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Managing Your School Brand on TikTok

By Sophie Walker

I’m have set up two TikTok counts at two different schools. I had no intention of opening one when I first did it, nor did the school. So I’ll take you through a bit of a journey about what went behind our thinking, both at Felstead and at the Royal Hospital School, and hopefully give you some confidence to do it yourself, or reasons why not to do it.

I’m going to take you through the facts and the fears. There’s quite a lot of scare mongering going on at the moment about TikTok, and I think that might be what a lot of schools are up against. But also some of the facts, some of the good stuff. I’m gonna talk about why you should consider it, how to get started planning for launch, the additional benefits we’ve found at both schools of having a TikTok account.

And I’m gonna take you through some fun examples at the end as well.

So the rapid rise of TikTok, I just saw it’s just worth putting a little bit of data in. Um, quite hard to find this sort of data. Um, but I dug around a little bit so you can see the black line is the rapid rise of TikTok over the last few years.

Facebook, this is worldwide. Um, and uh, Facebook is still the lead even though people think it’s not as popular as it used to be. Um, and Instagram not too far behind. And what’s a bit more interesting as we sort of dig a little bit deeper into the data is, uh, so this is by UK age and gender. You can see and what this is changing rapidly, um, the demographic.

So at the moment, I think that’s 20%, approximately over 35. Age over 35. And this is growing. The children hate it, of course, but more and more of us, as can be seen in this audience today are on TikTok and beginning to really, really enjoy it. It’s a great platform and it’s the only platform that makes me laugh genuinely every day.

Um, and as you can see from here, a lot more females than, than males on the platform at the moment. Um, this was 2022. I couldn’t find a 20 23 1 yet, obviously, ’cause we’re halfway through the year, but this was one of the, the latest, um, data sources I could find. So TikTok is having much more influence, um, more and more influence, um, literally as the weeks go by.

Um, for, for those of you that don’t know, it’s a Chinese owned company. They’re making absolute fortune, um, ages. They do recommend 13 plus in some time times when you look it says 12 plus. Um, but that’s what it’s recommended for. Um, and they are aiming to become the next Amazon. My 21 year old in, in my department is already buying most of her products through TikTok, so it is here to stay for the time being, and it has a lot of influence on our young parents and students.

Fears. I think there’s a lot of fears initially that you have to be cool, you have to be funny and you have to dance. But it, it has evolved massively since, uh, it first came onto our scene. Um, this was something recently which made me think, um, particularly I was about to present here. Um, they have just recently been fined 12 million pounds.

For, um, by the Information Commissioner’s office for misusing data and under thirteens that were on their site, but this was pre 2020 and they’ve done an awful lot since that time to put more safety measures in place. Um, a lot of all the other platforms we know and love went through exactly the same process as they were growing.

Doesn’t make it right, but they have invested a huge amount into making it much more safe than they did. And I’ll talk a little bit about that in a moment. Um, They have recently been banned on government devices. Um, and there’s a concern because the headquarters are in Beijing that they’re harvesting data and it’s going back to the Chinese government.

All the other platforms that we know are based in the US and I think it, it’s coming a bit of a political game, um, is what I sense. Be interesting to hear your views on that as well. So just balancing it up your rationale. You think about it, there’s a lot of pros. You need to be on that platform, be where your customers are going to be, um, but also there’s a lot of controversy around it, but there’s no solid proof of them sharing it with the Chinese government.

All the social channels are wanting to harvest your behaviour. You know, they want to sell to you ultimately. Um, they have put a 40,000 safety team in place. Um, and I dunno if any of you re recently have, have looked on it, but if you are a parent with children, they’ve now got this parent, um, pairing system where you can link up with your child, you can set time limits, you can set parameters on their search fields, that sort of thing.

So they’ve gone a long way guardians guide. It’s actually really, really helpful. Um, so they’re doing a lot, um, to, um, to put in place more safety basically. Um, You say the government, they’ve taken off government devices. If you look at really well-known brands at the moment, they’re still all on TikTok.

Because it did cross my mind. Oh my gosh. They’re taking it off their phones, what are theye harvesting from my phone. But John Lewis, Marks & Sparks, if you look at any sort of well-known brand, they’re still using it for promotional purposes. They’re not scared of, of their, uh, data being harvested. They’re only looking at behaviours.

Um, but let’s see, let’s watch this space and see what happens. Um, They haven’t stopped using it. They’ve got legal people or, you know, massive legal teams and they’ve not come off it, so they’re not scared. So I kind of take that as a bit of a, a bit of a guide.

