campus life. It now has over 71,000 fans and over 945,000 'hearts' and has become the first verified university account. It is also reaching out for student talent ambassadors to build and distribute TikTok content.

Ryan Morejon, a social media specialist at UF, explains. "Our job is to keep the university relevant. If TikTok is the new thing, jump headfirst and immerse yourself in it and start creating. The user base is mostly middle/high schoolers who will eventually attend university. So it makes sense to engage directly with that audience."

Indiana University Bloomington has also jumped onboard having taken inspiration from UF but also by exploring the 'for you' section of the app to analyze and find the types of content that will resonate with prospective and current students most.

And a further fifteen institutions have now joined TikTok in the United States with many more universities considering a launch this year.

The early mover advantage

The early indications are that students are greeting institutions with welcome arms on TikTok. Students are talking about and posting content about their university experience and reacting to university branded content very favorably.

And although it's early days for universities on the platform this means it's less crowded and moving early could give institutions a head start over competitors.

If universities can produce short videos that engage students, it's clearly another valuable platform to connect with prospective and current students.

Is your institution already on TikTok or do you have plans to start a branded university channel on the app? We'd love to hear.