There are very few things I’d rather do less than stand in the middle of a shopping centre and film myself dancing to Little Mix, but for many members of Generation Z, embarrassment lies in not keeping up with the latest viral trends. Whilst this might seem inconceivable to those who can remember the 90s, TikTok isn’t merely a communication channel for young people but a lifestyle.
For marketers, TikTok divides opinion. On the one hand, it’s nothing new; challenger social networks emerge all the time, but none have ever got vaguely close to challenging the duopoly of Google and Facebook. Whilst the “big two” are unlikely to be worried about TikTok eating into their advertising revenue anytime soon, users under the age of 18 spend an average of 80 minutes a day scrolling through videos and open the app nine times in this period.
I know what you’re thinking: surely this makes TikTok the perfect channel to build into a school marketing and comms plan? Well, it’s not quite that simple.
A Beginner’s Guide
TikTok describes itself as “the leading destination for short-form video” and has a mission to “spread creativity and joy”. You don’t need an account to browse on the app and – since their parent company was fined for dodgy data policies – TikTok don’t require users to hand over masses of information to sign up.
Like other social media platforms, TikTok uses algorithms to recommend videos and accounts based on activity on the app. This is known as the “For You” page and it is often the goal for young people to be featured in this section of the app. TikTok has been pretty good about this and only users over the age of 16 can be found on here. Content created by users that TikTokers “follow” is located elsewhere on the app and not on the default landing page, differentiating it from other social networks.
“Masses of TikTok content is filmed on school premises – some would make for uncomfortable viewing for school leaders.”
In a former life, TikTok was Musical.ly: an app where users created lip-syncing music videos and could add a range of filters and effects to add humour. In the last year, we’ve seen TikTok evolve from a platform predominantly filled with comedy music videos to more content about fashion, popular culture, television and pets (obviously).
But why should schools care about all this? If teenagers are spending 80 minutes a day on the app and opening it nine times, you’d think there’s a pretty good chance that they’re spending time in school creating and sharing content. You’d be correct, there’s masses of TikTok content filmed in school corridors, playgrounds and classrooms; some of which would make for uncomfortable viewing for school leaders.
Should you bother?
Knowing and understanding what consumers are saying about your brand is the holy grail for marketers in any industry. The majority of social platforms give access to this kind of information, because their revenue is almost solely reliant on it. TikTok is wired differently, because it prides itself on being “for creators”, making it much more difficult to determine sentiment. This is especially true when your consumers are teenagers who will be doing everything within their power to make sure their school isn’t finding their content.
“Like it or loathe it, TikTok is here to stay, so building a plan should at least make page two of your to-do list.”
So, should you bother? Yes. New social media channels emerge all the time. They attract millions of users and shrink down to nothing at breakneck speed, but TikTok is showing none of the signs that MySpace, Google Plus and Vine did before their demise. Rather than simply aiming to grow users, TikTok is working hard to diversify content on the platform by building partnerships with organisations such as The Red Cross. This is all part of a longer term plan to make the app appeal to a wider audience, so I suspect we’ll see more educational content through 2021.
Sounds like a plan
Like it or loathe it, TikTok is here to stay, so building a plan should at least make page two of your to-do list. However, I wouldn’t advise jumping in with both feet straight away. Think about your objectives for the channel: are you trying to engage new audiences? Change perceptions? Provide information? Or humanise your staff? I wouldn’t recommend trying all of these in one go, but why not set a couple of hours aside with your team to think about what you could do on TikTok? Spend the first 30 minutes exploring the different types of content to gauge the vibe and then brainstorm some content that you could create without too much difficulty. Why not share content ideas with Sixth Form students?
“If you’re working in a school that requires SLT sign off for every social post then TikTok isn’t going to work for you.”
Once you’ve explored the possibilities, it’s time to decide whether you want to take the plunge. TikTok is a reactive platform and trends can come and go within a week, so speed is everything. If you’re working in a school that requires SLT sign off for every social post then TikTok isn’t going to work for you. But if you have a digital nomad in the team who has their finger on the pulse, it’s certainly worth a go.
– Search your school name – you might find nothing, but safety first…
– Whether you’re ready to start creating content on TikTok or not, register your school name as a handle to protect your brand.
– Install the TikTok pixel on your website – you never know when you might want to use it, so give yourself a head start and get that beauty collecting some data.
Building a presence on a new channel can be a daunting step, especially when it’s one you don’t fully understand, but it can also be hugely rewarding and a chance to really get the creative juices flowing. I can’t wait to see how schools spread creativity and joy on TikTok in the months and years to come.