O ne look through Lake Catholic’s TikTok page displays typical high school hijinks. In one video, Carlos the Cougar does the worm through the school’s halls while “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” plays in the background. In another, students say they don’t need any more purses before breaking that promise seconds later after being shown the new Anne Cate Lake Catholic wristlets, their “I want you, baby” lip sync matching up perfectly with the chorus of Dua Lipa’s hit “Levitating”.
TikTok’s video-based social media platform has gone wild during COVID-19 with schools leveraging the app to show off school spirit and advertise events to appeal to prospective students.
Take this TikTok from Magnificat High School from earlier this year: The dance team choreographed a line-dance act that the class of 2021 learned and performed as a way to celebrate their last day of school. To promote its Night-in-Blue fundraiser, the school posted one of its students checking her email on her phone with the words “That moment when you’re just checking your Gmail…and you get a confirmation email for NIB ticket sales!” on the screen as “This Magic Moment” by Ben E. King & The Drifters plays.
“It’s the easiest way to connect with others,” says Sophia Lonchar, a junior at Lake Catholic who is a student ambassador and part of the school’s TikTok club.
Lonchar says the TikTok club, which has around 10 members, has been around for two years but the group starting posting consistently over the past year.
“The club is a way that we have fun while showing the school,” she says.
TikToks depicting a “day in the life” connected students when e-learning and hybrid programs were in place last year, says Mary Ellen Madden, director of communications at Magnificat High School and advisor for the marketing club,. “We had students who were on campus and others who were virtual, so we were finding ways to build community to bridge those two platforms, realizing that as many as one-quarter of our students would be streaming.”
Madden and the marketing club began using TikTok in 2020 as way to engage classmates, alumni and the community in a fun way. “TikTok was bubbling up in the marketing club and it was exploding during COVID,” she says. “Students are already on TikTok all the time, so using it as a way to connect in the community can be a real benefit to the school.”
TikTok is different than other social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram because it’s rooted in video and music. The app is built for self-expression, allowing users to create, share and discover short videos. To use it, you make and upload a video, then you select a specific audio, with options ranging from Top 40 hits to clips from cartoons. There are TikTok trends, pranks, skits, stories and challenges that go viral.
“It’s easy to interact with, people can comment, like and follow, and it’s quick and funny,” says Maria Benevento, a junior at Magnificat who headed up the school’s fundraiser promotions on TikTok for Night-in-Blue. Those TikTok videos helped build the “fan base” of Magnificat TikTok followers.
TikTok has taken off to the extent that there are influencers who are considered celebrities from their TikTok presence alone. Benevento points to Addison Rae and Charli D’Amelio, two TikTok content creators who became famous on the app and have since tried their hand in other entertainment mediums, as inspiration. “[Addison Rae] was hanging out with the Kardashians and got her start on TikTok,” Benevento says.
As of May 2021, TikTok had more than 130 active million users in the United States, with countless others using the app across the world. So, it only makes sense that school administrators use the app to help with school admissions, advertising events or to simply capture school spirit.
“Typically, eighth graders from neighboring schools spend a day here with our students, and last year we were not able to do that so our kids used TikTok as a way to show what they could experience if they were here,” says Emma Maloney, Lake Catholic’s director of admissions. While the school’s other social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, are operated by the marketing department, admissions is TikTok central.
“The kids came to admissions and thought it would be a fun way to interact with new students and showcase what we do,” Maloney says.
For example, one Lake Catholic TikTok is a culmination of snapshots that give viewers sneak peeks of the school, including a clip that shows the chapel with a text overlay reading, “Allowed to pray in the Chapel any free time or period you have.”
It’s not all business, though, as evidenced by their off-the wall TikToks like one of the class hamster Hammy rolling around in his ball or one that shows off student’s Halloween costumes with Bobby Pickett’s “Monster Mash” playing in the background. “We’ve made videos of the dress code, one with our mascot to show team spirit, and we’ve walked around to show the main parts of the school,” says Mia Slogar, a junior at Lake Catholic. “We have not gone viral yet — but it’s on the list of things we want to do.”
TikTok traction is also building at Magnificat, with 700 to 1,200 people on average viewing their videos within hours of their posting. “One of the appeals of TikTok is that content creators are honing their message to be within a minute long, so it takes creativity, editing and thinking about what message to convey and the most engaging way to do it,” Madden says.
The combination of music, video, text and filters opens up all sorts of options for creating grabby clips that get shared — like one of Magnificat’s Night-in-Blue TikToks with holiday bells in the background and a mad dash to— of all things — a plate of spaghetti. “It was a rushed holiday sound and one of my friends running to get the pasta dinner, which is a big part of the Night-in-Blue celebration,” Benevento says. “We wanted to highlight the fun part of the evening.”
Like Lake Catholic, Magnificat has leveraged TikTok as a way to show off the campus to prospective students, especially during times when the building wasn’t open. “We created day-in-a-life videos that were student-run,” Madden says. “That way, students who could not come to shadow could see our new Science Innovation Center.”
As a way to increase viewership, TikToks can be uploaded to other social media platforms such as Instagram, which gives each video new life with a (mostly) new audience. “We’ve had great reception,” Benevento says.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
As with any social media platform, schools are putting forth guidelines and restrictions on content that can be posted and shared on school accounts. At Lake Catholic, Maloney holds the TikTok login and password and moderates the page. She’ll provide students with that information as they’re putting together a plan for their video. “They can create the TikTok and we review it as a group,” she says. “The club weighs in and if we feel it’s appropriate and good to go, we post it.”
Many TikTok trends, spoofs and songs are not appropriate for representing the school — no matter how popular they are. “We stay away from those things and only post if it keeps our Catholic identity in the forefront,” says Maloney. So far, ensuring that videos are appropriate has been no problem.
TikToks go through a marketing review at Magnificat. Anyone in the school can submit a TikTok, which Madden ensures is in keeping with the school’s mission. “Certainly, TikToks can be fun and silly, but still within the guidelines, and we’ve never had an issue with students submitting content that was not within our purview,” she says.
While Madden holds the password and posts students’ TikToks, it’s the students’ account to run with and engage other students, alumnae and community members.
“It’s teaching the leadership skills of coming up with an idea, going through the process of proposing it to administration and then helping to facilitate it and set it up,” she says. “We are always making sure our students know they have a voice, and we want to hear from them about what they are doing.”