Social media is the heart of our marketing practices today, but as Gen Z moves closer to adulthood, marketers have to face a new problem. The issue: social media anxiety – and it has several causes. From widespread messaging that argues social media is a source of depression and anxiety and fuels low self-esteem to a general disillusionment with major platforms like Facebook and Instagram, some have even predicted a social media exodus among this demographic. This is a big problem for marketers – but you can overcome these barriers.
The Predicted Exodus
When researchers predict a social media exodus among Gen Z users, they overstate a vague concern. Yes, a recent study did find that 34% of 18-24 year olds have “permanently” deleted their social media accounts, but permanence is a vague concept among this age group. In a few years, many of them will likely be back – even if on a different platform. For marketers, adaptability regarding platform use is going to be the most important factor in keeping up with Gen Z.
Gen Z has also been on the receiving end of demonizing messages about social media from parents and authority figures, including the notion that young people are prone to social media addiction and compulsive use. Younger users may even face restrictive social media and device use if they live with their parents. Finding the right online communities and developing personal priorities about social media use will all impact how young people use these platforms as they get older and gain more spending power.
Evolving Platform Use
As marketers, we need to stop focusing on the “exodus” narrative of social media and adjust to one that centers evolution. If Millennials are on Facebook and Instagram, to find Gen Z, you might start on a new platform like TikTok, currently one of the most popular platforms with young people. Alternatively, your brand may need to consider your overall social media saturation. Because they’re so savvy and use social media with a high level of skill, they often use a research approach known as “channel hopping.”
When Gen Z users channel hop, what happens is the following; first, they encounter a brand or advertisement – maybe this is an Instagram ad. Based on that ad, they then head over to YouTube to see what people are posting about it. Then, they might take a picture and distribute it on Snapchat looking for peer feedback before they buy. Social media is part of a complex approach to decision-making because Gen Z buyers belong to a digital community that expands beyond “IRL” friends.
A Gen Z-Centered Strategy
If your brand is going to be successful in its attempts to reach Gen Z buyers, you need to be open to change, and that starts with digging into the new popular platforms. As mentioned above, TikTok is the hot new platform among teens, but they only started testing ads in January so you still have a chance to be an early adopter. That means you could get a lot of airtime to a large audience before other brands realize that this is the place to be.
Additionally, if we keep in mind the fact that Gen Z users are increasingly distrustful of social media and concerned by its negative messaging, as marketers it’s important that we accentuate the positive in our brands. The sarcasm and irony that played well with Millennials and Gen Xers aren’t as compelling to this demographic. Positive content also makes your brand message seem more authentic and trustworthy, both of which are key factors in successfully marketing to Gen Z.
In developing campaigns that will successfully reach younger social media users, marketers should also reconsider the role of celebrities in brand endorsements. While celebrities are classic players in advertisements, they ring hollow to Gen Z buyers. Even larger influencers tend to fall flat. Instead, look for relatable influencers who are still growing their audience. You’ll also want to consider what platforms influencers play best on, particularly as visual content moves to TikTok and Snapchat. Influencers may also provide valuable insight regarding where your target audience maintains a social media presence.
Finally, in order to reach Gen Z, it’s important to find new ways to engage users in your marketing. Platforms like Instagram and Snapchat have made it easier than ever to create polls and questions. This provides an opportunity for your brand to collect information from your audience and allows them to feel heard.
Anyone who’s been in the social media game for even a few years knows that norms and strategies change all the time; even basic analytics standards are constantly shifting. With the growth of new platforms, though, changes are more dramatic and tend to define a generation. Millennials made Facebook the force it is today, but Gen Z isn’t interested in maintaining the status quo. These young consumers have their own identity and interests and reaching them starts on nascent platforms, giving you the chance to grow with your audience.