Go Back
16th May 2023

Why TikTok is a must-have for universities looking to stay ahead of the curve

TikTok is the platform for education and it inspires action like no other

The key takeaway from TikTok is that marketing to Gen Z must be authentic to truly appeal. Get that right and it doesn’t matter what major platform you use.

Universities across the UK are using TikTok to attract prospective students. According to a 2022 Pew Research study, two-thirds of teenagers use TikTok, making it a vital recruiting tool for universities. The big selling point? TikTok videos feel truer to life, more authentic and spontaneous, and the app simplifies content creation with its user-friendly editing suite. For universities, the appeal lies in education being a leading trend on the platform.

“75% of users feel educated spending time on TikTok,” says Justin Owens, TikTok partner manager, who helps TikTok build relationships with businesses. “People no longer assume TikTok is just for dancing. The content teaches them something worthwhile. Universities should be asking how they can create content that ‘edutains’ people?”

Edutainment is about making subjects more entertaining to learn. This is done by making them engaging, informative and real. Some universities examples of edutainment include using TikTok to get inside the classroom, to dispel misconceptions, to show a real-life picture of the university. To get that authenticity, many universities are handing over the keys to their TikTok accounts to students—who better to create content?

So, Universities love the app, but what else do you need to know?

Get to know the edutainment platform

Authenticity is key to a successful university TikTok university campaign

TikTok launched in 2016, four years after Instagram, out of Beijing, China. Where Instagram focuses on images, carousels, stories, and short- and long-form content, TikTok focuses on vertical short-form video content. As of 2023 it has 1 billion active users. It’s 28 million in the UK, Europe’s largest market. Users are on the app for up to 80 minutes per day and the open rate (how often the app is opened) increased from 19 times per day in 2022 to 20 times in 2023. The average session time is nine minutes.

All of this is very appealing to advertisers.

The biggest trends on TikTok is the hashtag #learningontiktok with 49 billion views globally. The majority of these users are looking want to learn a new language; 50% want to access online classes on a range of subjects; 13% are looking to learn to start a new trade or career; and 11% wanted to earn a digital certificate.

“Lots of our younger users are looking for learning opportunities, including course information, training, career paths, and on-demand learning,” says Justin. “But we also have a lot of users over the age of 25 who are interested in post-grad, future studies, masters, and MBAs. One of the most interesting statistics is that 65% of people use TikTok because they want to learn something new and 61% believe they’re going to continue learning as well.”

TikTok offers ads in three different formats. In-feed ads (which appear as you scroll), sponsored hashtags (where TikTok will promote your hashtag), and brand takeover (an ad that appears when you first open the app. The app’s inbuilt editing suite makes it easy for universities to make their content shine, says Justin, and that universities will see higher click-through rates and conversion rates than on other social media apps.

The University trends on TikTok

Universities are using trends to shape their content strategies

The hashtag #uni has had 6.3 billion views on TikTok in the UK, followed by #university. Student life is a big hit, with users looking to see real-life stories about what it’s like to study at a particular university. When the UCAS deadline approaches, TikTok sees a bump in engagement, so Justin says it’s important to be active on the app during that time.

“A really interesting new trend from 2022 was snippets from inspiring professor lectures,” Justin says. “Alumni success stories, so someone 10 years down the road, how did that university impact their career? That’s been growing over the last couple of years as well from what I’ve seen. And then how to earn a vocational degree drew significant attention.”

The common thread is that students want to get a real-life picture of the university rather than the curated marketing that can be misleading.

The proof is in the case studies

Real people telling real stories

As part of the undergrad recruitment campaign in 2020, Newcastle University produced a series of ads aimed at teaching students how to write the perfect personal statement, intermixed with shots of the university. The campaign received 1.2 million impressions and 7k clicks.

In 2020, Lancaster University asked student ambassadors to create a series of ads to generate mass exposure for its online open days. The campaign received 10 million impressions and 90k clicks. Cat Prill, Marketing Coordinator at Lancaster University, said at the time: “The results of the campaigns have really surpassed Lancaster University’s expectations. We’ve loved sharing the great work our students create and allowing them to speak for the brand, and having flexibility and control over the campaign has meant we can really maximise performance and spend.”

Justin says half of students currently attending university would like to see their school post more content on TikTok, while 60% are open to seeing sponsored ads from schools on the platform.

TikTok is by no means perfect

One downside is some security concerns surrounding TikTok and its data collection.

In 2022, Australian-US cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0 described the platforms data harvesting as excessive. And, under China’s national security laws, Chinese companies are, upon request from the government, required to share access to data they collect.

Justin says TikTok abides by European data rules and recently launched Project Clover to further strengthen data protection in the region.

Taking the TikTok plunge

In a time where university profitability will increasingly come from undergraduates, a big selling point for TikTok is the younger demographics. But whether you land on TikTok or not, the key takeaway from TikTok is that marketing to Gen Z must be authentic to truly appeal. Get that right and it doesn’t matter what major platform you use.

Of course, if you’d like us to help you advertise your university on TikTok, we have a team of experts for exactly that. Get in touch with nick.friend@hunterlodge.co.uk



Want to see what we can do for you?

Show Me