Social media is a rapidly evolving world. New applications and platforms come and go quickly. It can be hard to stay on top of each new trend, and schools, in particular, have to be highly selective about which platforms they choose to use. While it’s important to meet students and families where they are, it’s also important to remain professional and intentional about social media messaging.
TikTok, a social media app in which users share short videos, has seen a sharp rise in popularity, particularly among younger Gen-Z users, in the last year. It has 800 million active users across the globe, nearly half of whom are aged 16-24. The number of adults – who may be parents of school-age students – using TikTok has also trended upward in the recent months.
But just because your audience is there doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be. Should schools be using TikTok? And if so, how?
Should my school use TikTok?
If you already have a solid presence and familiarity with the other popular social channels – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, namely – then TikTok might be worth considering. If you haven’t yet dabbled in the other major platforms, that’s the first step. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter will be more forgiving and provide a smoother learning curve, whereas TikTok requires more finesse because of the rapid and highly visible nature of short video.
When considering whether or not to use TikTok – or any social media platform for that matter – another questions to ask is, “Are we truly going to reach our desired audience with a TikTok account?” If you’re in a high school, the answer is likely yes. Elementary and middle schools might want to conduct parent and student surveys to get a better idea of whether this social media channel will be useful.
Taking the temperature of your school community will be the most important part of deciding whether to have a presence on any new social media platform. Some parents might be less than enthusiastic about their child’s school promoting a platform that may put their child’s privacy and safety at risk. Before you start creating school content on TikTok, gauge how the families in your community feel about it. They can be an invaluable source of information in guiding your decision.
TikTok can help your school reach goals
As with any social media strategy, a school’s TikTok profile and behavior need to be goal-driven and results-oriented. What will a presence on TikTok achieve for your school that can’t otherwise be achieved on other platforms?
TikTok can provide a unique opportunity to humanize your staff and administration and connect more deeply with students and families. One of the most popular trends is TikTok Challenges, in which users create videos of themselves performing (often silly) routines, usually to a specific song. Where appropriate, this can be a great way for teachers and other school community members to engage with students in a wholesome, playful way. Some teachers have been successful using TikTok to engage students in actual learning material. Other accounts, like SchoolHouseTok, are committed to curating the best educational and teacher resources from across TikTok.
TikTok is not likely to be a particularly useful tool for disseminating important information to your school community, but it can be a wonderful way to connect with current and potential students.
How to use TikTok for schools
Your social media and communications team should start by browsing the platform before creating content. Get familiar with it. Look at what other schools are doing and what kind of content they’re creating. Luckily, you can create an account, pop in some “interests” and browse your feed without ever creating a video.
Once you reach the creation stage, the key with TikTok is to create content that will match the interests of your target audience, and subsequently show up in their feed. As with other social media platforms, using hashtags and posting regularly on TikTok make it more likely you will reach your audience. This is why participating in trends like the TikTok Challenges can be so useful: if students are making up silly dances to a pop song and sharing them with each other, they’ll get a kick out of seeing their teachers and administration do the same. This creates a positive, playful environment without crossing any boundaries.
TikTok is not without risks
Privacy concerns and the potential for bullying are two of the main concerns with TikTok use. Like most social media channels, there is a dark side, and schools need to be wary of the potential for their content to be misconstrued or damaging. Furthermore, if this is a platform where certain students already feel ostracized or isolated from their peers, the school’s use of TikTok might exacerbate that feeling.
Privacy concerns are major for TikTok, in part because it is owned by a Chinese company. Some former employees of that company have accused the social platform of censoring. Beyond the actual fear of having one’s data and information stolen or misused, there is also the concern of a student making an impulsive or embarrassing post that follows them throughout their life (though this is a risk with any and every social media platform).
If your school chooses to use TikTok, remember that you are not only validating the platform itself but also encouraging students and families to use it. Your school’s presence on TikTok is a statement, so it’s important to consider all sides and do your own independent research before you create an account. TikTok has great potential to be a connective tool for schools,
but it should be approached with caution.
Emma Castleberry is an education writer and contributor to the Campus Suite Academy blog. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.