How universities can service three core audiences on TikTok

Join us and special guest Jord Muckley for this week's episode of Most Clicked where we discuss TikTok yet again as it becomes a social media giant!

I’ve got two TikTok favourites this week: Sheffield and Cambridge. Sheffield nails it right out the gate with 1.1m views of their paternoster lifts, which I can confirm are awesome, terrifying and ideal for TikTok. And Cambridge because I’m in awe – can you imagine how many layers of approval this must have gone through? The content is less chaotic than some, but not everyone has the permission to be unhinged, so take note if your institution is risk-averse.

Nathan Monk
Hello and welcome to Most Clicked. Now before we get into today’s show, a quick favour to ask. If you like today’s show, please consider liking this video. Now, if you like all of our content and you’re a regular watcher, I’d also encourage you to subscribe. Now, if you’ve done that, let’s get back to the show. So today we are talking more about TikTok. And it’s kind of like an Aston University reunion because this week, we have a special guest, Jord Muckley from Nonsensical, and Jord actually worked with Kyle at Aston University, which is where I met both of them many moons ago. So, Kyle, what is today’s story?

Kyle Campbell
Hale. So got a bit more of a TikTok marathon here today, we’re gonna be focusing on to actually and the reason I’ve chosen Sheffield University’s TikTok account and Cambridge’s is because they’re both good but they’re both good in their different ways. And Sheffield, again, follows this sort of, sorry Jord, using your company name here, this sort of nonsensical approach to social media to TikTok and I’m sure you’ve got a few comments on that. Again, it’s, it’s humorous, it’s enjoyable, it doesn’t try to take itself too seriously. But you can tell there’s a very talented team behind it. Whereas Cambridge is a lot more considered. And the pieces that they construct are more focused around yes, they’re sort of course orientated, but they do it in a way that is appropriate for the channel. So if you’re looking to start a TikTok presence, but aren’t quite all in, in the sort of off the wall and crazy approach, then this might be a good piece of inspiration for you. But this is a good chance to refer to our expert in the room, Jord, who sort of lives and breathes this stuff day to day and Nonsensical and, you know, one of the key players in the report so that they just put out I think it was like, correct me if I’m wrong, Jord, it was out of 30 universities on Tik Tok you explored?

Jord Muckley
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.

Kyle Campbell
And yeah, tell us a little bit about that report, and then maybe gives us your thoughts on these two. But yeah, that’s a little bit more about that, if you don’t mind.

Jord Muckley
Hi, everybody. Um, yeah, so the idea of the report is to really try to cast aspersions about TikTok in the higher education sector, really, because from my own experience, even four or five years ago, working with yourself, Kyle, social media was sort of seen as just another channel to pump out press releases and academic journals and nonsense information that students and prospective students didn’t really care about. I think universities have forgotten, in some aspects with social media that they have different audiences, they need to service and not just prospective students it’s their wider community. And that’s a key thing. And one of the things that I wanted to get across in this report, which I think we did was trying to show not just people that work in the higher education sector, but you know, wider digital professionals and content creators that one of the key things to do is you have a community on campus that needs to reflect online as well. So you need to get that togetherness. And I think that comes across in the report with the 30 institutions that we featured. There’s a range of, you know, different universities in there for red bricks to post 92. And I think there’s a nice different variation in terms of as you touched upon Kyle, even Sheffield, and Cambridge’s approaches are two different approaches. But they both have their merits and they’re both incredibly good at what they do.

