Based on our Office Hours with EAB podcast, Episode 135, Has Time Run Out on TikTok as a Marketing Tool?
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Among the latest buzz about TikTok, I keep hearing these questions in higher ed spaces: Is it too late to join? Is it worth the risk? If it’s banned for everyone, then what?
Recent bans on TikTok are widespread, concerning, and confusing. We discussed the topic recently on an episode of the Office Hours podcast. As legislators mull over the possibility of a national ban on the app, there is still time to capitalize on TikTok’s heyday.
Here’s list of dos and don’ts to help you decide whether TikTok is right for your enrollment needs, and if you have the ability to use it, how to get the most out of the app.
TikTok remains one of the most engaging social platforms ever invented, with usage statistics topping an average of 95 minutes per day for a typical user. It’s been widely reported to be Gen Z’s version of Google Search, allowing users to find information presented in the form of user-created videos.
TikTok is an awareness powerhouse, with top colleges on the app exceeding 1 billion views. Through native ads—or ads that adopt the format and styling of a website or app, giving the user an uninterrupted experience—TikTok serves as a modern-day billboard for advertisers seeking to reach young people. And through the pandemic, it emerged as an educational tool for popular micro-lesson videos. It’s natural for enrollment practitioners to wonder if it’s a good place to engage prospective students and, if so, how.
A note on sidestepping bans:
If your state, governing body, or institution has restricted the use of TikTok on campus or beyond, we wouldn’t recommend using TikTok as an advertising platform. Though TikTok is well integrated into Gen Z’s daily routine and an enticing platform for enrollment leaders to pursue, trying to maneuver around bans may put educational funding at risk. A resulting loss of funding would be a disservice to your institution.
Ad spend on different social media platforms can vary widely depending on several factors such as audience demographics, ad format, ad placement, and bidding strategies. TikTok is typically more expensive to experiment with compared to other platforms, as their minimum budget is $20/day compared to Facebook’s $1-5/day. Though the cost to advertise on TikTok is higher than other social platforms, it is still remarkably more affordable than traditional marketing investments, and you have the best odds of reaching your target audience here.
Be sure to thoroughly explore advertising guides for TikTok and other platforms as you create your strategy to understand which objectives will help you reach your specific recruitment goals.
TikTok continues to expand its targeting options, more recently offering a reach objective (an advertising objective that prioritizes the maximum number of impressions in a targeted audience at the most efficient price) and list-based custom audiences (a targeting option that allows you to upload customer lists including email or phone numbers for matching and targeting within the platform). These innovations help us test new features and objectives to better support our partners in identifying and reaching their target audiences.
Finding the right strategy takes an open mind and continuous testing. Weigh the cost of different objectives with A/B tests for a specified time. For our partners, we currently use cost per click/traffic as our option, which is an objective focused on driving traffic to our landing pages. The reach objective is a newer option available in TikTok, one we will test soon and that we recommend partners explore to build brand awareness and stay in front of students.
No matter the platform, for optimal click-through rates, you’ll need user-generated content that matches what Gen Z is used to—and prefers—consuming. Getting it right takes an understanding of native app usage. Creating ads that don’t generate an automatic “cringe” reaction from their teenage target audience isn’t easy.
Users prefer funny, inspirational, educational, behind-the-scenes, and creative content over commercial imagery. If you’re lucky enough to have a certifiable TikTok influencer working in the admissions office, you have a head start. Even if these videos aren’t intended for ad usage, they can be popular with viewers because they don’t feel like they’re being served ads.
If you have the resources to facilitate user-generated content, we highly recommend trying it. These types of content are frequently successful:
- Student takeovers covering major campus events or day-in-the-life experiences
- Application and student tips from your enrollment staff
- Campus fun facts and traditions
- Micro lessons from engaging faculty members
Get more ideas from other university accounts in our recent blog post.
Try utilizing campus influencers for passive promotional opportunities. Though not officially affiliated with the university, these videos can feature aspects of your campus that you want to promote.
If you don’t have the time or resources to create new user-generated content, using your current creative assets can still go a long way. You can find marketing opportunities in your existing promotional materials. For our partners, we’ve experimented with quick-changing scenes repurposed from other marketing videos and simple messaging about campus life. Combined with upbeat music, these elements showcase a lively campus environment.
Equally engaging are ads promoting a Virtual Tour. This can help you increase awareness for recruiting purposes while also educating users about your owned media platforms. Try showcasing something unexpected, like “easter eggs” or themed tours, into your campus virtual tour.
It’s important to use appropriate benchmarking to measure your success. Gauging success among higher ed social ad platforms is an evolving science. Though it may seem helpful to compare yourself to an average, it isn’t helpful to compare higher ed accounts with e-commerce. The enrollment marketing consumer journey is very different from that of retail industries.
You can find TikTok performance industry benchmarks through external sources. Look for segmented reports for the most accurate rates to compare your account to.
Content you create for TikTok may be successful on other platforms, which are also great for reaching Gen Z. Make a practice of backing up your social content. Existing TikTok videos can be resized to a corresponding aspect ratio and uploaded to Instagram and served on Reels. You can also test their success on Snapchat, university YouTube channels, either as YouTube Shorts or compilation videos.
Be aware of copyright law when repurposing videos. TikTok has music attribution features built into their platform to prevent copyright infringement. If you’ve used any copyrighted sounds in your videos, you’ll need to replace the audio.
Save your videos in your university’s content library so that you have access to them for future marketing uses. Note content that has performed well so you can prioritize reuse.
As you and your team weigh the benefits and risks of using TikTok as a marketing tool and develop a marketing strategy around it, remember to stay nimble. It’s a good mantra to have no matter the platform. Each generation has their own content and platform preferences and they change continuously. If you determine TikTok isn’t worth the risk, your strategy on other platforms, with the right content, can still be effective in reaching Gen Z.
Learn what content resonates with Gen Z.
Check out EAB’s most recent New College Freshman Survey to learn what Gen Z wants to know from institutions.