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Can your audience make TikTok work for you?

Social media: how to do TikTok for your international language school when it's the last thing you'd look at yourself, and you're the wrong person to contemplate creating the content.

A young person laughing as she looks into a red phone. The image was selected as it looks like she could be recording a TikTok with her friend.

The last time we talked about TikTok, the chatter around the platform was all about whether it should be banned as first India and then Donald Trump (remember him?) took steps against the company. That was all on the basis of the platform being Chinese-government backed (back when they were the bad guys) and suspicions about where the data went.

But that all seems to have calmed down and the moral outrage bandwagon has rightly moved against Russia after its reprehensible actions in the Ukraine, with Saudi Arabia next in line, with its public executions.

Now, whether you’re exercised by global and corporate politics and whether you make moral business judgements on that basis is up to you and your brand values. But many people are without qualms, and there’s the issue of pulling customers to your business, so let’s assume you’re in that camp. After all, in the language learning business, it’s all about fostering global cooperation and understanding.

So, if you’re running a language school then there are two significant issues which make it attractive to use TikTok:

  • The users are so young. So very young. Around 80% of those on TikTok are under 30. That’s probably your market and probably also the real reason why you’re reluctant to use it. Senior marketing people of any company using the platform is very much ‘dad dancing at a wedding’ territory. Well-meaning, maybe, but…

  • If you’re running a school then, for your students, you’re an experiential company as much as an educational one. They travel to you. They make new friends, live in new places, see new things. They are making memories and the thing with the digital generation is that those memories are instantly shared - on Instagram, Snapchat, and Tiktok.

So it’s your target market. Your school is a big part of their lives and they share their lives obsessively with others who are in your target market.

As Avril Lavigne used to sing ‘could it be any more obvious?’ (and the dated reference is deliberate irony, honest)

A photo of Avril Lavigne from 2014 when she was singing on stage in Brazil.

[Avril Lavigne courtesy of Breno Galtier, Wikimedia Creative Commons]

The TikTok algorithm shares users’ videos based on users’ preferences and habits, rather than their connections (as is the case on Facebook, for example). It’s the content that drives the visibility rather than the number of friends or followers, as on other platforms.

So content can get big audiences - of the kind you want, no matter the followers of those who post.

TikTok itself says it is driven by its creators - but practically anyone on there falls into that category. But if you’re going to be on the platform in your corporate embodiment, which may need to be careful, sensored and risk averse, the chances are a company account is not your route to digital nirvana.

Your biggest ambassadors on the fastest growing digital platform on the planet are your students.

User-generated content (UGC) from your students will, almost inevitably, have more personality, energy and fun than anything you can do. It is that which will give other potential students an idea of what you offer and what they can learn from your classroom and the environment in which you operate.

UGC is what drives TikTok. It’s almost meritocratic in that the platform shares the content people will react to, regardless of the creator’s reputation (though the best ones get repeat success and fame because they know what they are doing). Your potential consumers trust the sincerity of those ‘real’ people above more obvious advertising and corporate endorsements.

And 70% of the millennial market base their purchase decisions on their peers, family and friends, so how can you tap into that?

Tell your students what you want: Encourage those already in your institution to tell the story of what they’re doing, what they’re learning, who they are meeting, and so on... It could be as part of a lesson or you could incentivise with a small level of encouragement - cinema tickets or a meal out - so that they’ll create the sort of stories you want telling.

You might use that content on a TikTok account of your own or, perhaps more fruitfully, allow the students to tell the stories in their own spaces and aggregate the content for an edited package for ‘older’ audiences on YouTube and Facebook. Allowing your students to reach their peers, while you use their creativity to reach audiences you already have, means you get the best of both.

You might consider influencers - those who are good enough at this stuff to make a living from it. That way, you have a higher chance of getting the reach you’d like, but it’ll cost you more than a couple of tickets and a bucket of popcorn at the Odeon. And it won’t have that sincerity of students saying ‘this is where I live, where I study and where I have fun’.

The only way to know is to try - to recruit ambassadors, test their content and see what happens. Some of your marketing efforts should always be reserved for experimentation and, for many, TikTok will be in there.

Try things - at worst, no-one will notice. At best, a whole new audience is heading your way.