TikTok may be the top choice for social media entertainment but do students use it to research which university to apply to? And how do other social platforms compare?
TikTok may be the top choice for Gen Z entertainment, but more traditional social media platforms may hold the most prominence for higher education choices.
That’s the key finding in a new report, revealing that Instagram followed by Facebook are the mainstay apps for discovering institutions and programs, particularly among international students.
New insight on social media use
The research by the Keystone International Group surveyed more than 20,000 prospective students from more than 195 countries for its annual State of Student Recruitment report.
It found that just over 9% of those discovered their university or course through social media in 2022.
And of that number, a mere 1% turned to TikTok as a primary source of information—a figure level with the findings in 2021.
This leaves TikTok, the video-sharing app, trailing its more traditional counterparts, with the results defying global trends in which TikTok leads the way in most areas of digital marketing when it comes to youth audiences.
Instagram and Facebook
Instagram took more than 30% of the share, closely followed by Facebook—which has closed the gap significantly on its Meta cousin since 2021— with nearly 28%, reflecting a wider resurgence of relevance and popularity for the social media original.
In another surprise turn, LinkedIn (not an app necessarily synonymous with younger audiences) comes in third place, with nearly 18% of international students turning to the professional networking platform.
It marks a huge increase from last year’s figure of just over 9% and perhaps underlines its broadening appeal, particularly for informative content.
Meanwhile, YouTube represented 7% of the user share and a mixture of other platforms took 5%. Nearly 12% of students surveyed said they didn’t look to any social media platforms for discovery.
In more detail…
When the results were broken down to study level, TikTok did fare slightly better among undergraduate students—with 1.7% of the share—but remained at the bottom.
Instagram took the lion’s share with nearly 41.5%.
For postgraduates, Facebook rather than Instagram led the way by a slim margin, while PhD and doctorate students primarily looked to LinkedIn for course and institution discovery.
But the report also highlighted the huge weight international students give to online search and website browsing.
With 54% basing their decision on this type of digital journey, sleek, user-friendly websites, with high-quality, optimized content remain as crucial as ever to student recruitment.
University listing platforms
Elsewhere, 10% of students surveyed turning to university listing platforms—also placing them above social media in importance—these also remain a useful tool in gaining relevant exposure. The survey also found that more than 5% relied on word of mouth and nearly 4% cited email marketing as a decisive factor.
Scholarships and rankings
Unsurprisingly, nearly 61% of students were looking for scholarship and funding information as their main resource. And 28% were in search of ranking lists.
Interestingly, 27% of respondents said the key content for them was student experiences of studying abroad, showing that this type of authentic storytelling content is hugely important in the decision-making process.
Our team found these insights invaluable. If you have seen other surveys or reports in the field we’d love to hear from you.