Publishers and brand managers are already trying to pinpoint what catches the attention of a generation that’s yet to come of age.
Gen Z is expected to represent 40 percent of all consumers by 2020. There are roughly 60 million teens in the U.S. alone, and they have $44 billion in annual buying power.
They’ve been called “millennials on steroids,” but also “the anti-millennials.” So, what sets them apart from the generation that has already been fussed over so much?
Using NewsWhip Analytics, we studied a year’s worth of social media engagement data, sampling websites, Facebook Pages, Instagram handles and YouTube accounts that have a large audience of Gen Z consumers, and then examining which stories and content pieces energized and interested Gen Z.
Here are the findings:
1. They want to hear about real experiences.
Anything is fair game to Gen Z. Social media has broken down established marketing and storytelling boundaries—which are foreign to Gen Z kids, most of whom have grown up with social media.
We found that both personal confessionals and weird or emotional human-interest stories tended to drive strong engagements. Soul-baring secrets and confessions are the driving force behind Whisper, a popular Gen Z app-turned-publisher.
2. They want relatable memes and personal interaction.
Instagram is a hotspot for Gen Z publishers. From a sample of nine publishers and brands popular with Gen Z on Instagram, all but Teen Vogue saw a measurable increase in average engagements per post.
Gen Z also leans into the communal aspect of social media. Asking users to tag a friend is an effective way to facilitate discussion and further engagement, as is user-generated content.
User-generated content is effective on many levels. It lets people feel that they’re part of a connected experience, and it allows their voice to be heard. Brand managers can also solicit user-generated content to spark discussion and spur creativity.
3. Being socially conscious is crucial.
Many names have been coined for members of Gen Z, but a defining characteristic is their socially consciousness. Going beyond their own worldview, many are regularly engaging with content about politics, gender equality, LGBT rights and abortion rights.
Politics have even permeated more lighthearted publishers. Smosh, which has a big Gen Z fanbase, saw its top Facebook post of 2017 come from a video poking fun at Donald Trump’s infamous "covfefe” tweet.
Topics such as “Joe Biden memes” also went viral in 2017. Political content resonates with Gen Z.
4. It’s OK to address personal issues.
Generation Z is vocal about the problems affecting them on a personal level. Topics like bullying, anxiety, body shaming and mental health are frequently the focus of viral stories.
This trend has spilled into entertainment, as evidenced by the massive popularity of Netflix’s suicide-themed drama “13 Reasons Why.”
5. They have generational heroes.
The emerging generation of young people might be cynical and flighty, but they admire celebrities who take on serious issues. Take Selena Gomez and her public struggle with lupus, or Demi Lovato’s challenges with bullying and eating disorders.
Changing the world is not a prerequisite for adoration, however. The top stories analyzed from last year featured the likes of former and current Disney Channel stars, the Jenners and Kardashians, the Hadids, Beyoncé and Justin Bieber. Actors from “Harry Potter,” “Stranger Things,” and “Riverdale” got plenty of love as well.
6. They do have beloved brands.
Millennials are said to favor “experiences over things.” Gen Z likes the things.
Product announcements from beloved brands performed well last year—especially if they had an air of exclusivity. For example, this story about Starbucks’ secret tie-dye drinks popped up several times in the analysis.