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You may be avoiding it, or you may be scrolling it for an hour a day. Either way, you likely know by now, TikTok is a popular platform, especially for the younger crowd. 

Put simply, it’s a short-form, video-sharing app that allows users to create and share videos no longer than three minutes in length, on any topic. The most popular use of the app is to record and share lip-syncing and trendy dances. But if you’ve been on TikTok lately, you’re probably aware that the platform is so much more than choreography. TikTok is quickly becoming an integral part of many schools’ marketing strategies. As it becomes more popular with Gen Z, so does its reputation amongst education marketers. 

TikTok is now available in more than 154 countries, in 75 different languages, and it announced in September that it has more than one billion users. It’s been downloaded over 200 million times in the United States alone. For reference, here are the active users of other social platforms: 

higher ed social media ad

Additionally, let’s look at the percentage of U.S.-based TikTok users by age as of March 2021: 

higher education social media marketing

This data comes from TikTok and We can see that there are a lot of Gen Z users, while the app’s popularity continues to grow amongst all adult age groups. TikTok maintains that 40% of the young users on their platform are not on Facebook. That’s a big portion of your audience you don’t want to miss out on.

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With celebrity endorsements, localized content, easy video creation, sharing, and viewing—TikTok is a fun, entertaining, and addictive app that has seen a surge in daily users over the last few years and is only predicted to continue to trend upwards. Because it’s a very visual app with a lot of room for creativity, it’s an ideal place to showcase what campus and student life are like for your students.

Why TikTok is So Popular, Especially Amongst Your Prospective Students

TikTokers love the app. They spend an average of 52 minutes per day on the platform. Gen Z’ers specifically love the fine-tuned algorithm, easy editing tools for endless creativity, more inclusivity, and trendsetting, and humorous content that can be a nice break from the day. As Instagram has become more polished and curated, TikTok has answered with zany creativity. Because of the design of the app and the “For You” feed, it’s easy to discover new creators and for anyone to go viral based on their inventiveness and talent. As the biggest age range demographic of TikTok’ers makes up the majority of most schools, colleges, universities’ primary target audiences, this is the newest and fastest-growing space to reach your prospective students.

Example: Day-in-the-life TikToks have been trending among young people recently. And they are exactly as they sound, students show what a day in their life looks like from their point of view, both on campus and off. Below is a snapshot of a day in the life of TikTok from UBC Nursing student @fatima_bianca. Fatima’s video has good engagement with 22K views, 874 likes, and 22 comments.

Tiktok for higher education

Source: TikTok

Considering TikTok as Part of Your School’s Social Media Marketing Strategy

TikTok is great for schools looking to increase brand awareness and generate leads. In a recent post we wrote about video strategy, we touched on schools using TikTok marketing, and how your school shouldn’t underestimate the power of short-form video formats for their potential reach and impact. 

Depending on your target audience for the programs you’d like to promote—or your school as a whole— the TikTok user base might fit your targeting exactly. If you can make that correlation, continue reading on as we cover some clever ways to get started with existing content being effectively turned into ads.

Example: The University of Strathclyde tried out three different creative approaches on TikTok, each focusing on a different aspect of university life, from Glasgow’s culture to its reputable campus. It also used student-generated content to showcase these aspects and the benefits of studying there. The campaign stats included 1.47M impressions, 14K clicks, and a cost of £0.09 per click.

social media advertising

Source: TikTok for Business – Europe

What is “Organic Creator Content”?

Also known as user-generated content, (UGC) organic content is any content that a person has created with the purpose of sharing their experience, recommendation or opinion. And it might be influential, but it is not connected to an ad, it’s not sponsored, paid for, or already partnered with a brand, product or service. It’s just content that exists. A regular person who enjoys making content, created and shared it on their own account. 

A “content creator” or more plainly, “creator” title will often be reserved for a person on any social media platform that puts out a lot of content at a prolific pace, and might do so with the intention of eventually earning remuneration. Or they already may be compensated for some of their work, but they still create for the sake of creating.

Example: Search for your school in TikTok to see what’s already being created about you. Here we have the top search results for “Dartmouth College.”

schools using TikTok marketing

Source: TikTok

Current students and alumni who are already content creators are a great asset in your marketing resources portfolio and can be key in how to generate student leads. More than half of surveyed students are looking for and citing online conversations with student ambassadors as the most helpful resource when considering which university to apply to. Gen Z prospective students want to see their peers talking about their experiences with your school before they make their final decision on which institution to attend. 

