Young consumers to social media: Give me a break

If your brand is trying to reach Gen Zers through social media, you may be surprised to find they’re not there.

As an avid runner training for this year’s NYC Marathon, one of my favorite t-shirts is a simple white tank with the words: Log Off, Shut Down, Go Run. Turns out, I’m not alone in the sentiment – many of today’s Gen Z consumers agree (well, they agree with the first two parts, at least).

As part of a recent panel in the Female Quotient’s Girls Lounge at Advertising Week, I joined colleagues from Hill Holliday, MTV and SnapChat to discuss some of the more surprising attitudes of Gen Zers toward social media.

The discussion was informed by a recent study, Meet gen z: the social generation (part 2), from Hill and Origin that found that even though 94% of Gen Z adults use social media, an eye-popping 67% say social media sometimes or often makes them feel sad, anxious or depressed.

The result? 58% of Gen Z are regularly seeking relief from social media (up from 50% last year).

This isn’t surprising. In our Experience Brand Index research study of 6,000 consumers in the US, UK, and China, we found younger consumers value real-life brand experiences as much as digital ones (even more in certain product categories).

And, while it’s almost a truism today to say consumers across all demographic groups prefer experiences to product-focused expenditures, it’s more challenging for brands to understand how to approach Gen Z consumers in the wild. So, I shared with the Female Quotient audience some of the four Gen Z truths we shared in recent conversations with a clothing retailer that’s interested in creating impactful experiences for them. (Hint – it’s not about leaving digital behind; it’s about integrating it in a meaningful way that demonstrates value.)

Gen Z Truth #1: Gen Z is an audience that has an eye on its own audience. It’s simple – if it’s not shareable, it’s not worth attending. But they don’t want to capture and store images – a higher percentage of Gen Zers use SnapChat vs. Instagram, because fleeting moments are more valuable.

Gen Z Truth #2: They expect to be co-creators of their own experience. 56% of all Gen Zers are getting a jump on the gig economy by having a side-hustle, according to the website Medium. That means they are not going to be engaged by anything that doesn’t involve them in a meaningful way – whether that’s co-creating content or one-of-a-kind experiences.

Gen Z Truth #3: They value opportunities to connect over causes. Our research showed that younger consumers were skeptical about brands – with more than half agreeing that brands don’t typically live up to the promises they make. And that’s bad news for insincere brands since the same percentage say they will not buy a brand that doesn’t live up to its promises. So if you’re going to connect your experience to a cause it better be more than just words.

Gen Z Truth #4: Gen Z moves fluidly (and constantly) from online to off. As the Origin research showed – the majority of Gen Zers plan to take breaks from social media, so if your experiences draw hard lines between physical and digital, you may lose a good chunk of your audience. Make sure every touchpoint delivers value in the physical space, as well as the digital one.

So what does all of this mean for today’s brands?

Don’t be fooled by stats that tell you Gen Z is all about social media. They are until they’re not.