Screenshot 2022 03 03 at 10.06.50 TikTok

And just coming on to Sheffield’s approach, it sort of the city itself is more vibrant, there’s more going on, it’s livelier. And they use sort of like their surrounding areas, and their local attractions as their strength. So one of the things I think I wanted to make sure we put across in the report was a university has to play to its strengths. Now that could be its location, that could be what it’s known for, that could be a mascot, you know, at Aston, we have the geese. So if I was in charge of Aston’s TikTok now, it would just be full of geese with the ‘I’m lost’ filter you know, talking absolute nonsense. But you have to play to those strengths. Whereas I think Cambridge like you said, is more measured, but what they do is they sort of use the academic strengths to really put across some really nice content, and combine that with some really nice useful tips on how to apply and at different points of the applicant cycle, which I think is just as valid and one of the favourite things I love about Cambridge’s TikTok is it’s just very calm, it’s very nice. It’s quite ASMR in a way as well. And that is that is a big thing on TikTok, you know, people just go on there just to watch mindless stuff that just takes you out of the world for 20 to 30 seconds, and in a way that you can engage with Cambridge in that way as well. Whereas Sheffield is a bit more lively. It’s a bit more rambunctious. And it certainly like, cuts through a lot more, I think. And, you know, they both placed top 10 because that’s where they both deserve to be.

Kyle Campbell
I love your point about how it’s almost a different type of social media. So you mentioned that how social media used to be about broadcasts, if you like, and obviously not across everywhere, but in university specifically. And I find it quite interesting that typically, the first use case for social media in universities was to just shout about messages. And that was the same for like Twitter, Facebook, those normal, big stays. But for TikTok, I haven’t seen that. Even though it’s just being adopted, it seems to be adopted with the mindset of okay, we get that this isn’t a platform to just shout about stuff. And I wondered if you could comment on that, in general about TikTok. But what makes it different from the social media platforms that have come before it? And how can university marketers take advantage of that?

Jord Muckley
I think it’s important to first realise and understand that TikTok is a discovery platform, it’s a place to go and find out stuff, as well as be entertained, you know, and when we say discovery, we don’t just mean go in and finding out how something is made or how something is done. Or, you know, what celebrities are doing, it’s about discovering new forms of entertainment, new people, new audiences, new content that you haven’t come across before, you know, daft trends that come up, they’re not daft, they’re good. But they’re daft in my head, because they make complete sense. And in that way, they are, you know, a bit of nonsense. And, but that’s what gets there. And I think what universities need to do is, is take that positive sentiment and take that sort of use that as a vehicle for change, really, and I think universities need to sort of not worry too much about strategy with TikTok, it’s more a case of go out there, give it to a digital content producer, or give it to your students, or give it to a placement student for the year or, or whatever your setup is, and go and find out what works for you. Because, you know, as we’ve already discussed, with Sheffield and Cambridge, different things work for different universities, and in the report all those different 30 universities we listed, they all have different points that and strengths that they go to.

Now if I was somebody trying to tell the powers that be and universities that, oh, we need to be on TikTok and I needed them to sign off, I think you’ve got to be able to say to them that you’ve got to be able to create content quickly, you’ve got to be able to be on-trend. And you’ve got to have a network of students that you can sort of lean on to sort of have this quick signup process, and build up that confidence internally. And so you can spot the trends because there are things that come in, you know, day to day with clients, we run something called the meme factory twice a week, and we spend half an hour going through what’s trending and stuff. And there are things that I miss, there are things that the team misses, but someone will view it, someone will pick it up. And I think it’s about creating that internal community of sort of ambassadors and leaders that can just sort of invigorate the content from the bottom up. Because this isn’t going to come top-down. You’re not going to get a vice-chancellor or director of marketing saying right we need to be on TikTok or head of PR going yes, we need to be on TikTok, “How did I put the press release out on TikTok”, I can imagine that’s an email a social media manager would get any university. But you have to sort of trust the experts. And it’s like with everything, you trust your academics to do what they do and do it well because that’s their knowledge of expertise. Well, you have to trust your digital content creators and your digital content producers. They’re the experts, go and trust them to make TikTok fly, and you’ve got to be ambitious and you’ve got to just go for it. There’s no point in saying yet we’ll do TikTok but we’ll sort of dip our toe in it a little bit. You either go for it or you don’t at all and for me, there’s no middle ground it’s about finding your niche and nailing it.

Kyle Campbell
A really interesting thread there on ambassadors and the people who are front and centre on these platforms. I wondered if you’ve got any thoughts on, seeing as we’ve seen as massive ramping up in the creator economy over the last two years, pandemic all those sorts of forces. Do you see the future of university social media being more like star or creator lead, so ie a TikTok platform for a university might feature one or two ambassadors as the faces of that brand? And have you seen stuff like that starting to gain traction across the sector?

