Thought Leadership: Making education fun — A school of thought

Thought Leadership | Mon 10 Oct | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: Zaria Parvez, Global Social Media Manger, Duolingo

Business & Finance editor, Sarah Freeman, spoke with Zaria Parvez, Global Social Media Manager at Duolingo, the language learning app, about tech for good, successful engagement strategies and how to balance the competing elements of a successful algorithm with logging off.

Note: This piece was originally published in Business & Finance magazine, vol. 59, no. 3, available to read, with compliments, here.


Qs. Zaria, the world is steeped in tech now, with varying degrees of merit. You are the Global Social Media Manager behind the language-learning app Duolingo which, thanks to your strategies, has a huge presence on Tiktok. Duolingo is a wholesome app in the sense that it’s selling and promoting a constructive product. What do you think appeals to people the most about the app and in particular the Duolingo owl mascot? 

Answer: I always describe it as like a perfect storm. We have an awesome product and that gives us an allowance to have fun and be quirky. That was already part of our brand ethos and my job was bringing that to life on TikTok. We are firm believers that language learning is hard, but we make it fun whether that’s through our app or how we act out our mission of making language accessible. It’s so authentic to who we are, that’s our culture. You walk in it’s fun, that’s how people are here. It almost felt like lifting the curtain and getting a glimpse of what a day in the life of being part of Duolingo is like. 

Qs. Do you see the brand love translate into more app downloads? 

Answer: Yeah, definitely. Whenever we have like a super viral video, so anything over a million views, we’ll see an uptick in users. It’s significant enough for us to actually add TikTok to our user survey now. 

Qs. The whole ethos of Duolingo is constructive and all about learning. Was that one of the things that appealed to you about the role? 

Answer: My background is in advertising so I knew I wanted to do social media but I really wanted to do it in a good place and use what I have for an end goal. Sometimes advertising can be like reality TV and you start asking, what am I doing with my life? So the message (of Duolingo) just felt like a perfect fit for me.  I also love that it was a startup and a fresh challenge. I was the first full-time social media hire so it was kind of a playground and a sand box for me to play with and see what I could do with it.  

Qs. There is an authenticity to Duolingo’s social media presence and the energy and fun. How do you retain the purity of that?

Answer: I have a mantra, ‘be kind to each other but hard on the work’. For us, this is a mission. It’s difficult to learn languages and we want to make language learning more accessible.  That’s our north star and helps keep our goal genuine. Then we ask ourselves, is this content good, are we having fun? If the answer is no then we don’t post it. We never want to make content just for the sake of having content. 

Qs. When we talk about tech for good, we know that spending hours online is not good. So what is your end goal? How are you measuring success, is it minutes spent online? 

Answer: We deal with the reality that we have. If people are going to be on their phones, they might as well be learning language and exercising their brain. Back in September of 2021, there were one billion monthly active users on Tiktok and we thought well it’s already happening so how do we use that in a good and constructive way.

Qs. What is next for Duolingo? 

Answer: We recently did a Roblox event in the Metaverse and people loved it. Wherever the numbers are, we’ll meet people where they’re at. We recently did a Roblox event in the Metaverse and people loved it. So I think, honestly, what’s next is wherever people are, we’ll be there and see if we can get them to do their lesson.

Qs. I’m sensing this is a bit of a dream job for you…what else are you interested in? 

Answer: A lot of people don’t know this about me. I’m really interested in recruiting and HR. Tech is one of the biggest industries and within marketing and creative roles, there’s a lack of diversity of young young people and also woman of colour. For me, being a Pakistani Muslim, I don’t really run into that often in marketing. So it’s a dream of mine of how do I get more Muslims and more people of colour to just be part of these like creative spaces, especially in tech because tech is honestly where the money is at.

Qs. What advice would you give to people starting off in tech and social? 

Answer: Be picky with where you work because that really determines your success. When you’re a young talent, you’re trying to break into the industry and you think you don’t have a choice, you just have to work somewhere. I genuinely believed in what I was doing and I do recognise that obviously it goes to the place of privilege of being able to like wait it out for the right job. But I think really knowing your north star and finding a company that aligns with that is key and then the sky’s the limit.


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