Um, you know, it is a shared responsibility, fears of, of what children are doing on TikTok, you know, as we have responsibilities of school to to manage our, to help our children manage their digital footprint. But also parents need to take responsibility too, and we need to guide our parents and encourage them to do that.

Um, or school should have a social media policy in place. And if you don’t, I would get one in place very quickly, particularly if you’ve got other channels you don’t want your schools, um, your children sort of posting up videos, um, a school uniform to sweary rap songs. Um, and that really, really helped us both at both schools when we launched.

So when we saw bad content, we could go straight to our social media policy and either get them to remove the videos or to, um, make them private accounts. Um, and the other thing to say basically is not being on TikTok, TikTok, TikTok, TikTok will not stop your audience being on TikTok. Okay. So hopefully that gives you a bit of a balance on if you’re thinking about it and whether you’re gonna take that to your headmaster and, you know, talk about the rationale of why you want to do it or not.

So, um, with that background, why, why would you consider t TikTok? I can’t say now of Tik to TikTok? Um, it is a great way of representing your brand. Okay. And we’ll talk through this in a little bit. You know, have you actually searched for your school on TikTok? You might not like what you see. Okay. So is it best that you represent your school or for your children to do it?

They might be doing it in a good way, in a fun way, but some aren’t. It’s a great way of storytelling. I’m a big storyteller at the schools I’m at, and it just gives you a different feel or different platform. It is such fun and, um, you can be very authentic on it. Um, great way of developing your values and showcasing that.


And ultimately it can increase sales. Um, you know, our young parents are looking on there, um, staff are looking on there that are potentially coming to your school. Um, and the other thing is monitoring it is quite a good way of monitoring, um, what your pupils are up to. Um, not that that’s the primary reason for doing it, but I’ll, I’ll talk a little bit about that in the moment as well.


So the consideration stage, if you’ve got the sort of, you’ve got past the head. Okay, well, you know, maybe this is something we need to look at. Um, As I said, just look search for your school. Firstly on TikTok. Also look at your competitors. Are they on TikTok? You know, it might be right for them. It might be right for you.


It might not be. But are they getting a little bit of, you know, competitor advantage because they’re showcasing their school in a different way? Do you have the resources? Um, some of you might be doing short form video anyway, so it is just an extension of that. Um, you certainly don’t need any money, so it’s really just time.


Um, I actually don’t think you need much expertise. I can do it. I’m a bit of a dinosaur now. Um, but it does help to have someone who is using it day in day out to, to help you with it. Um, so what I would suggest for schools that aren’t on it is just do the bare minimum for the now. Make sure your account is set up at school so at least someone else can’t take it.


And then I would just monitor it. Okay. Do the things, like I said before, just perhaps follow, um, other schools, other universities around, just see what’s going on. And then you’ll start seeing what’s coming up in your feed. What are the children doing, because it’s quite location based. Um, and then sort of start searching for a few things.


’cause the algorithms, the more you use it, the more you search for, the more content you’ll get. That’s related. And then just review your decision regularly. Just ’cause you say no for now. It might be right in a few months time, so don’t just park it, just maybe just shelve it and bring it out from time to time.


But in the meantime, if you do want to get going, this is how I got going. I just set up my own TikTok account and I used my dog. Okay, they’re really sad videos. You’re very welcome to follow me. Um, but I was terrified of using it. I’d never used it before. Um, and the story started actually, um, in the prep school at fel, a couple of, literally over a period of a couple of weeks, two parents, two sets of parents have said to the prep head, have you seen your school on TikTok?


It’s not great. So the headmaster came to me and said, Sophie, we need to do something about it. So this is where, where I started basically. Um, so I used my dog Willow, um, bless her, and just started playing around with the app and doing some videos, seeing what was trending, um, followed hobbies. I followed dogs. I followed some certain people and brands that I liked.

We started the school account in 2021. There weren’t many schools on there. Well, none that we knew about. So we started following universities and seeing what they were doing.

Um, and what you’ll see when you are on, on TikTok, you have two titles at the top. There’s a for you and following. And it, it doesn’t come up with your followers on your feed. It comes up with, for you, it serves you content. Um, so. It might serve you quite inappropriate content to start with. I set the headmaster up on a TikTok account and he nearly threw his phone in the bin because he said, this is really inappropriate.

