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Educational Design and Engagement

Educational Design and Engagement

Enriching the student learning experience & supporting development of on campus and online courses.

ContentEd Conference 2023: Speaking about TikToks and Instagram Reels in higher education

In early 2020, pre-pandemic, I was asked for my opinion on using TikTok for university marketing. 

At the time I honestly thought it was the cringiest idea ever, not suitable at all for “serious” educational institutions. At the time, TikTok was synonymous with silly dances and funny challenges. It still is, to an extent, but short-form video blew up during lockdown and is now known for so much more – to spread information, to bring awareness to serious issues, and of course, to market products. In fact, TikTok is even considered a competitor for search engines nowadays. In some cases, the younger generation prefer to search something up on TikTok rather than Google! 


First slide of "TikToks and Instagram Reels" presentation


Last month, I was given the privilege to speak about TikToks and Instagram Reels in higher education at the 2023 ContentEd Conference.

ContentEd is the leading conference for content strategy, UX, content design and content marketing in the education sector. So clearly, my opinions have changed a lot since early 2020. 

It was my first-ever talk at an external conference and I was proud to represent the University of Edinburgh. It was a breakout session attracting a hundred-ish people in the room! If you told this to the me of 5 years ago who booked a one-way flight ticket from Malaysia to the UK for her studies, she would be speechless. 

I’ve been delivering this session monthly and virtually to University of Edinburgh staff, but never before to external audiences. So it was an honour to bring my talk to the next level at ContentEd!


Ari Badlishah presenting at ContentEd


Some of the key highlights of my talk:

1) In today’s cluttered media landscape, Gen Z and millennials love engaging short-form video. 

2) Don’t fear short-form video – be open to innovation that may challenge traditional education marketing. Short-form video can give authentic and direct insight into student life at university!  

3) Eight out of the top ten universities (QS Rankings 2024) are on TikTok. 

4) Authenticity is key for short-form video… the less it looks like an ad, the better. 

5) Social media is always changing – so it will be endless experimentation and trials!

I also encouraged the audience to think of ideas for short-form video content, giving them prompts such as “addressing a common query from your audience”, “creating city-related content”, and “jumping on a funny trend”. One person was considering doing a “tube girl” style video!


Hand holding up ContentEd lanyard with stage in background


I got to attend some insightful talks myself from speakers who flew to the conference from all over the world. Here’s a few of them: 

  • Mikki Collins shared how the University of Chichester created an award-winning podcast series all about minority groups. The students were encouraged to be as honest as possible, even if their experience was negative. This was a risky move as universities only share positive experiences but we were confident that the honest conversations needed to happen to aid DEI student recruitment. 
  • Tony Sheridan from King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Saudi Arabia) delved into his own tried and tested 12-pillar strategy and 8-step framework structure for creating multiple award-winning campaigns. They showed their integrated approach to DEI across a range of touch points, but focused in a lot on the incredible transformation in gender equality happening in Saudi Arabia. 
  • Brian Piper from the University of Rochester (New York, USA) talked about using epic content marketing in higher education. He talked about setting up an effective content marketing strategy, how to get leadership buy-in, and how to better connect with users and become a trusted resource for them. 


Overall, it was a lovely experience at the conference organised by Pickle Jar Communications, getting to network and learn from many inspiring people in the field worldwide. I also got to discover the beautiful gem that is Salford – its modern buildings, autumn leaves, and river views!  


Enrol on my monthly “TikToks and Instagram Reels” sessions for University of Edinburgh staff (requires People & Money login) 


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