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Matt DiteljanMar 11, 2020 5:30:00 AM6 min read

What time is it? Why your institution should be using TikTok.

- 5 min read - 

The secret is out, simply existing on social media is not good enough anymore.

We previously explored the unique demands and expectations from Gen Zs and offered insights into how a digital marketing strategy can adapt to stay relevant and reach its target audience. 

As the first generation born into a digital era, Gen Zs provide an extraordinary challenge due to their shortened attention span and ability to process information at a must faster rate than their predecessors. As outlined in our Gen Z Media Report, not all platforms are created equal and understanding the different purposes they serve is imperative. Short, concise and visually alluring content is essential.

Cue: TikTok.

TikTok is a short-form, video-sharing app that allows users to create and share short videos between 3-15 seconds or longer videos ranging between 3-60 seconds. The app was originally launched in 2017 and featured predominantly lip-sync/music/talent mash-up videos but has since grown into one of the most widely preferred platforms amongst content creators thanks to its engaging and unique production features. 

Unlike other major social media platforms, TikTok does not require you to register to use it. You are able to download the app and get a feel for it before creating an account. Once downloaded, you will be able to view content under the ‘for you’ tab which is one of TikToks key features. Based on information such as your location, it will provide suggested content that will help you find relevant accounts to follow. The platform places an emphasis on local content when populating suggestions and then expands from there. The exact specifics of the TikTok algorithm remain a mystery, but it seems to measure the views, likes, comments, shares and downloads of each post to determine the quality. As engagement rises (likes: views ratio), the video is subsequently pushed out to a larger audience, and vice versa when engagement drops.  



Once you’ve got a feel for it, you can create an account, produce your own videos and build a following, similar to other social media platforms. User-friendliness is also similar to other popular apps like Snapchat or Instagram; record videos by simply holding the big red button!

How is it different?

 The true differentiator comes once you’re done filming. Not only does TikTok allow users to edit and customize videos post-recording, it has a plethora of filters, special effects and playlists that can be added to individual portions of your video. Other video hosting platforms rely on third-party software, meaning a user has to build content externally and upload. TikTok, however, provides an array of production tools within the app.

tiktok and gen z

To an audience that values creativity and individuality like Gen Z, this feature is a key selling point. In 2019, TikTok became the 2nd most downloaded app, surpassing the likes of Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.  While the app shot to popularity with music videos and lip-syncing acts, it has evolved to include a plethora of video genres, primarily comedy and education. TikTok now has over 1.5 billion users, 41% of which are aged between 16 and 24, driven by the empowerment of self-expression and creativity. Not only is Gen Z on the platform, they are engaged. 90% of users access the app daily, with 55% of them uploading their own content as opposed to passively scrolling through their feed. 

tiktok and higher education

With such a strong presence amongst Gen Zs on the platform, there are some important opportunities for postsecondary institutions to leverage by producing content that can strengthen their brand and resonate with prospective students. 

Using TikTok for the promotion of campus events, activities and lifestyle is a great way to build awareness and excitement around your Institution’s brand. Give high school students and potential enrollees a preview of what life is like as a member of your institution. Post videos highlighting your unique culture and show off the pride current students take in wearing your colours.  Drive engagement by following the latest trends and putting your own personal twist on them (see ‘Broom Challenge’).  This is the perfect opportunity to show off your best features in a format that matches the compressed attention span of Gen Z. 

If you’re looking for some great examples of accounts that target Gen Z, check out the University of Florida, they have an amazing mix of campus shots and pride highlights (they invented Gatorade and they’re not about to let anyone forget it!). NBC has also carried the success of its Stay Tuned snapchat program over to TikTok. The account, which has almost 600,000 followers, focuses on providing quick news updates on current events and pop culture in a raw, behind-the-scenes format. 

You can also consider leveraging TikTok influencers to reach existing users and spread your message. Someone who has already built a strong following with engaging content will be able to provide some strong insights into how the app works and what type of posts create improved engagement. Campus tours and event promotion are great ways to once again showcase your institution’s features while receiving an endorsement.

 Flighthouse, a media and entertainment company  created by 20-year old Jacob Pace, has gained over 23 million followers by collaborating with influencers and known personalities to participate in online trends and challenges. Major companies such as Disney are also embracing the shift to influencer marketing on TikTok by posting candid footage of performers and musicians on-set. Check out some more examples of how brands used TikTok influencers, and their following, to gain exposure. 

paid media on tiktok

Paid advertising is also available, although a newer and pricier service, on TikTok and offers advanced targeting and creative content production. Keep in mind, this is still in a trial format and is only available to select American-based clients. Once you set up a TikTok Ads account you will be able to build a fully customizable campaign designed to meet your specific goals. Campaign objectives can be geared towards driving traffic or conversions while allowing you to input a budget, schedule and pace (speed at which your budget will be spent). Ad placement, details, and targeting are the most useful features, allowing you to define your target audience by age, location, gender, languages, interests and more. You can even create custom audiences by inputting the TikTok IDs of existing users.

 TikTok currently offers three types of ads: brand takeover, where your ad will appear as soon as the app is opened; in-feed ads, which will showcase your ad between videos in a user’s queue; or Hashtag challenges, which give you the chance to partner with TikTok’s marketing team to create promoted hashtag challenges that encourage involvement and content sharing. 

The future of tiktok

While an estimated 25 million businesses use Instagram, only 4% of marketers are currently on TikTok, presenting a huge opportunity to establish an early presence. Despite its current popularity, TikTok could fall victim to the unpredictability of Gen Zs digital presence at any given moment as they move between platforms at a rapid pace. New concepts and ways to share, create, and engage are being introduced at an alarming rate. TikTok is an opportunity for institutions to reach Gen Zs where they are, but it needs to be taken advantage of now.

We collected insights from 1,700 high school students on their media preferences for higher ed advertising. Access Report.