You know, it was literally, you know, women in bikinis and that sort of thing. I said, no, you’ve gotta work at it. You’ve gotta work and, and, and search for things that you want to look at, and then your feed will get better. But it is, it’s quite scary when you first go on it. They think, well, they think they, what they think you want to know, basically.

Um, have a look. At trending templates, you’ll see this quite a lot. Um, so you think, what is that video? It’s really weird and that the youth get it a bit more than I do, but it’s like, what is this all about? It’ll be some famous person doing something, but at the bottom you’ll see it says cap cut and it’s like, um, a template and basically you can copy the template and it’s really easy to follow.

Um, it may be that you don’t want to do trending. Things for your school. But actually it’s quite fun and I’ll show you a few examples. Um, but for us, that wasn’t the primary objective, but equally it just keeps it fun and real and authentic. Um, and the children quite like it when you’re on trend, um, hashtags.

It’s a really good way of blending in your brand hashtags, but also see what’s trending. So, It could be mental health week this week, for example. So you could be putting in hashtags like that. A lot of trending music on TikTok. So again, it depends on the music that you put your photos or video to, can make a difference to how it gets seen.

Um, and lastly, just practice. Just have a little go yourself to see. You know, you don’t necessarily have to do video. You can do photos and just put it to music and just see how it comes out. Um, I actually love my feed now. It’s, it’s quite personal to me. Um, but I love looking back and just seeing all the little stories that were put together.

And it’s, it’s a bit like a photo album, that little video album really. Um, So if you’re gonna get cracking, this is a bit of a, a guide or plan. Um, I’ve talked about it a little bit. So, just confirm your aims and strategies to start with, so you can go to whomever you need approval from with a proposal.

We set up the school TikTok account as a normal account. We don’t use a business account.

Um, but we use moderated comments. So any comments that come in, we review first and then, um, approve or block delete accordingly. I’ll talk about that in a minute. Um, yeah, there’s good thing is find out who your TikTok ambassadors are at the school. And you’d be surprised, there are quite a lot of staff members on both teams that I’ve worked with that enjoy TikTok and it’s quite nice to have a couple of meetings with them when you’re thinking of launching.


Get some ideas from them, get some, get them to help be in them. Because actually when their colleagues see them in them, they’re having fun with it. They want to be part of the party as well. You will get a few that don’t, but generally people are, are happy to be on the videos, um, especially if they know the rationale for it.


Um, and then. As you sort of start doing your research, you’ll see which of your pupils are, are prolific on it, and get them to help you as well. Get them, get them on board, maybe set up a little committee and they love to get involved. Um, I wouldn’t do a mass launch personally. Both times I’ve launched, I’ve done a soft launch, I’ve prepared about five to 10 different posts that suit the sort of strategy and plan that we were having were putting in place.


So a range of, you know, a musical, one of a sports one. Posts that are showing different types of values, and I just posted those one a day, almost over two week period and just see how it’s. It starts to emerge and it’s, it’s funny, the pupils and, uh, parents soon, um, start following you and start seeing the content and it’s sort of like murmurings around the school.


And then once you sort of monitoring the feedback a little bit, then go for the main launch, depending on the feedback that you are getting. Um, and then just sort of plan, have a little bit of a plan ahead, um, of what sorts of, of video content you’re going to have. And don’t panic about that. It’s actually easier than you think.


Um, that was something that I was worried about, you know, once, once you’ve started, you know, you wanna do it well and keep going with it and how are we gonna keep it going? And we just plan it alongside us. Other social media activity, and I’ll show you a slide on the next one. Um, but it took us, only took us two and a half months to get a thousand followers at r h s.


So we launched it last November. Um, and then once you get a hundred thousand followers, you get a web link, which is quite exciting, which would then you can take people back to your website. Um, so this is just a typical social media plan. This was a week, um, back in March. These are different types of, of content that we had coming through, and I know people say you should have separate content for every channel.


We are a small team. We can’t create different things for every channel, but what we do do is we cross pollinate. So if it’s on TikTok, we always make sure it’s 30 seconds. It can also go on a YouTube short, and then also Insta reel, and actually Facebook. You love videos on Facebook. Twitter’s really good for video as well.


So actually, When we do a TikTok, it tends to go across most channels. You can, you can amend the, the copy accordingly. Um, but now we are doing sort of two or three a week and has so many additional benefits, which, um, I’ll talk about in a little bit. Um, but it’s just, it’s just, it’s just blended in really well.


Uh, the one, the only channel that we a little bit more cautious with this LinkedIn, um, just ’cause it’s, it’s just more appropriate to be a little bit more professional in there. But we have done a few and they do go tank quite well. So just a word of caution. So when you do launch, you will see some pupil content that you don’t like and it’s not appropriate for your school.


