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Barton Trustees talk about TikTok concerns
Digital media used to promote college

Discussion of the use of the social media app TikTok continued at Tuesday’s Barton Community College Board of Trustees meeting. Trustee Don Learned said he doesn’t think the college should use TikTok for advertising.

The discussion began two weeks earlier, at the March 14 board of trustees study session. Maggie Harris, Barton’s chief communications officer, presented a marketing plan for 2023-2026. She noted the roles played by digital media, traditional media and other platforms, such as sponsorships or high school yearbook ads. TikTok is one of the digital media used to target traditional students, ages 13-19, and other markets, from 16 years old to 55+. The only target market in which TikTok is not used is the “influencers” group which includes parents, grandparents and teachers. 

The social media app Facebook was also on the list for every target group except the teenagers.

Ads and news releases in print media, radio and television were a platform in each target market except the 13-19-year-olds. For this group, advertising was strictly digital:

• Instagram Reels

• TikTok

• YouTube

• Spotify

• Google Search

With this group, the college also wants to create awareness of Barton as a trustworthy “brand,” Harris noted. Barton is able to do this by serving area schools, promoting career and technical education options and exposing teens to the “Barton experience” with events that allow them to visit the campus, such as Senior Day and Career Day.

Harris concluded that traditional media continue to be used as “they still hold an important place.”

Learned specifically asked if Barton is on TikTok.

“Yes,” Harris said. “It reaches a lot of our target audience.” Digital media are a major platform for marketing because the apps have enhanced analytics, she continued. “We are only advertising to those potentially interested in what we’re marketing.” Whether the ads target a certain age group or geological location, she said, “it gives us a lot more control over how our dollars are spent and how those marketing promotions are going.”

“But you know the history of TikTok, right?” Learned asked. “The Chinese, right? I’m concerned we’re spending money to help the Chinese Communist Party. I’m concerned that Barton is paying money for that.”

“We are reaching our customers where they are,” Harris responded, adding she was aware of recent discussions about TikTok on a state and national level. The company’s chief executive officer would go on to testify last Thursday, March 23, at a Congressional hearing on the subject.

“If (TikTok) would be taken off the board, I think Instagram Reel and YouTube Shorts would take its place." Harris added that the college always aims to be the top result in Google Search when appropriate as well.

Board chairman Mike Johnson acknowledged Learned’s comments concerning the alleged Chinese government involvement in TikTok. He said he was aware of the ongoing national discussions surrounding the app and the debate in Washington about a potential ban or limitations that could impact Barton’s media strategy.

“If new regulations are put in place, Barton obviously would comply with those,” Johnson said.

“Our platforms are always changing,” Harris said. “We are always looking for new opportunities. Digital media is where the students are spending their free time.”

At this week’s meeting, Learned said Harris made a good presentation but he wanted to address the issue again during the portion of the meeting open to board member comments.

“I’m not against kids using TikTok,” Learned said, noting the app has 150 million users. “I really don’t think we should advertise, because the money’s going to the Communist party. I just think that we should stop – I don’t think that we should be advertising on TikTok with the college. I’d make a motion but no one would second it.”

“Every time you buy something made in China you’re sending money to the Communist party,” chairman Johnson said. “I respect your thought process; everything we do evolves back to China.”

Board member Gary Burke added, “TikTok is terrible for a lot of reasons. The information that the community party gets on all of our young people — I think that’s probably on all social media. I agree, I think TikTok is a terrible piece of social.”

“I don’t disagree but every day you’re hearing another issue of potential Chinese surveillance,” Johnson said. “All  these construction cranes from China you hear are being used to surveil our country.”

Burke suggested board members read Mike Pompeo’s book, “Never Give An Inch.” “It’s in every facet of our being and it's not good. (But) we’re not going to solve it today.”

“Good discussion,” Johnson said.

Nathan Broeckelman
Nathan Broeckelman

Meeting at a glance: Coach hired

Here’s a quick look at what the Barton Community board of trustees did Tuesday:

• The board approved new tuition and fees, including a reduced rate of $50 per credit hour for some high school students enrolled in college classes. (See related story at this link.) Also approved were new tuition and fee rates for college students and new course fees that will go into effect this fall.

• The board approved new personnel:

- Kaeli Smit – Student Services Specialist (Fort Riley Campus)

- Mary Schridde – Instructional Specialist (GED & ABE) (Correctional Facility)

- Nathan Broeckelman – Head Coach (Wrestling) (Barton Campus)

- Koltyn Ratliff – Assistant Athletic Trainer (Barton Campus)

• There was a 30-minute executive session for discussion of an employee’s performance. No action was take after the executive session.

• The board approved its 2023-2023 meeting schedule.

• Reports included the Faculty Council report; strategic planning report and a monitoring report on the “Barton Experience.”