Jord Muckley
I can sort of seeing that starting to come to fruition already, Kyle, in all fairness, I think if you look at some of the not necessarily UK universities, but wider Tiktok accounts in HE from the States, for example, or in Australia, you do see a lot of the same faces. Now that is sort of creating your own, I suppose internal influences if you like, you’re sort of putting a person out there to say, right, hi, I’m going to be front and centre of TikTok for the next three months, I’m going to take you through lots of different guides on how to apply your tell you about student life here. Or show what the sports teams are like or show you what the halls are like called whatever it is. And I think you can do that with academics as well. I think that’s just as important with academics, you can put them front and centre and get them to tell you their stories, not just about their research, but where they’ve come from, how that how their job impacts the wider world, you know. And going back to when we were at Aston, Kyle, I can think of one or two academics that we could have put front and centre on TikTok who have just gone and would have gone and run with it. And another thing we’re starting to see now is more not at the top of my head, but some very, it’s very few.

But some academics are starting to use TikTok to sort of promote their own work, like academics use Twitter, for the sort of like in a broadcast sense for their ref impact and showing off what they do there. Or telling the world about what they do. Some are starting to use TikTok to really sort of promote their work but to new audiences. Every day there’s a discover on TikTok thing that appears that you can click on and find out things that you or find out content or find TikToks from people you would never even thought of or never even have gone close to finding out about. And that that is where these people will appear. And that is something that we want to try and encourage more of. So when we talk to universities, we want to not just let it be about the student experience and try to get, you know, use TikTok as a window view into what campus life is like, but also get different people on that you probably wouldn’t expect to be on there, get a researcher talking about climate change or nuclear war or wherever it is, we need to get things done in a much more accessible way, but in different ways, because that’s when we stand still when that doesn’t happen. And I think universities have started to wake up to that now. As I said earlier, you know, universities have to change their approach over the last five years, they can no longer just put stuff out on Facebook, do a few Instagram stories and tweet from the press office. It’s not enough anymore.

But I think what we might start to see is universities understand that times are changing, and then may start to move away from some of the traditional platforms, focus more of their efforts on, you know, they might decide to go full-on Instagram and stay away from Twitter and Facebook, for example, because that’s where students are, but at the same time, you are allowed to be much more visual. Whereas I think there’s a need to be short and snappier on Twitter, for example, and Facebook is, well, Facebook is Facebook, less said about that, the better. The university still needs to move with the times. And remember that it’s got sort of three core audiences that it needs to service its prospective students, your wider community, and the people that pay to study at your university. And as long as you’re taking those three boxes, don’t worry about anyone else. Don’t worry about anyone else, because people will see the sort of the campus community, the vibe, the brand, the sort of everything that you want to emit the energy from servicing those three core audiences. And some are getting it right. But there’s so many that I’m not.

Universities have three core audiences that it needs to service its prospective students, your wider community, and the people that pay to study at your university. And as long as you’re taking those three boxes, don’t worry about anyone else.

Kyle Campbell
I could talk to you about this for hours.

Jord Muckley
Yeah, yeah, definitely. We’ll have to start doing those extended cuts soon enough. Unfortunately, that is all we’ve got time for. Jord, before we do wrap up. If people want to carry on the conversation with you on this topic, how is best for people to get in touch with you.

You can get me on LinkedIn. I’m Jord Muckley, head of social at Nonsensical and you could get on our website which is nonsensical.agency or find us on TikTok, find us on Instagram. Yes, we are a TikTok marketing agency, but we do have a presence on Instagram too. We’re also on LinkedIn. I know shock horror, that horrible gorilla chest beating platform but hey, we all need it. Just drop us a line on there you can contact me or any of the other members of the team who are happy to have a chat with you all about TikTok, and I’m sure they’ve got pearls of wisdom they’d like to share as well.

Nathan Monk
Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us today, Jord, it’s been an absolute pleasure, Kyle, as always a pleasure with you as well. Now if you have enjoyed today’s show, please do hit that like button and consider subscribing as well. And that’s all for today. So until next week, see you soon.

Default image
Elliott Barnicle

Lead Designer