5 Ways Gen Z Has Changed Social Media (and How Brands Have Taken Notice)



A closer look at some of the ways Gen Z is changing the social media landscape


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With over 61 million people in the United States alone, Generation Z is poised to bring about some significant changes. Indeed, CNBC’s Chris Morris covered how those born after 1996 are already changing the workplace and other aspects of day-to-day life.

Because members of Gen Z have grown up in the digital age, they are more comfortable with it than older generations — and as a result, they are also more inclined to influence and reshape it.

Anyone hoping to succeed in social media should be especially mindful of how Gen Z has already had an impact. Here’s a closer look at some of the ways Gen Z is changing the social media landscape, as well as how some brands have taken notice:

1. Channel Hopping

Unlike other groups, Gen Z isn’t always going to stay on the same social media platform for hours on end. As AdWeek’s Brittany Hodak explains, “Gen Z tends to find new products on Instagram, with 45 percent using it for brand discovery. They then turn to YouTube for product research at twice the rate that their millennial brothers and sisters do. Once Gen Z decides to make a purchase, many head into brick-and-mortar stores, where they’re more likely than any other generation to share their shopping experiences on Snapchat.”

This doesn’t just require that brands have a strong presence across several different social media channels — it also means that companies need to find ways to deliver smaller, bite-size pieces of content, such as by using shorter video pre-roll ads.

“If there is one thing Gen Z values most, it’s time,” writes Gen Z influencer and marketing expert Connor Blakley. “The best brands leverage new technology to provide customers with an added layer of functionality and convenience.”

2. The Rise of Digital ‘Third Places’

Third places” have long been viewed as important elements of building community—the places where we spend our time when we aren’t at home or at work. While third places have traditionally been physical locations like malls or coffee shops, Gen Z is leading a trend that sees digital software becoming its own third place.

One need only look at the wild success of Fortnite to see that digital spaces can become a legitimate third place. Other brands are also seeking to establish themselves in this same way.

For example, the app Squad lets users screen share from their smartphones — perfect for browsing apps together, watching videos or even collaborating on school projects when users aren’t in the same physical location. The app has already seen notable success among teen girls, thanks to its ability to create a digital hangout space.

3. The Power of Internet Influencers

Though athletes and pop stars still gain lots of headlines, Gen Z is far more likely to be influenced by social media celebrities. This could include anyone from fashion bloggers to Instagram travel photographers.

These mini-celebrities often have followers numbering in the thousands, rather than millions. But because they form closer connections with their niche audience, they are often viewed as more trustworthy and engaging when involved in marketing partnerships.

For example, Fiji Water partnered with fashion blogger Danielle Bernstein to create a series of workout videos, linking the influencer’s fitness and style credentials with the brand. Such partnerships will prove even more essential in communicating brand values to Gen Z — 57 percent have made purchases based on online influencer promotions.

4. Seeking Content First

Though connecting with friends through social media is still important for Gen Z, surveys have found that they are far more likely than other groups to use social media “to fill up spare time” or “to find funny or entertaining content.”

The phrase “content is king” may feel like it has been overused in recent years, but Gen Z’s social media habits prove that providing great content is crucial to connecting with this audience. Gen Z isn’t going to appreciate intrusive ads that disrupt their entertainment experience. However, brands that provide quality entertainment in their own right can quickly build a huge following of their own.

Red Bull’s YouTube channel doesn’t simply pump out ads for its drinks …

Instead, it focuses on lifestyle videos built around the extreme sports community. With over 8 million subscribers, it is clear that a content-first, rather than marketing-first approach will yield superior engagement.

5. Visual Content Dominates

Gen Z seeks visual content more than anything else when online, and their preferred social media networks are a clear reflection of this. A 2018 Pew Research Center study found that YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are by far the most popular platforms for teens. In comparison, only about half of teens use Facebook, while less than one-third use Twitter.

The key commonality between the most popular social media platforms is their visual-first function. Videos and photos are more engaging and easier to consume, especially when viewed on a smartphone.

As Gen Z entrepreneur Deep Patel writes, “This opens the door for brands to share more human stories of their own, which will inspire audiences to try out their product. Storytelling feels real, immediate and personal, but it also demands a mix of more time-intensive video, images and graphics, and requires brands to be more creative and thoughtful in the intent.”

Incorporating your brand’s core messaging into visual content will make it much more likely to stand out and appeal to the younger generation.

By 2020, it is expected that Gen Z “will account for 40 percent of all consumers and influence nearly $4 billion in discretionary spending.” Savvy brands understand the importance of adapting to the changes Gen Z is bringing now so they will be better poised for success in the years ahead.

As you learn to leverage social media in a way that appeals to Gen Z, your brand will be far better positioned in our increasingly digital world.

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