Connecting with Gen Z on Social Media – understanding the digital generation

Generation Z is the newest generation of consumers – the youngest members of this generation are teenagers and the oldest are full-grown adults (in other words, university educated with full-time jobs). This makes them prime targets for marketers, and yet most companies are struggling to effectively market to them. We all know where the marketing needs to happen since Gen Z lives and breathes social media, the problem arises with forming connections. 

Now, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to connecting with Gen Z on social media, but there are things you can do to make your content more palatable to the youth. So, read on, it’s time to learn something about the digital generation.

Start with the Platform – Are You on the Right Ones?

To connect with Gen Z, you first need to find Gen Z. Think about what social media platforms your company is currently on and ask yourself the question, is this where we should be?

The Slow Decline of Facebook and Twitter

Facebook is the most used social media platform in the world with 2.96 billion active users, so marketing on this platform seems like a no-brainer. But the vast majority of these users are over the age of 25, which just so happens to be the age of the oldest members of Gen Z in 2023. There has been a sharp decline in teenage users on Facebook, and users in their 20s tend to use the site primarily for messaging friends and organising events. These young users are not engaging with companies or ads. 

Twitter isn’t much better. After Elon Musk’s acquisition of the site, there was a jump in Twitter users who wanted to see the (for lack of a better phrase) fire for themselves. Since then, Twitter has been bleeding active users and the future of the site is not looking good. But even if this weren’t the case, Gen Z only accounts for 23% of Twitter’s users. They tend to prefer other platforms so they may move on as other sites pop up. There are other platforms which present as a greater opportunity to actively advertise to, and engage with, Gen Z consumers.

Businesses should strategically segment their market and gain insight as to where their target audience can be effectively reached before leaping onto Facebook, Twitter or any other social platform.

Instagram, It’s Hit and Miss

Instagram has a much younger audience than Facebook and Twitter, Gen Z actually makes up the largest user demographic on the site. The key to Instagram’s success has been its willingness to change and grow with consumer trends, though some people would simply call this “stealing ideas from other platforms”. While this was done very successfully with Instagram stories (a Snapchat original), reels and the algorithmic preference given to videos haven’t been as smooth.

Are Reels the most engaged with content on Instagram? Yes. Are a lot of Reels just old, reposted TikToks? Yes. Are a lot of users getting frustrated that their feeds are now mostly random accounts they don’t follow? Yes. 

Instagram is still growing strong, a great platform for advertising! However, not such a great platform for making actual connections with the younger generation as Instagram seems uninterested in showing people posts from accounts they follow. For now, anyway, in time they will likely change their algorithm again (we will let you know when they do). 

Meet Our New Masters, TikTok and BeReal.

We all know about TikTok – all the kids are on it. With over 1 billion monthly users, it’s an incredibly popular platform that is still growing and showing no signs of slowing down. As a platform, it’s also a boon for advertisers because it’s designed to show people content from pages they don’t follow (which is ok for TikTok because people don’t create accounts to follow people they know). If you want to get your brand in front of Gen Z, this is the platform you need to be on.

BeReal. gained its popularity after Instagram began focusing on Reels – frustrated users turned to BeReal. so they could see content being posted by their friends. The beauty of this site is that it forces uses to be real, to post pictures at random times about mundane things without the use of filters. For now, this platform is not a good place for brands as people use it almost exclusively to see what their friends are up to, but in the future this app could be one to watch.

Don’t Understand the Latest Trends? 

You’re not alone! A lot of people struggle to understand Gen Z humour and slang, which isn’t surprising – older generations have been struggling to understand younger generations for millennia. The best way to learn the humour and lingo is to immerse yourself in the online forums in which these things reign, but you don’t need to understand it yourself to be able to leverage it. 

It’s a Young Person’s Game, So Hire Young People

It’s hard to create content for an audience you don’t quite understand, especially when you also don’t understand the content they like to see. That’s why it’s always a great idea to hire a young person if you want to appeal to young people. There are many brands out there that are doing very well connecting with Gen Z because they’re letting young people control the content, some of my favourite examples are:

  • Behind the News – they’re able to share news stories in a format that Gen Z finds entertaining and can connect 
  • Duolingo – they’re promoting their product using humour and are now one of the top followed brands on TikTok 

The bosses at the ABC and Duolingo likely don’t understand half of the posts being made on these TikTok accounts (just scroll through them, it’s all very absurd), but they are letting their social media team post this content anyway and it’s working wonders. 

Should You Sacrifice Brand Identity for Viral Success?

No, absolutely not. If your branding is inconsistent across your various channels, consumers won’t have a clear idea of who you are, and your social media presence will appear inauthentic. Gen Z are very social media literate, they’ll be able to see right through your attempt at going viral and punish you for it.

Instead, think about what aspects of your brand identity would be the most relatable or appealing to the younger generation and just focus on that. Some examples are:

  • The Guardian – a serious news organisation, while they’ll happily make jokes from time to time, it’s important that they never slip into the absurd or confusing. They connect with Gen Z online by putting a young journalist in front of the camera and letting her talk about the news in a way that’s both understandable and engaging 
  • Sam’s Tailor – A bespoke tailor in Hong Kong, they don’t try to reign in the big personality of their designer and in letting him be free, they have become a viral sensation. They connect with their audience through this authentic personality 

To Make a Real Connection, You Have to Be Real

Gen Z can tell when someone isn’t being their authentic self-online – it’s a skill developed over the course of an entire life spent on the internet. No one wants to connect with an inauthentic person, so why would they want to connect with an inauthentic brand? 

To appear more authentic and give Gen Z a reason to follow you, you need to:

Find the Person Behind the Brand

And by person, I mean real, tangible person. Having a familiar face popping up in most of your social posts will give the audience someone real to connect with. You should use a face that represents the brand – could be the founder, a loyal and long-term employee, or someone new who has a real enthusiasm for your company. Most importantly though, you need to let this person show their real personality.

Get the Team Together

While it’s good to have a main face, it’s also important to celebrate the team. Showing the behind-the-scenes of your organisation, letting your employees speak their minds, and showing the group dynamic is all great content to post on the socials. This is also a good way of acknowledging that your company is just that – a company. This openness is always refreshing in a sea of business accounts that try to interact with people as if they aren’t a corporation.

Don’t Sweat the Imperfections

The content you post on social media doesn’t need to look professionally shot and edited, this perfection will just make your content stand out like a sore thumb amongst everything else the average Gen Z person will see on their feeds. So, when making content:

  • Just use a phone, no need for a fancy camera or sound equipment
  • Use filters and sounds you can find in-app
  • Don’t use a script, let everyone on camera speak freely  

Don’t Be Afraid to Have Fun

People don’t use social media exclusively to buy goods and services, they use social media to chat with friends and be entertained. If all your posts are product centred and include calls-to-action to buy buy buy… people won’t want to engage. Instead, have some fun! Let the person controlling the account participate in random challenges, make posts that comment on relevant industry news and events, post content that is fun to make. 

This blog was originally published on Sentius Digital (View here).

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Written by Sentius Digital

Sentius is a full-service consulting agency, providing in-house marketing strategy, design, complete agency services, and digital solutions.

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