So just be aware of that. Um, let your pastoral team know that this is gonna happen and that you might be going to, to the house parents to discuss some accounts. Um, that your children might have that are open and private and perhaps a bit inappropriate.

I think some children just still don’t realize about their digital footprint and they need a bit more guidance, particularly perhaps those at a boarding school where parents aren’t on the phones and checking the phones all the time.

So I feel that we do have a responsibility as a school if we are seeing content like that, that we should let the parents know and the house parents know, just so that they can help, help manage that. So I wouldn’t leave it.

Um, comments. I said earlier, I do moderate the comments. Um, and yes, it’s time consuming a little bit, but you know, you’re monitoring comments all the time on the other channels, it’s just another channel and um, most of them are fine. Most of them are just, Silly fun comments. Half of them I don’t understand.

I have to get my youngster and my team to translate because I don’t understand what they’re saying. Um, but most of it, I’d say 90, 90% is absolutely fine to review and pass through. Um, but you do get the odd, the odd sort of, um, anti private school comments and um, I just tend to delete them, block them, don’t need people like that following you.

So, um, yeah, so just want to be aware of. And the other one is you can’t edit once you’re posted. Which is really frustrating. Because you know, on Facebook you can go in and, you know, if you see a typo or you know you want to add a photo, you can do that. So, you know, have a really good proofing stage. And, um, we had one recently where a member staff had left.

They wanted all their photos taken down. They were in a really good TikTok video, so we had to take it down, take them out, put it back on. Again, it’s not the end of the world, but that’s one frustration with it. Whether they’ll change it, I don’t know. Um, but they haven’t as yet.

So what were the aims at RHS? For us it was also not just to increase brand awareness and manage our brand. We wanted to dispel myths. We are a naval heritage school and we can be quite a Marmite schools in as much as we have a lot of marching and naval uniforms, so we wanted to convey the sense of fun that people sometimes wrongly assumed isn’t there. It was really hard. We were trying to change our photography, but we just wanted, um, our families to know that there’s a lot of fun and happiness that goes on behind all those uniforms. Because when they march, they have to be serious. It’s part of it. We really wanted to get that out there and Tik Tok was a channel that really suited us as a brand. And we thought it would help us with sixth form recruitment so we used it for that as well.


We’ve got a long way to go with it yet, but it’s a starting point for, um, helping to recruit into the sick form and also for, for criminal staff. As I said before. One of the first videos we did had 653 likes. Not bad for 15,000 views. You know, you wouldn’t get that on any other channel would you?

The very first video now has 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 and there was a big build up and everyone was talking about it. So we capitalised on that and produced a very brief but funny video with our deputy headmaster talking about risk assessments.

It was a fun, bonkers video and it gained a million views. Tik Tok really gets your brand out there, and  you don’t have to have new content all the time. We’ve used existing footage from speech days and we’ve also dug stuff out and do throwback Thursdays.

One of the best ones we did was a really short clip of students riding horses, set to music. It was fun and just showed a little bit of what children can do here. It gained the highest comments we’ve had on any post, the nicest comments you could wish for, mostly from girls, all saying I wanna go to that school. I love this. Can I go there? All these sorts of lovely things, which you just couldn’t make up and really heartwarming.

You can create the videos from still photographs as well as video footage or a mixture of the two. But do put with some really cool music.

We did another for our Well Wellbeing Optimist Award last year, and we had some pupils on our committee who felt that TikTok was the right channel to get the message out about who children can talk to at school. We launched it in Children’s Mental Health Week, really for our own pupil body. But we also added content about other organisations children everywhere can call if they’re needing, um, someone to talk to. We used the Friends theme music, it’s so catchy.

When you are in just a normal account, you do get the stats. You can’t go in that much depth, but this is what we’ve got so far since we’ve launched it, um, in November. Um, so sort of six months worth of content. We’ve got 1200 followers. Um, it tells you your demographic, so actually it’s a bit higher for us. I think it was 20% is national average. We’re 22%, 35 plus, um, 18,000 likes.

That’s more than we’ve got on any other channel added together. And, views-wise, we’re up to 300,000 views across all our videos. Um, many more females than the national average. Um, dunno what that says about us as a school. Um, but 92% UK at the moment. Um, so there’s a lot of growth to do, um, across other countries as well.

