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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
2nd Aug 2023

Is your TikTok good enough to get noticed by international students?

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • TikTok is an incredible way to reach and engage with international students
  • It demands a very different approach than other social channels
  • Leveraging current students and reposting other creators’ funny videos are two ways to build brand awareness and personality on the platform
  • We present four study-abroad-themed videos that users loved to engage with
  • TikTok now rivals YouTube and Instagram in terms of users’ daily and monthly engagement on the platform

TikTok has been around for long enough now that international educators and agencies know they should be on the short-form video platform if they want to reach students. But not everyone knows Rule #1 of TikTok: You must be fun if you want ROI on the time, effort, and money you are spending to be on the platform. Your brand cannot take itself too seriously or students will swipe past your videos lightning-fast.
 
Easier said than done, though, right? It’s a lot easier to create standard promotional videos than it is to catch a trend on TikTok and then make a video fast enough to respond to it humorously or cleverly while still staying on brand. University and agency marketing budgets are often stretched thin, and staff often must manage several social media channels in addition to other work. Is there a solution?

Actually, there are two.

1.     Let your students intrigue other students about your brand

Students watch other students on TikTok – they very rarely watch institutions. They are looking for authenticity and relatability – not a brochure. TikTok is not the place for overt marketing. There are lots of other channels for that. If you haven’t already, reach out to your current international students and find out if any of them are savvy TikTok creators. If they’re not already posting about their experience at your school, it’s a good time to ask them if they will. Launch a Social Media Ambassador programme so that students get rewarded for their efforts.

2.     Repost!

Your school or agency might not have time and money for tons of original TikTok videos, which is why reposting videos is something to consider. When you share others’ hilarious or otherwise awesome videos you gain credibility for knowing what is funny and trending. Reposting can be especially helpful for brands just starting out on TikTok and/or with small follower counts – it helps them to post frequently enough to make a difference even when they don’t yet have a lot of original content.

It’s important to know that reposts are only viewable to certain people and they don’t show up on your profile page. Reposts show up on your friends’ For You pages (FYPs) alongside the original videos you create – so they can complement the work you are already doing and solidify the personality you want to convey. “Friends” are those who follow you and whom you follow back, underlining the importance of not just posting, but also following influential students.

When you repost, the original creator sees that activity, and they (1) become aware of your brand and (2) might repost your own original content if ties in with their audience and niche. To heighten the chance of forming a mutually beneficial relationship with an influential creator, make sure to not just repost their content, but “like” and comment on their videos and follow them. Ideally, share videos created by users with a significant following. This can help your school/agency to get more views and followers, as their many fans will be exposed to your account when they see the video on your feed.

A repost should always tie into your brand strategy. Be judicious about what you choose to share – even if a video is pure silliness, there should be some link to education and study abroad. Sprinkle a couple of reposts into your feed every week or so – just enough to spike your own original content with a bit of flavour and fun. Your original content should more than match the volume of reposts in your feed.

Over time, your target audience on TikTok will come to expect a great mix of information and humour from your account – and that’s what you want.

Looking for inspiration?

Here are four TikTok videos we’ve come across recently to get you thinking about reposting (and giggling).
 
The first is from Yasmine Sahid (ladyyasmina1), an artist with Los Angeles-based a3 Artists Agency who has 2.1 million followers. In this video, she cracks us up by poking fun at the pretensions some people have when they come back from a study abroad experience.

@ladyyasmina1 She’s ba-ack! And she won’t stop talking about it. #studyabroad #traveltheworld #maincharactervibes #BoseAllOut ♬ original sound - Yasmine Sahid

The next video also lampoons over-the-top study abroad returnees – this topic is a seemingly inexhaustible trend because so many students either study abroad or are jealous of people who have. As in the previous video, there is digital media agency behind the video. In this case, it’s Outshine Media, and the artist is Vienna (viennaayla), who has more than 863 thousand followers.

@viennaayla she does NOT want to talk about it!!! #studyabroad #italy ♬ original sound - vienna ❤️‍🔥

The next video is from Arjun (arjunmanjunath_), who posts about “college, travel, and Taylor Swift.” He has over 40 thousand followers. In his POV video, he riffs on the challenge of packing for study abroad.

@arjunmanjunath_ #CapCut @arjunmanjunath_ the vaccuum seal bags are linked in my storefront🤭 this bag has come full circle from when it went viral in january lol #studyabroad #daysofstudyabroad #florence #italy ♬ applause - 🎶🎶

The final video here is by a creator putting her own take on the packing theme, and it highlights the power of music and sound effects on TikTok. According to Hubspot, 88% of people on say that sound is central to the overall TikTok experience, and “80% of the top videos [in 2022] had music, with upbeat songs being the most popular TikTok music choice by far.”
 
The video is also notable for being from a creator with a relatively small follower count. Despite not (yet) being well known, Olivia Richine (oliviarichine) got tons of likes and comments on this video – she’s a great example of a student a college or university might want to follow and engage with on TikTok. She was packing for Spain – hopefully her host institution knows about her talent!

@oliviarichine leaving tomorrow:) #studyabroad #packingforstudyabroad ♬ Fake ID - Riton & Kah-Lo

Is TikTok still huge despite many governments’ concerns about security?

The short answer: yes. TikTok is only completely banned in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It’s banned on government devices in more than a dozen countries due to concerns that the Chinese government could access TikTok user data, but the mainstream public in those countries can still access it for recreational use.

Oberlo reports that “from 2020 to 2023, TikTok grew its global user base by 368.6 million—an overall increase of 79.1% and an average annual growth rate of 22.2%.” Roughly 3 in 10 (29%) TikTok users open the app every day, making TikTok second only to Instagram (39%) in terms of this daily engagement rate. An equally important metric for marketers is how much time people spend on an app; in this case, TikTok beats out Instagram and is second only to YouTube.

The most popular social channels as of October 2022. TikTok is a very close second to YouTube in terms of how long users spend on it every month. Source: Hootsuite/We Are Social

Many of the most important markets for schools and colleges in destination countries are in the top 10 markets for TikTok in terms of active monthly users.

Number of TikTok users by country, 2023. TikTok is especially huge in Latin America and Asia. Source: Oberlo

For additional background, please see:

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