TikTok has rapidly risen to become one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, with many businesses – and now schools – seeing the value in using this platform to reach their target audience.
However, recent fines over data misuse have created unease, particularly amongst school marketing teams who have been considering using this platform.
The most common social media platforms that we use are based in the US and so the fact that TikTok is a Chinese company has made it a bit of a political target. Let’s face it, all social media platforms want to harvest our data and TikTok is no different.
“If you have not searched for your school on TikTok, I suggest you do so.”
Over the past two years, TikTok has invested heavily in improving its safety measures – they now have a 40,000-strong safety team in place and have introduced new features such as “Family Pairing” and a “Guardians Guide” to help parents monitor their children’s activity on the platform. This has given me confidence that it is still a viable option for our school.
However, it is a platform to keep an eye on and I would recommend that we watch how other well-known brands such as John Lewis, Barclays and the BBC, with presumably large legal teams, continue to use it to enhance their brand.
My rationale for introducing TikTok to the Royal Hospital School (RHS), and before that at Felsted School, was to use its powerful storytelling medium to demonstrate the values of our school. At RHS we wanted to dispel misunderstandings and myths that can arise from our formal naval heritage. We wanted a platform that would give our potential families a flavour of the “fun” that goes on behind the scenes at RHS in an authentic way, plus boost sixth form enquiries.
We also felt compelled to manage our brand on TikTok, rather than leave it to our pupils, many of whom were representing us in a way that was not helpful. I think that’s a familiar story for most schools, and if you have not searched for your school on TikTok, or secured your name, I suggest you do so.
“We wanted to use this powerful storytelling medium to demonstrate the values of our school.”
To begin with, I was nervous about launching the school on a platform with which I wasn’t familiar, so I set up my own personal TikTok account first. I used my dog and just started playing around with the app, learning the features, seeing what was trending and so on. I followed hobbies, dogs, people and brands that I liked. I was soon hooked …
We use the normal account rather than a business one. We quickly found that the business account limited the choice of music we could use, although the business version probably has more functionality in terms of statistics.
We use moderated comments which means we review any comments that come in first, and either approve them for publication or block/delete accordingly. It’s a little time-consuming but when you’re monitoring comments all the time on other channels, it’s just another channel and most of them are fine – I’d say we approve 95 per cent.
Short form video
You don’t necessarily have to create video to make a short form video – you can use photos and put them to music. If you search for trending templates or music and see something you like the look of and could harness for your school, at the bottom you’ll see it says “cap cut” – basically you can copy the template and use it with your own content.
The kind of music you use with your videos can have a big impact on how many people see your posts. You may not be bothered about having a trending post – it certainly wasn’t our primary objective – but actually it can be quite rewarding and your audience, including your own pupil body, react well when you’re on trend.
Leading up to launch
As you start doing research on your account, you’ll begin to see your own pupils’ accounts on the platform, as it is location based. I would recommend that you not follow their accounts, but simply view their posts. Most of the content will probably be fine, but some may not be appropriate, and could contravene your social media policy.
If you don’t have such a policy in place, I suggest you do so, which should include not putting the school brand into disrepute. Pre-launch, I would recommend engaging with the senior leadership team for their full support, and to let house parents or heads of year know that, if there are any pupils posting inappropriate content, you will be in touch.
I believe that we have a duty of care to educate our pupils on their digital footprint and to let them know when we consider their posts not to be in their own or their school’s best interests.
“You’ll see your own pupils’ accounts – don’t follow them but do view their posts.”
Some pupils enjoy getting involved in creating content, so get them on board and maybe set up a TikTok committee. You’ll be surprised how many staff members enjoy TikTok too – it’s a good idea to have a couple of meetings with them pre-launch for ideas and hands-on help. When their colleagues see them in the posts, they’ll realise that they’re having fun and they’ll want to join in too.
I’ve launched TikTok in two schools and both times I’ve executed a soft launch. We prepared a range of posts showcasing the school and our values and posted one a day over a two-week period. This way we were not going to be judged based on just one or two posts and our brand was represented in a rounded way. Over a period of a few weeks, pupils began to notice and started following us, and then parents and staff started to do the same. Before you know it, you’ve launched, and it’s become part of your storytelling toolkit.
Videos of what?
One of the first videos we created at RHS at the end of last year has elicited 665 likes and over 16,500 views. None of our other social media channels have generated that sort of response. One of the first videos we launched at Felsted School now has over a million views. It’s only three seconds long and when we launched it everyone was waiting to see the final episode of Line of Duty, a popular detective series at the time. We capitalised on a topical issue and produced a very brief but funny video with our deputy headmaster talking about risk assessments. It was a quirky video and certainly put our school in the minds of people who may never have heard of us before.
TikTok really does get your brand out there, but don’t feel that you must have trending content all the time. We’ve used existing footage and repurposed it, plus dug out footage from our digital archives for “Throwback Thursdays”.
“Don’t feel that you must have trending content all the time.”
One of our most popular recent videos was a really short clip of pupils riding horses on our school campus, set to trending music. It gained the highest comments we’ve had on any post, the nicest comments you could wish for, all saying “I want to go to that school.” “I love this.” “Can I go there?”
We did another post as part of our Wellbeing Award for Schools entry last year. Our pupil committee felt that TikTok would be an effective medium to communicate who pupils can talk to at school if they need to. We launched it to our pupil body in Children’s Mental Health Week, using the theme music from Friends, which got their attention.
Re purposing content
Another benefit of TikTok is that you can transfer your content to other channels. Once we create a TikTok video, we also post it across some of our other social channels, including YouTube shorts, which is another popular channel with teenagers.
Our short clip of pupils riding horses gained quite a lot of traction on YouTube shorts, but interestingly our posts that do well on TikTok tend not to do so well on YouTube shorts and vice versa. For us, it’s a quick win to gain more traction on a range of platforms as we know that video gains more traction than still photos.
“Using TikTok has been a game-changer for our school brand.”
Nine months post launch, we have 1,422 followers and 12,700 likes on TikTok, more than we’ve had on all other channels added together during this period. Views-wise, we have over 350,000 views across all our videos.
Overall, using TikTok has been a game-changer for our school brand. It has allowed us to connect with our audience in a new and exciting way, and it has helped us increase engagement across all of our social media platforms. If you’re looking for a way to engage with your community and build your brand, we highly recommend giving TikTok a try.
- If you don’t have a school social media policy – get one!
- Use a school mobile phone, not your personal one, to gather your content.
- Always check even if a student is on the “no photographs” list – some students don’t want their photograph taken but do want to be in TikTok videos!
You will probably see pupil content on TikTok that you don’t like and/or is inappropriate for your school. Before you launch, let your pastoral team know that this is going to happen and that you will advise them as and when you see anything; they can then manage any situation which arises.
This article first appeared in the latest print edition of Independent School Management Plus magazine, out now.