If you’re looking for content that’s already been created about your school, start by searching the name of your school and any branded hashtags you use on TikTok. 

Another great place to start is the Creator Marketplace on TikTok as you’ll also have a chance to see private videos here which could be boosted later. This platform is run by TikTok and houses thousands of profiles of TikTok creators. Any brand can search the marketplace for creators whose audiences, creative and aesthetics best fit the target market of their campaigns.

Taking Steps to Start Boosting Creator Content

You might be wondering if there is a tried and true TikTok for higher education strategy. Schools achieving success with TikTok ads appear to be gaining good results with one common key ingredient: Collaborating with their own students to ensure a fresh, relevant perspective from the users of the platform.

This dovetails into a new feature that TikTok recently launched called “Spark” ads. With TikTok’s Spark Ads feature, you can identify videos that fit the look and feel of your campaigns. 

Due to the nature of the type of content that gets shared and made popular on TikTok, many creators will feature a brand, product, or service in their TikTok videos without any brand deal secured—again they are happy to talk about a day in their life or what goals and activities they have been working on lately. 

TikTok has made it easy for organizations to effectively reach out to creators and use or re-purpose their content for paid campaigns. These aspirational and effective content pieces have proven value as they come from an authentic third party that your school’s target audience has deemed credible.

Example: Lindo Korchi documents their time at Kai Japanese Language School under the username @lindokorchi. Their caption for this TikTok is “Had a great time here.” This TikTok has generated an impressive 44K views,  8,577 likes and 301 comments.

how to generate student leads

Source: TikTok

A Spark Ads Overview for Schools

Spark Ads is a newer native ad format by TikTok that enables your school to boost your own TikTok account’s posts and organic posts made by other creators—with their authorization. You can use Spark to get an association boost without having to create anything yourself or even commission a school ambassador or creator to do so.

Given that you’re essentially boosting already strong performing content, it could be a great way to maximize reach and resonance, which could come in particularly handy for a marketing team that is less familiar with the platform and may not have the budget or skills for original material.

Promoted clips through Spark also allow your school to utilize TikTok’s ad targeting tools. So it’s not just reach that you can benefit from, but also a targeted focus, honing in on your key markets.

“From a holistic marketing picture, we’ve seen more and more brands investing in native content as part of their overall marketing strategies. When we talk about excellence in form and function, we talk about native ads. Standing in between organic content and advertising, Spark Ads make up a hybrid format that delivers unique value to both businesses and users. The native styles and features of Spark Ads harmoniously blend with TikTok’s vibe, helping businesses achieve fully native and authentic ad experiences, higher campaign results at a lower cost, and ongoing marketing impact in the TikTok community.”TikTok for Business

With Spark Ads, schools can build long-lasting connections with their creator students, alumni, and future students, that are authentic and rooted in their broader academic and extracurricular community. Spark Ads offer education marketers three main benefits:

  1. You can save time because you aren’t continually designing and filming new ad creative yourself. 
  2. Social proof is maximized by using UGC.
  3. Seamlessly partner with influential TikTok users.

Example: TikTok has provided a quick glimpse at the differences between regular in-feed TikTok ads and Spark Ads. The main difference between the two is the position of the CTA button.

higher education social media advertising

Source: TikTok

Short video promotions are not easy to master! As you only have a brief time to grab attention, and people will take the tiniest reason to swipe up (and away) on your video. For that reason, it’s important to spend a little time in TikTok before you consider all your ad options. Scroll through your feed, and take note of what’s gaining traction, which will then inform your own approach.

That being said, with Spark Ads you can promote existing popular clips that may already be mentioning or featuring your school. In this respect, Spark Ads could be a major boost for your TikTok approach. And while it won’t fit all strategies, there could well be a place for it in your strategy.

How to Create Spark Ads – Five Steps from TikTok

Step 1: Enable ad authorization – you may need to instruct the students (creators) you are working with on how to do this! 

The creator you are working with will need to turn on the ad authorization toggle on the TikTok app. Enabling ad authorization allows you to feature their videos on TikTok. From the TikTok app:

  1. Tap on Me to go to your personal profile page, then tap the 3 dots on the top-right corner. 
  2. From the Settings and Privacy page, tap Privacy. 
  3. Turn on the Ad authorization toggle.

social media ads for school

Source: TikTok

Step 2: Authorize video for promotional use – you may need to instruct the students (creators) you are working with on how to do this as well! 

