Gen Z is perhaps the most influential demographic inhabiting the social media landscape. Having been raised on social, the demographic has a fluent understanding of how the space works and has played a vital role in altering the fabric of social media marketing.
For brands, here’s everything you need to know about Gen Z social media marketing, from how they spend their time to the content they consume, the values they hold closest, and how brands can adapt.
Who are Gen Z?
You’re probably familiar with the concept of generational grouping. If you aren’t, this is a group of people born around the same time and raised around similar ideals and societal structures. People in these groups are believed to exhibit similar characteristics, preferences, and values over their lifetimes.
Your mother, for example, may hold her phone with one hand, using the index finger of the opposite hand to navigate the device, a classic behavioral pattern of Generation X. A younger person will hold their phone with one hand and use the thumb of the same hand to navigate. While this point is niche, it is valid. Gen X adopted technology later in life, so their behaviors and habits towards things like the internet, mobile phones, and social media, are much different to an 18-year-old – a Gen Zer.
Gen Z, or Generation Z, comprises people born between 1996 and 2010. Today, Gen Z’s oldest constituent is turning 27 years of age, whilst its youngest turns 13 this year. This generation is the first to be shaped by the digital world. They are digital natives, known for shopping, consuming media, dating, and making friends online.
Borne by the world of social media, Gen Zers curate their online selves more carefully than any other generation. While you can find Gen Zers across multiple social platforms, TikTok currently rules above the rest. 60% of the app’s users are Gen Z.
The importance of Gen Z social media marketing
Gen Z is perhaps the most important facet of social media marketing. This is the social media generation we’re talking about, the oldest Gen Zers have lived through MSN, Bebo, Facebook, and YouTube, while the youngest are pioneering newer platforms like TikTok, Kick, and Snapchat. Social is where Gen Zers spend large portions of their time. 54% of Gen Zers said they spend at least four hours daily on social media, and 38% spend even more time than that.
It’s worth noting that Gen Z are quickly moving through adulthood. Some will have started families and taken out mortgages, others may have just started university, or gotten a new bike for their birthday. The generation is rife with consumers of all ages, but as time goes on those consumers are becoming more savvy, and are gaining access to larger incomes. This is why brands are honing their social media marketing strategies on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Twitch, and more – to capitalize on this maturing, socially native generation.
What if Gen Z isn’t your target audience?
If you’re looking to target a different demographic, millennials for example, you should still consider what impact this might have on the Gen Z social media landscape. Since they spend so much time on social, and since there are so many active Gen Zers there too, the voice of this generation carries a lot of weight.
A trend started by Gen Zers on TikTok earlier this year speaks volumes of how impactful the generation can be. The deinfluencing movement sparked debate across the social landscape as TikTokers sought to raise awareness of the products not to buy. Gen Zers took aim at brands whose products “weren’t worth the hype”, spotlighting issues around mass consumerism and overconsumption. This trend actually altered the fabric of influencer marketing, calling on brands to read the room amidst a cost of living crisis afflicting Western markets.
But if Gen Z is not the intended demographic, brands might want to consider looking into the trends and consumption habits of whoever it is they’re hoping to reach. A brand specializing in decor and household goods, with a Millennial target audience, may want to look into marketing on Pinterest and Instagram where these verticals are more prevalent.
If Gen Z is not the intended target audience, brands should look to develop strategies outside of TikTok, using platforms that are frequented by older generations such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.
How has Gen Z social media marketing changed the landscape?
Today, brands are held accountable for their actions where they might not have in decades gone by. Gen Z is known for its passions for sustainability, mental health advocacy, and LGBTQ+ advocacy, among other values.
Gen Z has played an important role in holding brands accountable for their shortcomings, using its voice to strive for change where needed.
Brands must be alert to their marketing activity, and the impacts it could have on different demographics. This is something that, even now, brands are still struggling with.
