TikTokMore than dance videos: how TikTok can boost student engagement

More than dance videos: how TikTok can boost student engagement


Higher education institutions have an opportunity to connect with the upcoming cohort of students by producing creative content on the hugely popular platform

Universities have been urged to use social media platform TikTok to reach prospective students, promote the campus experience and inspire learning through snackable content.

At a recent Times Higher Education masterclass in collaboration with TikTok, early adopters shared their experiences of how to effectively utilise the app to maximise student engagement.

Having begun attracting international attention in 2018 as a place for comedy and dance videos, TikTok has evolved into a platform with content in many areas, including sport, fashion and education. In the past 12 months, it was consistently the world’s most downloaded app on a monthly basis.

Chair Ashton Wenborn, special projects deputy editor at THE, asked how institutions could use TikTok to raise their profiles with prospective students.

Sheena Doyle, communications manager at the University of Limerick (UL), said that joining the platform early – in May 2019 – helped the university become one of the most followed higher education accounts in the world.

Working with paid student social media officers, UL identifies TikTok trends and matches them with the university's selling points, such as its picturesque campus.

“If you look at our account as a whole, for the most part, what you’re going to see is student experience,” Doyle said. “The idea is that we’re speaking to prospective students for the main part, rather than our existing students. The idea is, if they’re interested in UL, this will reaffirm what they potentially have ahead of them from the student experience side.”

At Anglia Ruskin University, the first challenge was working out how to appeal to a 16- to 25-year-old audience through the app, said Jaymie-Leigh Baker, a social media officer at the university.

“The TikTok community is very strong and very interactive. It really is worth taking the time to get to know how they are interacting. There is the opportunity to engage with the audience,” Baker said.

Anglia Ruskin adopted a “trial and error” approach to its content, posting everything from academic videos to life hacks. One of their most popular videos, a day in the life of a student nurse, reached about 86,000 users.

“When we started in February 2020, we had about 220 views across all of our videos at the end of the month. And by September some of our videos were achieving over 150,000 views on their own,” Baker said.

Anu Hautalampi, head of social media and AV at the University of Cambridge, said that launching the university on TikTok last summer was a “no-brainer”.

“As our social media platforms are ageing, the users on them are also ageing. And we noticed that we weren’t really reaching the prospective student audiences anymore,” Hautalampi said.

While the move to the platform has come with a “very steep learning curve”, Cambridge has embraced the chance to be creative with content. Popular TikToks from the university include research demonstrating how to scan a pregnant manta ray, and a lecturer using 1970s disco dancing to explain the difference between unpolarised and polarised light.

The analytics prove they are speaking to the audience they want. “We are reaching a largely female audience. So, we are inspiring young women, hopefully, to consider science subjects, which is really important for Cambridge,” Hautalampi said.

Sanjit Sarkar, strategic partnerships associate at TikTok, said that videos of 10 to 15 seconds were the “sweet spot” on the platform and urged universities to produce personality-led content to catch the viewer’s attention as soon as possible.

Sarkar said academics could be encouraged to share knowledge via hashtags such as #LearnOnTikTok, and students should be empowered to help institutions tell their brand story.

“I would definitely urge universities to tap into their own student bodies as content creators because they really do get the pulse of the app. They have a very good idea of what works on the platform,” he said. “And it will also allow you to manufacture more inclusive and participatory relationships with them.”

Watch the masterclass on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

Find out more about TikTok.

Brought to you by