TikTok and Youtube: Gen Z’s actual search engines


A couple of decades ago, Google surpassed AskJeeves and Yahoo to reach search engine supremacy. Alas, nothing lasts forever, and like the fall of Rome, there are new challengers emerging in the world of search engines to usurp Google’s crown. Gen Z’s insatiable appetite for video content and their increasing consumption behavior in-app has seen them bypass traditional search engines in favor of looking for their answers on TikTok and YouTube.

It’s not just about viral dances or trendy challenges; it’s about how these platforms have become integral to this generation’s daily learning and information-gathering rituals.


Learning and discovery with TikTok and YouTube


Dive a little deeper into these platforms, and you’ll discover a world rich with educational content and more engaging results. According to Ipsos, about 80% of Gen Z users believe YouTube has expanded their knowledge base, while TikTok’s search results provide quick-fire recommendations for anything from makeup tips to travel advice. Why search through online menus when you can drool over the food in video format, accompanied by a quick-edit narration giving you all the highlights?

Aside from the tangible time and effort saved with video, YouTube and TikTok have purposefully cultivated this culture of learning and discovery.

For TikTok, the powerful algorithm will recognize which users are there for discovery and put content into the feeds based on recent search histories. This reinforces behavior for those who are looking for a new eating spot, for example.

“Study with Me” videos on YouTube continue to be popular, fostering an educational community on the platform and strengthening the association students have between YouTube and learning.


Navigating the shift: Implications for universities


The preference for informative video content won’t be going anywhere soon. For universities, this means a rethink of how pivotal video could be in their paid and organic content plans. Marketing teams take note: embracing these platforms means more than just posting any old video; it’s about creating meaningful, relatable, and engaging content that answers Gen Z’s queries.


Some key realities educational brands need to consider in their strategy:

  • Consider what the prospective student will be searching for when creating your organic video content: What should I bring to college? Or What are the best food spots in X? This will optimize your socials for SEO and successfully cater to student search habits.
  • According to a recent Google study, 8 in 10 Gen Z teens said they proactively share YouTube videos with their parents or other adult family members. So with the right video, you can leave an impression with influencers as well. 
  • Gen Z teens are twice as likely to recall an ad on YouTube than TikTok and 6 in 10 consider watching YouTube ads rather than skipping. But it’s important to remember that recalls are different from conversions – video ads are often top-of-funnel activity, not a conversion piece. 
  • For paid placements, use the format to tell a 60-second story. Again, the purpose here is to inspire and inform, not to convert. Campus life, educational experiences and student testimonials will make a lasting impression.


It’s clear that social media platforms are not just social spaces; they’re becoming hubs of learning and discovery. To capitalize on this shift, HE brands should consider building a library of content that will help students find what they’re searching for on social channels. Digital natives are acutely aware of when they are being sold to, so softer and helpful content is more likely to build an affinity with your institution’s brand.