During this year’s Pride celebration, Gen Z allies came to the defense of the LGBTQ+ community, and trans TikToker Dylan Mulvaney. Bud Light had partnered with Mulvaney, but soon recalled the campaign after heavy backlash from conservative America. The result of this fallout caused Bud Light sales to drop 23%, as well as the repercussions of damning public opinion. The North Face found itself in a similar position, though instead of backing down, the brand stood in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, ultimately winning over a lot of Gen Z support.
Though Gen Z is not the driving force behind stricter expectations on brands, the generation has played a pivotal role in outlining new industry standards.
The Impact of Gen Z characteristics on social media marketing
The shift in brands becoming sustainability conscious, advocating marginalized groups, and campaigning for things like mental health, can be linked to the demand from Gen Z. The generation’s characteristics have shaped a new understanding for social media marketing.
Values & beliefs of Gen Z
Gen Z is considered to have strong values relating to racial justice, sustainability, and mental health advocacy, among other things. They thrive on activism, and are quick to support the causes they care about, especially on social media where they spend most of their time.
This reflects on the brands they support too. Gen Z expects brands to drive social change, look for fair labor practices, inclusivity, and sustainability, at the very minimum.
Gen Z preference for short-form content
In terms of content, short-form video ranks above the rest amongst Gen Z. Vertical swipe videos, that are typically less than 60 seconds long, are the preferred format, popularised by TikTok and replicated across Instagram, YouTube, and more. 55% of Gen Z prefer short-form video to any other formula when searching for new information. But why?
Gen Z is a generation that holds brands and creators to a standard of authenticity, and transparency. They want the actual picture, not one inflated by filters and empty gestures. Short-form videos offer a more casual and authentic approach to content creation, allowing creators to be themselves and better showcase their true personalities. The format is also easy to digest, and share among friends due to its short duration.
Their love of influencers (the right ones)
Gen Z has grown up infused with social media. The idea of influencers comes with a natural affinity, as creators and Gen Z have a lot in common – they trust them.
For most Gen Zers, top YouTubers are more popular than famous celebrities, and will have a higher trust in their endorsements. This is because influencers have had to spend time building their audiences. Creators can create better relationships with their followers, and personalize their content to match their needs. It’s easy for followers to feel closely connected to the people whose lives they’re welcomed into, and who they can directly engage with.
That being said, Gen Z can detect whether an influencer is authentic or not. Let’s take The Liver King for example. He built an audience based on ancestral living, leading his audience to believe that consuming raw meat, and the products available at his store, were the key to better living and building muscle. It later came to light that the YouTuber had been taking steroids, and the internet was quick to condemn him. Authenticity is key for Gen Z.
The impact of Gen Z social media usage on social media marketing
The way Gen Z consumes social media content is also impacting the social media marketing landscape. Brands are constantly having to adapt to the latest trends in usage, keeping tabs on how much time is spent between platforms, and which formats are driving the most engagement.
Gen Z social media use statistics
The stats suggest that Gen Z spend a lot of time spread between YouTube and TikTok, with a large portion of that time spent looking for new information relating to purchase decisions.
- 61% prefer short videos under 1 minute long – longer content is far from dead. The same study found that 20% of Gen Z enjoy videos over 30 minutes long.
- Gen Z spends 24-48 hours per month on TikTok – That’s practically 5% of all awake time!
- 83% of Gen Z shops on social media – The pandemic boosted overall consumer comfort with shopping on social media, but Gen Z was leading the charge for social-first experiences well before 2020, which has been carried over into the present by ecommerce platforms like TikTok Shop.
- Almost 1/3 unfollow or block brand social media accounts weekly – Gen Z take no time to weed out the brands that don’t represent their values.
- 40% of Gen Z prefer to use TikTok over Google for search – That’s right, TikTok is eating into Google’s search control. The app offers a more authentic, interactive, and digestible experience for searches around “what to do”, and “restaurants to visit”
- 88% of Gen Z say that YouTube is their most-used platform – Interestingly, more male respondents use platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Discord, Reddit, and Twitch. While females use Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and Facebook more.
