These Higher Ed TikTok strategies for boosting enrollment are part of an ongoing series we have called Higher Ed best practices. Included in this series: Higher Ed Snapchat strategies.
TikTok has boomed in recent years, becoming an increasingly viable and effective platform for organizations to achieve brand awareness and website traffic. With over 1 billion monthly active users–-60% of whom are aged 16-24—TikTok should be a no-brainer for institutions in higher education looking to target younger individuals. Gen Z spends the most time on TikTok compared to any other app, averaging 12.4 hours a week compared to YouTube (5.8 hours), Instagram (3.8 hours), and Snapchat (3.7 hours).
Conversely, only 50% of top brands have a TikTok account as of 2023. Brands that use TikTok strategically are able to achieve broad organic and paid reach compared to other social media channels.
For marketers in the higher-ed space looking to launch a TikTok strategy and boost enrollment among their target audiences, we’ll cover the dos and don’ts of university accounts on TikTok, along with tips for paid advertising on the platform.
Current audience demographics as of March 2023.
- 32.5% are 10-19
- 29.5% are 20-29
- 16.4% 30-39
- 13.9% 40-39
- 60% female
- 40% male
What to do as a university on TikTok
Reserve your username early: Make sure to secure your university username as early as possible so it’s still available, even if your account remains dormant before you begin posting.
Keep it short and snappy: While recorded videos can be up to 10 minutes, the best practice is still videos of 15 sec. max length.
Use the right format: All videos on TikTok are vertical, with a 9:16 aspect ratio. Start filming videos vertically for ease of use when creating videos for this platform or requesting vertical video cuts from larger video production campaigns.
Add hashtags to your caption: Adding 3-5 hashtags is ideal for TikTok videos in order to increase your video’s reach and appeal to new audiences. There is no limit to the number of hashtags you can include, but the caption is capped at 300 characters.
Experiment with posting times: While sources say the best times to post on TikTok are Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday between 7 am and 10 am PST, this may vary depending on your unique audience. Experiment with posting times and ask your students when they’re most active on the app.
Get creative: Videos sharing challenges and contests are great for engaging with users on TikTok and can help generate content from students to reshare on the university account.
Use your resources: Getting current and prospective students involved in your TikTok content creation will help make your videos more authentic and compelling to your target audience. Try reposting videos that tag your account (like “day in the life” videos from current students and acceptance videos from prospective students). Additionally, you should:
- Highlight Academic Programs – Academics are often the deciding factor for students committing to your school. Use TikTok to help prospective students gain insight into your educational programs and opportunities in a more dynamic way.
- Give More Visibility to Prospective Students – Use TikTok to give prospective students a preview of student life at your school through interviews, “day in the life” videos, campus showcases, etc.
- Answer Prospective Students’ Questions – Use TikTik to answer questions about important admission decision dates, new information about student life, and events happening on campus. Providing these answers will help target prospective students become more informed about your school.
- Boost On Campus Events – Use TikTok as a source of information regarding campus events. Create videos that include the who, what, where, and when of every on-campus event to ensure your student body and prospective students stay up-to-date.
What NOT to do as a university on TikTok
Post once and expect to grow: When first starting your TikTok account, performance usually depends on posting frequency. Creating a regular posting cadence is key to gaining a following, reaching a larger audience, and potentially going viral. Higher-ed accounts should try to post at least 3 times a week in order to build their audience and increase reach on the platform.
Pretend to be one of the kids: Younger audiences won’t connect with brand accounts that they view as inauthentic. Rather than focusing too much on fleeting trends, universities on TikTok should focus on the areas that their audience responds to. This may include campus tours, breaking down the enrollment and application process, hearing testimonials from current students, and more.
Be afraid to experiment: the TikTok algorithm works in mysterious ways when it comes to promoting certain videos over others. To find what type of content works best for your account and audience, try sharing content across academic topics, performing arts, student life, extracurriculars, and alumni activities before narrowing your account’s focus.
Forget about the music: Not only is music integral to the entire TikTok experience (originating from the app’s evolution from “Musical.ly”), but audio tracks are one of the best ways to achieve growth on TikTok. Users can choose from the entire music library and add trending music tracks to videos, while brands are restricted to the platform’s commercial music library. Original audio tracks can also be uploaded to your videos. Similar to hashtags on other platforms, using trending sounds on TikTok will help to boost your post and bring more engagement.
Paid advertising on TikTok offers a unique opportunity for universities to increase brand awareness among their target audiences and boost website traffic to enrollment landing pages. Here is a breakdown of the different ad types that TikTok currently offers:
In-Feed Video Ads
In-feed video ads are the most popular (and organic) on TikTok, appearing as just another video on viewers’ “For You Pages.” This type of ad generally receives the most in-app engagement since users can like and comment on it. In-feed video ads can be up to 60s, but TikTok recommends they still be short and snappy. Additionally, these ads feature a clickable CTA button which can be used to drive traffic to an external landing page or to your brand’s TikTok account. These ads are ideal for brands just wanting to get more recognition.
Top View Ads
Top View Ads occupy the first In-feed post after first opening the app. These ads can show up to 60 secs of full-screen video without any distractions from other videos. However, users can still scroll through the ad, so it is important that brands be creative with their ad content. Top View Ads are the second most common ad behind In-feed and are more expensive because brands do not have to capture initial interest from viewers.
Brand Takeover Ads
Brand Takeover Ads pop up as soon as users open the TikTok app, taking over the full screen before changing into an in-feed video ad. These ads are short—either a 3-second image or a 3-5 second video—but highly impactful. Created for mass awareness, this ad format will guarantee high reach and great performance. Brand Takeover ads have a 100% Share of Voice for the day that they are featured, meaning users will not see any other Brand Takeover on that particular day. As a result, it is advantageous for brands to have more than one different yet cohesive video or image to display for their ads. This will allow brands to avoid repetitiveness and keep users engaged while still maintaining brand recognition. Brand Takeover ads are pricey and are often used by large brands seeking maximum exposure.
There are Other options when it comes to advertising on TikTok, including branded hashtags, branded effects/filters, and spark ads.
Video ideas for universities (with examples)
To kick off your content posting on TikTok, here are a few ideas for videos to create and examples of how other universities have executed them.
Tours of the campus or school buildings
See this example from the Clemson University
Study spots on campus
See this example from Bryn Mawr College
See this example from the University of Georgia
Quick tips from students
See this example from the University of Arizona
See this example from the Harvard University
Day in the life of a student
See this example from Bay Path University
Content about career development services and post-grad job placements
See this example from the Cleveland State University
Alumni success stories
See this example from the University of Georgia
Creative content with University mascot
See this example from the University of Tennessee
See this example from the University of Michigan
Not sure where to start? Check out our higher education case studies.