As the social media mastermind behind the twerking Duolingo owl with 4.5m TikTok followers, Zaria Parvez’s job is equal parts hard work and a hoot.
As someone who just turned 24, loves social media and describes herself as “mission driven to begin with,” it’s no surprise that Zaria Parvez is the person behind Duolingo’s TikTok account.
The savvy, creative and personable young marketing graduate worked hard to take the language learning app to where it’s at today – with 4.5m followers on TikTok.
That stat may seem relatively inconsequential to a lot of people, but TikTok is the platform of choice for many young people. In a world where brands are falling over themselves to be more relevant to this tricky-to-reach demographic, Duolingo is thriving. It’s no small feat.
And it’s partially thanks to Parvez. Her job at Duolingo is only her first after graduating university with a marketing degree.
Nowadays, she leads social strategy, creator partnerships and community management across all Duolingo’s major social media platforms. But it’s TikTok where her tactics have been attracting the most attention.
this dumpy is literally a single mom who works 2 jobs #Duolingo #fgoogletranslate #DuaLipa #Dulapeep #Dualingo #comedy #trend #twerkit_twerkit
♬ Brujeria – ✿
“I think it was back in October of 2021, there was this huge announcement that TikTok had hit 1bn monthly active users, and it was just a very big and new thing. It still is,” she told SiliconRepublic.com.
“I saw that as a great opportunity for our brand, and we should be on that platform. And I was just tasked with figuring it out – and I guess having a green owl twerk on a conference room table was how I figured it out.”
Parvez’s tactics seem very simple – short, captioned video clips featuring Duolingo’s mascot, a giant green owl named Duo, getting up to all sorts of crazy things.
Users of Duolingo already know Duo as the wholesome, if slightly overly persistent, owl that prompts them to keep taking their daily language lessons on the app. For social videos, Parvez is assisted by a colleague who gamely dresses up as Duo.
Until very recently, she had a very tiny team. She has since been able to hire more people, but said the company is still keen to retain its “scrappy” start-up mentality. It gives her and her team the “space to be innovative and do cool things”.
Those things include transforming Duo into a cheeky, chaotic character with a uniquely Gen Z sense of humour that’s sometimes a little risqué but nearly always charming.
‘Our whole marketing team mantra was language learning is hard, so we make it fun. My task was how do we make it fun in the way that this audience on TikTok wants to have fun?’
– ZARIA PARVEZ
As Duolingo’s TikTok bio says: “Just an owl tryna vibe.” Duo’s ongoing unrequited love for the singer Dua Lipa is particularly entertaining throughout the short social videos, as is his impish disregard for Duolingo’s lawyers.
In typical Gen Z fashion, Duo is a relatable little dude. He frequently pokes fun at Duolingo’s legal team having to approve TikToks and he has been known to parade around the Duolingo headquarters in Pennsylvania, pouncing on unsuspecting co-workers for pranks.
For the record, Parvez said the legal team finds Duo’s antics hilarious. From day one, she was trusted with spreading the company’s mantra to make language learning more fun.
“We’ve always been having fun; we have very silly sentences,” she explained, referring to the lessons on the Duolingo app. “And our whole marketing team mantra was language learning is hard, so we make it fun. So my task was alright, we’re making it fun. How do we make it fun in the way that this audience on TikTok wants to have fun?
“We’re essentially building a sitcom on our platform,” she continued. “There’s going to be some episodes where you just need them to progress the content forward. There’s going to be some episodes that are people’s favourite episodes where they’re just so funny, they can’t stop laughing.”
Her overall goal is to gain “brand love” and even a bit of “notoriety” so people can instantly recognise and care about Duolingo. “If that leads to app downloads, fantastic, and we’ve had a huge uptick in language learners coming directly from the app,” Parvez said.
She has also seen more and more “resurrected learners”, or people whose interest in using Duolingo was renewed after they saw Duo’s videos on TikTok.
‘I wanted to work for a brand that already has a similar voice to what my natural voice is. So, it’s easy to interact and community manage as that brand’
– ZARIA PARVEZ
What tips does Parvez have for other people in similar roles as herself? She said the main thing for social media managers is not to be afraid to take risks.
“At Duolingo, we have this concept called calculated risk, which is all about consciously bold decisions that marry intention with impact. I think it’s really important to have this mindset of taking a calculated risk, because it brings up the safeguards and the spaces for you to take risks without overstepping the line or messing up too badly.”
Not everything is going to be a viral hit, she added. She thinks Duolingo’s social success is down to a mix of hard work and also luck, as not many brands were doing innovative things on TikTok at the time she was starting out on the platform.
Parvez singled out Ryanair as one of the other social media accounts she thinks is a success. Its responses to customers’ Twitter complaints has certainly attracted attention and followers.
Irish language TV station TG4 has also got its fair share of Twitter devotees due to its wholesome and, again, slightly salty (that’s Gen Z lingo; look it up) mix of politically and culturally relevant memes. It’s run anonymously, like most brand accounts, but the question of who is behind the content is something that intrigues a lot of people.
Given that Parvez is semi well-known due to her TikTok strategy, does she have a similar personality to Duo?
“Um, I think maybe my Mom would say yes” she joked. “This is advice I give to a lot of junior talent. I wanted to work for a brand that already has a similar voice to what my natural voice is. So, it’s easy to interact and community manage as that brand.
“So I definitely think Duo has some of Zaria’s personality, but I also think I have some of Duo’s personality that existed before. So it works really well for for both of us, like my alter ego, to create the content we do.”
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