How can brands adapt their Gen Z social media marketing strategies?
Choose the right platform and content options
While Gen Z might spend a large amount of time on social media, there are certain caveats that brands should consider. Brands looking to target Gen Z should pay attention to which platforms they frequent most. For example, implementing a Gen Z strategy on Facebook might not generate the best results, due to the audience spending more time across TikTok and YouTube.
Brands must also consider which content formats cater best to Gen Z audiences, As we’ve discovered, short-form video rules above the rest. But what else works? In addition to short-form video, longer length clips, and image post offerings, Gen Z values live content. 1 in 5 live streaming users watch TikTok LIVE, out of that group 62% watch it every day. Users on TikTok are 50% more interested in branded LIVE content than non-TikTok users, too.
Build meaningful influencer partnerships
Gen Z loves influencers and content creators because they can relate to them. They value their advice because it comes across as genuine, and Gen Z as a whole requires brand creator partnerships to reflect authenticity and transparency.
The influencer marketing landscape has become pretty oversaturated, with influencers promoting brands and products for a quick buck. With this in mind, there’s been a growing distrust in brand-influencer partnerships, and has had a particularly detrimental effect on Ben Z consumers. It’s even been revealed that 44% of Gen Zers will no longer consider choosing brands that inauthentically partner with an influencer.
Establish a relatable brand identity
Gen Z loves to relate to the accounts they follow. Relatability has a huge influencer on who the demographic chooses to follow, and take advice from.
Brands should establish a relatable persona through each social channel. This means looking at the interests and preferences of a target audience as well as the language they use in their interactions, using these learnings to develop and identity that is more relatable to them.
As well as adapting tone and personality, brands should also promote a strong visual identity that will appeal to a Gen Z audience. This could be across landing pages, ad creatives, and social content.
Are all Gen Z impacts on social media marketing positive?
Gen Z has had a significant impact on social media marketing as a whole, but has all of that impact been positive? There is certainly a case to be made in this respect.
Lower spending power of Gen Z
With a large portion of Gen Z being between 13 -17, it’s fair to assume that the majority of that bracket is yet to enter an occupation, which means a nullified spending power. Some brands might argue that marketing towards a Gen Z demographic is pointless since they don’t have the means for expenditure.
Brands trying to connect with the wrong audience
Just because Gen Z is great in number, and hyper-engaged across social platforms, doesn’t mean every brand should look to target them. Not every brand will have a young target audience, and it might seem wasteful to look to target them.
Top luxury and premium brands have, in the past, made it clear that their brand is for an exclusive group, reflecting this in their marketing activity. Lamborghini, for example, had long adopted a strategy of not developing television ads because most of the world’s population cannot afford a luxurious sports car, meaning a fraction of its audience would be found amongst TV viewership. Gen Z has changed this narrative. Brands like Louis Vuitton, Lamborghini, Gucci, Augustinus Bader, and more, are all active on TikTok, planting the seeds for the next generation of consumers.
Gen Z has had a massive influence on the social media marketing landscape. Coinciding with the rise of this demographic, we’ve seen brands tread more carefully, and show support for the different initiatives that Gen Z values. Brands today are expected to do more for inclusivity, mental health, and sustainability among other things. Gen Z also demands authenticity and transparency from both the brands they follow, and the creators they support – failing to align with the values of Gen Z could negatively impact the outlook they have on a particular brand. While this might not directly impact brands looking to target different demographics today, Gen Z holds the power to dictate seismic shifts within social media, and it holds the spending power of the future, so brands should plan all marketing activity with this generation in the back of their minds.
That’s all for this one, but don’t forget to check out our weekly newsletter compiling the anti-trends – the latest developments from the world of social that you didn’t see in your feed.