TikTok vs. Snapchat: Which One to Use for Your Higher Ed Advertising Strategy?

Carnegie Higher Ed Jan 04, 2023 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

It’s no secret that TikTok is taking over social media one choreographed dance at a time. But just because it’s breaking records doesn’t mean you should break up with your 2020 fling: Snapchat.

With any marketing strategy, diversifying your approach is critical to reaching the maximum number of users within your target audience. And while TikTok may seem to reign supreme, both Snapchat and TikTok have key differences that make each of them important tools for achieving your higher education marketing goals.
Before we get into each platform’s capabilities, let’s compare their numbers:

As of July 2022:

  • 151.1 million monthly users globally
  • Users spending an average of 90 minutes per day on the platform

As of September 2022:

  • 363 million daily active global users on average
  • Reaches 90% of 13–24-year-olds in the US
  • Users opening Snapchat an average of 30 times per day and spending 30 minutes on the platform

Snapchat is unquestionably on top when it comes to numbers, but things are not always as they appear. Each platform has unique features and use cases, and where you focus your efforts really depends on your institution’s objectives. Here are some more side-by-side comparisons to help you decide when you should use each platform.

Choose your target

Lead generation objective and age targeting

TikTok: Advertisers are restricted to targeting ages 18+ with lead generation campaigns in TikTok, but you can target under 18 years old for non-lead gen campaigns.

Snapchat: Offers the capability to target under 18 years old with either lead generation or non-lead gen campaigns.

Conclusion: For under-18 lead generation, Snapchat is your only option. For 18+, you can go either way.

Geographic targeting

TikTok: Based on the performance we’ve seen, we recommend advertisers target more broadly, aiming to reach full states or an extensive list of Designated Market Areas (DMAs).

Snapchat: Geographic targeting parameters can be set up much more granularly, which includes having the capability to target at the ZIP Code level.

Conclusion: If you have a broad target, both platforms can suit you. However, Snapchat has the capacity to get more specific.

List targeting

TikTok: In the campaigns Carnegie has tested so far, the match rate has been very low—even with lists as high as 40,000 and having email/phone numbers. Overall, we wouldn’t recommend running list campaigns on TikTok.

Snapchat: List-based campaigns typically perform much better on Snapchat in terms of match rate and ad engagement. Please note that there is a required 1,000 matched user minimum to ensure the audiences successfully populate and/or to build a look-alike audience off the list.

Conclusion: If you have a big enough list, Snapchat is the only way to go!

Age targeting

TikTok: There’s a misconception that TikTok is just for younger users. But this platform is becoming increasingly popular with adult users, including prospective graduate students, transfer students, adult learners, and parents.

Snapchat: Users on Snapchat are of all ages, falling within the traditional undergraduate audience but also prospective graduate students, transfer students, adult learners, and parents.

Conclusion: Both have active users in your demographic, and users of all ages spend significant time on both platforms daily.

Play for your audience

For both platforms, we recommend the same strategy for brand awareness: focus your targeting parameters by age and geography for a broad audience. With that being said, there are additional capabilities for targeting prospective students.

TikTok: You have the option to opt in to various “Interests” and “Behavior” targeting categories, which are still being developed by TikTok. It also has the capability to target individual hashtags—such as #collegeadmissions, #collegeprep, and #collegerecruitment—in addition to targeting household income.

Snapchat: You have the capability to opt in to various “Lifestyles” as they pertain to your ideal target audience, such as Highschoolers (for a general undergraduate degree), Math & Science Enthusiasts (for an Engineering degree), etc.

Conclusion: Although both platforms provide strategic targeting to achieve brand awareness, they also offer capabilities to delve deeper, with TikTok possibly offering more options (though they are less developed as of now).

Creative and ad formats

TikTok: Ads generally need to have a “real” or “entertaining” feel, and we’d recommend current students create the ads if possible; the more organic the ad feels in a user’s feed, the better. Please note that these video ads are full screen and can be up to 15 seconds in length (though we’ve seen better performance for videos that are a maximum of 10 seconds long). Sound also automatically plays with the video, and we always recommend having it (check out TikTok’s commercial library if you need it!).

Ad type options: In-Feed ads, Top View ads, Brand Takeover ads, Branded Hashtag ads, Challenge ads, Branded Effects

Snapchat: Ads can follow a more typical single image text overlay ad format, as this platform doesn’t necessarily require video creative. However, we recommend more “user-generated content” styled ads, similar to TikTok. Please note that these video ads are full screen, and Snapchat recommends a length of five to 15 seconds. Sound also isn’t required.

Ad type options: Single Image or Video Ads, Collection Ads, Story Ads, Lenses AR Experiences, Commercials

Conclusion: Both platforms suggest a more organic-feeling approach. While TikTok is known for trending user-generated content, more organic-looking content is quickly gaining traction on Snapchat as well. We recommend looking into all options to see what works best for your institution.

Important: TikTok and Snapchat require frequent ad refreshes. Due to the nature of these platforms, ad frequency creeps up quickly. For these, the more creative that’s ready to layer into the campaign, the stronger your ads will perform overall.

So which one is best?

As with most things in life: it depends. There’s no right or wrong answer here (sorry, we wish there was!). It really hinges on your goals and your higher ed institution’s creative capabilities. What we do know is that both TikTok and Snapchat hold tremendous value as marketing tools, despite the fact that it seems like we’re living in a TikTok world. Our recommendation? Try both and see what works for you! The best way to see if any marketing strategy works is to try and keep testing—the longer the campaign flight, the better.

Don’t have the time or resources for that? Having trouble keeping up with the latest trends? Don’t worry. As a TikTok Advertising Gold Status Member, Carnegie has the expertise to help make your campaigns as successful as possible by gaining first-access to new betas and more.

If you want to take your social media marketing across platforms to the next level, reach out and start a conversation.


This blog is brought to you by Senior Social Media Specialists Amy Szablak and Joy Cheramie.

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