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Courtesy of Zaria Parvez
Career > Work

Meet The Gen Z Social Media Maven Behind Duolingo’s Viral TikToks

You’re scrolling on TikTok and come across a funny video. So naturally, you open the comments to see how others responded to it. Lo and behold, the most-liked comment is a pithy, spot-on joke that might be even funnier than the video itself. You look at the handle to see what comedic genius thought up such a great comment and the profile pic is… a big green cartoon owl — aka Duo, the mascot of Duolingo.

Somehow, knowing the comment is coming from an educational app that teaches people a new language makes the whole thing even funnier. But have you ever stopped to ponder who is the mastermind behind the owl?

That would be Zaria Parvez, the global social media manager at Duolingo. Parvez started working at Duolingo as a social media coordinator right after she graduated from the University of Oregon in 2020 — in fact, it was the only job she applied for.

“I cannot say being a big green owl was my life goal,” Parvez tells Her Campus in an exclusive interview. “But I did love communications marketing. My actual true love is writing. So I turned to content as an extension of my writing, like writing out scripts and writing lines of copy became my way of doing that.”

As an advertising major and a business and psychology minor, Parvez was drawn to the role at Duolingo because it gave her the opportunity to flex the various skills she learned in college. 

“I wanted to learn how to reach people from every corner,” Parvez says. “So whether that was psychologically: how humans think, how they act, why they act a certain way. Business-wise: How can people have an impact on organizations? What are things that we can do to connect with people to build stories, and really drive revenue? And then advertising: How do you break through the noise? How do you figure out what they want before they even know they want it?”

Parvez has moved her way up the company starting from Social Media Coordinator to Senior Global Social Media Manager — and the promotions have been well deserved, considering Parvez’s efforts have boosted the company’s following from 50,000 to 11 million across all of Duolingo’s social media accounts. She did this largely by altering the brand’s brand and social media presence, appealing to its fledgling Gen Z audience with the kind of memes and relevant pop culture references she herself finds funny and engaging.

Pitching risky ideas actually [gave me] a leg up.

One of the first moves Parvez made was pitching a TikTok account for her company. “I was like, ‘I don’t need money,” Parvez says. “I have a crusty owl suit and an iPhone.’” (And yes, she has actually worn the suit on occasion.)

She started by positioning the company’s mascot, Duo, as not just a sentient being, but a legit influencer, using self-deprecating, anti-brand humor to attract and entertain Gen Zers. “It’s almost a form of satire that makes fun of corporate America and traditional advertising,” Parvez said. “I think it stuck because it fits into Gen Z humor.”

Her ideas were pretty out-there for an educational app, but Parvez had a pretty easy time getting her supervisors to greenlight her ideas. “Duo’s a very ‘test and learn’ environment,” she says. “Pitching risky ideas actually [gave me] a leg up and they had an opportunity to shine.”

In her day-to-day, Parvez is focused on creating content for all of Duoplingo’s social accounts. But she isn’t just putting in the work from behind a screen — she’s taking the brand worldwide to connect with fans. Duo has gone to movie premieres, red carpets, and other culture-defining events, thanks in large part to Parvez. 

zaria parvez duolingo
Courtesy of Zaria Parvez

“I was like, ‘Let’s send Duo to the Eras Tour’,” Parvez says. “We set up a [booth] outside and while people were waiting in line, they could do a [language] lesson. And once you completed a lesson, you could get a friendship bracelet from Duo, but three of the friendship bracelets were actually golden tickets to front-row seats at the concert.”

Parvez also says the job has opened up many professional opportunities for her outside of the Duo brand. “I’ve been able to travel the world and talk at big conference stages, where I’m the only person [from the team] and sharing the stages with CMOs,” she says. “That’s been the coolest opportunity — to [find] my strategy, be open about it, and then share it with a global community.”

Parvez credits a lot of her early-career success, to being goal-oriented, something she hopes to pass on to college students who have big dreams of their own: “As long as you’re very clear on your goals, where you want to go and you attack that goal from every angle, it will happen.”

I'm Athena, a freshman journalism major at The University of Texas at Austin. I've interned at The Dallas Morning News and currently work at The Daily Texan. In my free time, you can find me at spin class, facetiming my friends, or listening to music!