How Gen Z Are Using Social Media

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Born between 1997 and 2012, Generation Z (Gen Z) are the first generation to have grown up with the internet, social media, and smartphones as part of their everyday lives.

And as the largest generation in history, Gen Z is rapidly becoming a powerful force in the global economy.

Yet, when it comes to marketing to this generation, particularly at the local level, the old rules of digital-first marketing that have worked with millennials increasingly don’t apply.

Gen Z often has very different attitudes toward consumption shaped by the reality of growing up chronically online and coming of age remotely in the throes of a global pandemic.

To make strides with Gen Z, it’s time to retire the old playbook.

As marketers, we need to understand what drives them and rethink our approach to reaching them where they spend most of their time online: On social media.

Who Is Gen Z?

Gen Z is unique among current generations – not just for the social structure they have come up in, but also for their spending habits, which differ from other generations.

According to a 2021 Bloomberg report, they collectively have about $360 billion in disposable income.

They are saving more, thrifting, and decidedly not purchasing from companies that don’t reflect their values.

Additionally, according to Credit Karma, almost one-third of American Gen Zers between the ages of 18 and 25 live at home with their parents or other relatives, meaning less of their money is tied up in rent, groceries, and utilities.

Social media is embedded into the fabric of their lives.

A 2022 survey by Morning Consult found that 54% of Gen Zers said they spend at least four hours daily on social media, and 38% spend even more time than that. Their most used social platforms are YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Furthermore, data from Statista in 2022 suggests that almost 80% of Gen Zers and millennials have bought something they saw on social media.

When it comes to online versus in-person shopping, it’s more of a toss-up. Gen Z is accustomed to the convenience of online shopping, but they value real-life experiences, as well as the ease of same-day pickup.

A Deloitte study in 2023 also found a 50/50 split between Gen Zers and millennials who see online interactions as meaningful replacements to in-person experiences, and those who prefer the real thing.

All of this suggests that an omnichannel approach to the customer experience is best for Gen Z, but still poses an interesting conundrum for marketers.

We know where Gen Zers are spending their time and how to reach them, but what does it take to connect with them authentically? And what drives them to log off and shop in person?

Here are five social media practices to consider.

Embrace Partnership With Creators

The concept of the traditional “influencer” – who does sponsorship deals, goes on brand trips and sells an aspirational lifestyle attainable to their followers through the purchasing of products – dominated the 2010s.

But for Gen Z, that heyday is proving to be behind us. As they become savvier about when and how they’re being sold to, the creator economy is king.

In this new paradigm, authenticity and originality are lauded over aspiration.

TikTok creator Alix Earle jumps to mind as a prime example. Earle has seen rapid fame in just a few short months, surpassing 5 million followers today.

She has all the marks of a traditional influencer – the travel, high-end products, and aspirational lifestyle – but her unpolished and relatable tone is arguably what garnered her a massive audience, and what them around as her lifestyle appears to become less attainable.

When she recommends a product to an audience, it feels organic, like a recommendation from a friend.

As a brand, encouraging, engaging with, and platforming this type of user-generated content (UGC) – where your product might not be the star of a scripted video, but a detail in a larger story – can be very effective with Gen Z.

Give The Brand A Persona Online

In addition to outsourcing content to creators with their own audiences, we’re also seeing the emergence of brands becoming influencers in their own right.

Some do this by bringing on a well-known creator to represent their brand’s social presence. For example, Kyle Prue, a TikTok creator with over 1.1M followers, has become jointly known for the personal finance brand, Fizz.

Stylistically, the content for Fizz is virtually indistinguishable from his personal content – except for the fact that it’s about personal finance.

Others employ a character or a staff member to become the face of the brand online. The popular language learning app, Duolingo, has amassed over 6.5 million TikTok followers making videos featuring its mascot, the Duolingo owl (and most of these videos have nothing to do with learning a language).

Another example with a different twist is the bag brand, Baboon to the Moon, which leverages a few of its Gen Z team members to make content that often features products prominently but feels snarky and off the cuff – a tone that tends to resonate well with the Gen Z audience.

Focus On Engagement Over Follower Count

Gen Z is far less brand loyal than its predecessors.

They’re frequently served content from social media main pages like TikTok’s For You page, Instagram’s Discover tab, and YouTube’s Recommended page.

An eye toward individual post engagement and visibility can be a better indicator of success than follower count by profile.

From a local experience (LX) perspective, this also means that there can be value in creating profiles for local stores to build a more personal connection with those locations.

Showing the location, offers, or events specific to that store and the people who work there could encourage more engagement.

For example, the TikTok profile for a Barnes and Noble location in Canton, Connecticut, has 16,000 followers and nearly 682,000 likes on its posts.

Democratizing content creation in this way can be a great way to generate more overall engagement, especially at the community level, and foster a sense of ownership with your staff.

Use Trends To Your Advantage

Viral content has become more attainable and yet more fleeting than ever.

Household name brands spending thousands on highly produced social media content can end up with a mixed bag of reach and engagement, while local library branches, museums, and businesses garner millions of views and engagements by jumping on the latest trending CapCut template (see: Pedro Pascal and Nicholas Cage.)

Keeping up with in-the-moment trends and acting fast on platforms like TikTok, Reels, and YouTube Shorts can pay huge dividends in garnering awareness and positive association.

And keeping it simple is actually a positive – unlike a platform like Instagram, where feed posts are expected to be high quality and aesthetically appealing.

Optimize Your Google Business Profile

Let’s say that you successfully build the authentic connection and positive association necessary to attract a Gen Z buyer.

At the local level, their experience begins when they open a new tab on their computer or switch apps on their photo to search for your brand – and there’s a strong chance that they are turning to Google to do that.

In a 2022 study of local consumer search behavior (Disclosure: I work for Rio SEO), we found that:

  •  47% of Gen Zers said they very frequently use Google Search and Google Maps to find information about businesses in their area.
  • 65% of the most frequently searched information on local business listings is the business address/directions – followed by reviews (56%), hours of operation (54%), and website (54%).
  • 68% of Gen Zers conduct online searches a few times per day.
  • 65% of Gen Zers want to travel 10 miles or less for a business’s products or services.

To progress your Gen Z leads from social media marketing into conversion, managing your LX and optimizing with your Google Business Profile (GBP) is key.

Your GBP should be optimized for mobile and up-to-date, with correct store hours and addresses with GPS directions, as well as quick visibility into in-store inventory, payment options, and other store highlights.

In Conclusion

The key takeaway is this: Gen Z social media marketing requires striking a balance between adaptability of medium and consistency of voice to bring in an engaged audience.

Optimizing online, social media, and local experience will equip brands to convert that audience into customers.

The brands that make both sides a priority will be the best poised to break through to this notoriously elusive generation.

More resources:

Featured Image: CarlosBarquero/Shutterstock

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