The creator you are working with will need to select and authorize a video to use for promotion. From the TikTok app:

  1. Open one of your TikTok posts on the TikTok app. 
  2. Tap the three dots, then tap Ad settings. 
  3. Agree to the Advertising Terms of Service to authorize the post for ads.

higher ed social media

Source: TikTok

Step 3: Generate video code – you may need to instruct the students (creators) you are working with on how to do this as well! 

After the creator authorizes a video for promotional use, they will need to: generate a video code they can share with you and select how long they authorize their post. From a post’s Ad settings module:

  1. Tap Generate Code, then select a period to authorize a post for use by third-party advertisers. Choose from: 7, 30, or 60 days. 
  2. Next, tap Copy Code to share the code with the party using the video in their ad.

student lead generation

Source: TikTok

Step 4: Enter the video code on TikTok Ads Manager

Once you have received a video code from the creator you are working with, you will need to enter that code on TikTok Ads Manager. From TikTok Ads Manager:

  1. Go to the Creative tab. 
  2. Open the Spark Ads list and then click the Apply for Authorization button. 
  3. Paste the video code in the search bar and click Search. 
  4. Review the post and click Confirm.

social media advertising

Source: TikTok

For videos made by two creators, like duets and stitch posts, you will need to enter video codes from both creators featured in the videos. From the Apply for Authorization module:

  1. Enter the video code into the search field from the 2nd creator/account and click Search. 
  2. Once the system confirms that this is a dual creator post, you will need to enter the video code from the 1st creator/account’s original post. 
  3. After the system retrieves the original post, review the posts and click Confirm.

social media marketing for schools

Source: TikTok

If you have collaborated with creators via TikTok Creator Marketplace, you can directly synchronize the posts from the TikTok Creator Marketplace to TikTok Ads Manager, and do not need to generate and apply the video code manually. To do this, you may check a box within the collaboration workflow prior to the video being posted by any creators.

higher ed social media marketing

Source: TikTok

Step 5: Publish Spark Ads

After successfully adding the video codes on your TikTok Ads Manager, you can start creating Spark Ads. From TikTok Ads Manager:

  1. Create a campaign and set up an ad group. 
  2. At the Ad level, select the Spark Ads format. 
  3. Under Upload creatives, click Select Posts from Library. 
  4. Choose an authorized post you want to use. 
  5. Finish creating your ad, then click Submit.

education social media marketing

Source: TikTok

Additional Tips and Notes:

  • Once a video has been authorized as an ad, you can no longer edit the caption.
  • Private videos become public once used in campaigns and will remain so during their promotion. 
  • Organic videos used in Spark Ads will still be delivered organically, regardless of an associated campaign. 
  • You should try to be particular about the music used by the creator you are working with. They should only use sounds and music from the TikTok Commercial Sounds library. Anything else may come under copyright infringement.
  • It’s best to include hashtags like #[brandname]partner in compliance with trade commission guidelines. 
  • Influencers and creators should be allowed to make content according to their creativity. Nonetheless, providing them a set of guidelines to adhere to, helps keep your school’s brand consistent.

In Summary

It may have sounded a little strange at first—to be promoting organic, unbranded videos. However, you can see that it actually makes a lot of sense, with this new process for highlighting relevant content. 

A unique TikTok marketing challenge is that you really can’t just repurpose content from other platforms (like Facebook or Instagram) for ad campaigns. As TikTok has its own defined presentation style, if you don’t tap into that, your promotions just won’t take off and do well. Spark Ads help solve that.

There’s a reason why TikTok keeps telling brands to ‘make TikToks not ads‘ because the promotions that work best are those that match what users already see in their feed. 

Your dollars when working with content creators will likely go further on TikTok. Creators with 2.5 million followers can charge around $600-1000 per post, compared to paying $100-$200 for every 10,000-20,000 followers a creator has on Instagram.

Measuring the Impact 

To track analytics on TikTok, you’ll need to use your Pro account, which allows you to keep track of the performance of your videos. Here, you’ll be able to track how well your videos are performing compared to your competitors, or how many new followers you gained upon posting your latest video, and which videos are trending, or the most engaging to your audiences.

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