One of the other benefits of TikTok is you can transfer it to other channels. So what we’ve found is now we’re doing TikTok videos, we started thinking, we might as well put it into a Facebook reel. And we also popped it onto YouTube shorts. The algorithms on YouTube shorts are really different but it’s really simply to upload to it. The short clip with the students riding horses got quite a lot of traction on YouTube shorts, but generally speaking posts that do really well on TikTok tend not to do so well on YouTube shorts and vice versa.


Other people will be more experienced on YouTube shorts. For us, it’s just like a quick win. Everyone’s on different channels. Personally, I search YouTube more for how to do things in DIY but a lot of people, and a lot of children, are on there the whole time.


Um, so it’s another good way of just using your content in lots of different ways. Um, We combine a lot of our video now for open morning presentations. Really, really handy. And again, just putting it to music, it just brings your school alive.

When you start, you’ll spend time accumulating content. But then you’ll get to a stage where you’ve been collecting it all the way through the year. So, for example, a lot of our speech day will be our TikTok content. It’s also really good for digital ads.


You know, we work with an agency, they’re always wanting new content and now we’re just getting it organically rather than having to go, oh God, no, we need another video. That one’s getting old. Um, so we are finding it’s really, really useful for that as well.

Q            Do you find you have to get approval from your head or team leadership team for posting videos or do they just let you go ahead? Because obviously Facebook, Twitter a bit more trusted, but with TikTok, do you find that you have to gain approval for every post?
A            No, they need to trust you. I go with my gut feel. If I’m not sure about something, it’s normally not right. But I would normally check with a few people, is this right? Is this appropriate? But they should trust you if you’re running social media accounts. But always check if you have doubts. And it could be that the best person to check with is someone younger!

Q            What are your objectives? Are you trying to use it for pupil recruitment, sixth form recruitment, just generally among the current parent community?
A             We use it for recruitment, to dispel myths, and to manage the brand. When we first looked for our school on Tik Tok RHS was being mentioned by our students, so it was out there already, and we realised that we needed to get onto TikTok and manage our brand. I would say that’s the main reason a lot of schools start posting on TikTok. You don’t want parents or pupils searching for you and getting content that’s not representing you. It might be okay, but it might just not have the breadth of content that you want to showcase your school.

Q            Has it been successful in driving sixth form recruitment?
A            I think it’s a bit too early to say for our school, we’ve only been going a few months, but I don’t think it’s done any harm. I do think that it really helps to showcase some of the fun side of school.

Q            Are there any licensing issues with respect to the music that you’re putting on those videos? A            With a normal account – rather than a business account – it tends to guide you a little bit with that. So we tend to go with music that’s on the platform, so it’s already sort of passed through that, but it will soon tell you if you’re not able to use it. We haven’t had issues with the same music on other platforms, but sometimes we do change the music simply to differentiate the channel it’s on. Sometimes a post might start its life as a reel and then we’ll turn it into a TikTok.

Q            Do you have any issues with students stitching your videos and putting things on the end of it that aren’t appropriate?
A            No, not yet, but I’ll be after them if they do! If it’s cool, that’s fine, right? But if it’s inappropriate, then yes, we’ll be referring them to the social media policy and asking why are you putting the score in disrepute? Most of the children have been behind it in a positive way.

Q            Are students happy to be featured in your videos?
A            Always check. I have had instances where a student didn’t want their photograph taken, but did want to be on Tik Tok when we’d used their photograph to create a short video!  It’s interesting. They don’t mind the video, but they don’t want the photo!

Q            What are the pros and cons of using a personal TikTok account rather than a business one?
A             We’re still feeling our way on this. The business account limited us music so we quickly switched to a normal account. The stats might be a bit better on a business account and if you want to advertise, you probably need to go on a business account. We’re not advertising on TikTok yet, but it’s evolving quickly so watch this space.

Q            How do you resource it all?
A            All you need is your phone and they are such short videos. So when you’re planning your social media content, just go for video rather than photos or stitch photos together. And it, it really doesn’t take very long at all. And then you can use it across all the platforms. But we have three in our team. It soon gets embedded and becomes a mindset thing.

Q            Do you use your own phone or do you have school mobile?
A            I have a school mobile and so do my team members. I think that’s quite important because our school photograph policy is that you can only take pictures of children on a school account.


Sophie Walker is Director of Admissions and Marketing at The Royal Hospital School in Suffolk and has worked in education marketing since 2004. This article is based on a presentation she delivered to the AMCIS 2023 Annual Conference in May. www.royalhospitalschool.org l amcis.co.uk