Top five university TikTok strategies to engage and recruit students

Gone are the days when TikTok was a platform best known for lip-synching and dance routines; it's now the go-to app for Gen Z and has more than a billion users worldwide.

And that's not only for entertainment but for learning and inspiration, too. In fact, 46 % of TikTok users now say they use the platform to discover new things… which could well be about your university. 

Purely focusing on Instagram and Facebook's proverbial sands is no longer an option.

Higher education digital marketers need to start placing as high a value on TikTok growth and engagement these days as on other social media streams to keep up with the times. TikTok's power can't be underestimated in recruiting—and retaining—new students.

Through paid or organic content (or both), higher education institutions can inspire future cohorts by showcasing their campus and academic offering through videos specifically but easily designed for the platform.

So this week, we offer five strategies that can help your university get its TikTok game on for the next year and beyond.

#1 Tap into educational hashtags

We've previously discussed on this blog how using TikTok as an education stream has become a huge trend.

#LearnOnTikTok and #LearnWithMe, for example, are filled with people imparting a plethora of wisdom and knowledge (okay, there's plenty of nonsense too, but insightful, valuable, or quirky information is what's going to cut through the noise).

(Students often post about universities using popular hashtags like #studentlife and #universitylife, #dormroom and #campuslife, and so many many more, many of which are student-led.)

Consider packaging up neat little learning lessons to share about specialist areas from your university's faculties.

And keep an eye on ‘learning' hashtags that might be more specific to specialisms within your institution.

TikTok's algorithm is based on what users interact with rather than who they follow, which gives universities strong potential for organic reach if they focus on the right topic areas.

Plenty of teachers in all fields of study are gaining good followings and engagement by taking their knowledge to TikTok.

How about lining up one of your top professors with on-camera engagement potential for some video creative specific to their area of interest?

A top marine biologist, for example, has the potential to gain traction among those thinking about studying the subject area at college, as TikTok users will have been looking at related content.

The University of Arizona is among colleges already doing this well, with good traction gained from explainers about topical space science news.

tiktok for higher education - #learnwithmeThe first images from the new James Webb Space Telescope explained by an @uarizona professor 

There are numerous approaches and ways to tap into the hunger to learn on TikTok, and it's not just a means of recruiting new students. It's also a brilliant way of engaging current cohorts by building up a fun and additional way for them to learn online.

#2 Use existing students

We've explored the concept of student ambassadors before here on the Terminalfour blog, most recently when we looked at the trend of micro and nano influencers.

And if there had to be a spiritual home for these student influencers, it would be TikTok—a platform built on its popularity among college students.

So, universities should tap into the talent on their doorsteps and enlist these young creators to help boost university profiles.

If this is coupled with leveraging the latest trends, then you've found a perfect way of fitting into TikTok and a means of making content authentic, which is crucial compared to the shiny likes of Instagram.

Look for students that are already active on the app and see who is creating good content.

University of Bath students leading the @uniofbath TikTok channelUniversity of Bath students leading the @uniofbath TikTok channel on Open Day

The University of Bath is an excellent example of this, as the content on its main channel is led by students.

With anything from short tours around campus and revision tips to lessons on digital identity and job applications, the university's students are at the forefront of making sure the content is relevant to their peers.

#3 Create advice content for prospective students

More so than in previous years, we saw this a lot during clearing in the UK (the system used in the UK to allocate applicants to l course places at university that haven't yet been taken): helpful content built around challenges or milestones that students face.

It's a great way of engaging the prospective students you want to reach.

Or you could even think about being an antidote to big events, like exam season—TikTok is, after all, known for its humor as much as its creativity.

Loughborough University was among those really thinking about their content in the run-up to clearing and delivering this content through a number of posts, from myth-busting to constructive advice.

University tips and guidance on TikTok @lborouniversityUniversity tips and guidance on TikTok @lborouniversity 


#4 Consider paid spend

While TikTok offers amazing scope for building organic audiences due to its algorithm favoring content over followings, ads can support this work or even kick-start it.

Some universities are only doing paid content on TikTok while they get to grips with this new social media landscape, while others are amplifying organic content through paid activity.

Given that TikTok content should be real and raw, and ideally no longer than 15 to 30 seconds (that's the current optimum), big budgets don't equate to big success.

All content can also be created within the app, with advanced video editing features and effects like voiceovers to keep things simple but engaging.

So, it's perhaps worth dabbling in paid to see if it brings in results.

In-feed ads are the most relevant for universities and offer flexibility with targeting.

Organic content can also be utilized and promoted in this way. Universities using this approach include the University of Newcastle which has seen good engagement results from leveraging student ambassador content knitted together with sleek footage of campus.

TikTok for Business with Newcastle UniversityTikTok for Business with Newcastle University: Case study

Meanwhile, Strathclyde University focused on different aspects of university life to raise awareness in the run-up to the UCAS application deadline, reporting 1.47million impressions.

The other benefit to complementing organic with paid is the possibility of creating lead generation forms, so that users interested in signing up for an open day, for example, don't need to leave the app.

And there's also the option of paying for branded effects, which may prove popular at US colleges during graduations, a theme we've seen lots of already on Instagram.

#5 Keep things fun

Last but not least, remember to inject a bit of humor into your TikTok strategy wherever possible.

We've seen campus dogs and students attempting stunts like cameo tours to provide light entertainment among the messaging.

After all, 80 % of users still use the app for entertainment.

The tongue-in-cheek approaches of the University of Chichester and the University of Sydney has seen them amass nearly 24,000 and 35,500 followers, respectively.

@universityofchichester's lighthearted digital marketing approach to TikTok

@universityofchichester's lighthearted approach to digital marketing on TikTok

Others have fun trumpeting their sports teams, campus pets, trending alums, college mascots, and more.

Just make sure that that's not all your university is known for, if you want to use the platform to boost recruitment. As with most things in life, balance is vital!

Where is your university at with its TikTok strategy? Do you have one and what is your approach for the upcoming year?

Share it with us in the comments below or on social media.


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