Trendsetters and trail blazers, Gen Z teenagers and youths are prized customers. Sadly, many brands fail to reach, engage or influence them using social media marketing.
Hopefully things will change after this.
Backed by a comprehensive study involving 2,039 individuals—505 of whom were Gen Zs—the book provided a comprehensive overview of how today’s teens think, feel and act.
And the findings are eye-opening, to say the least.
This article summarises key findings from the book, coupled with my own insights.
I will first define who Gen Z youths are, highlight how they use mobiles, and describe the ways they use different social media platforms before suggesting ways to craft and share your content online.
These insights will help you to sharpen your social media marketing strategies targeted at the teen market.
Who Are Gen Z Teenagers?
Also known as Pivotals, Gen Z youths and teens are those born between 1996 to 2010.
Influenced by The Great Recession, ISIS, Sandy Hook (and other school shootings), and Barack Obama—America’s first black president—Gen Zs are defined by the following characteristics:
- Multi-cultural and Diverse: They have friends from different ethnic backgrounds and nationalities around the world
- Cautious and Risk Averse: Their exposure to terrorism, cyber hacks, and school shootings make them more conservative than the Millennials (Gen Ys) before them
- Treasure Privacy: Unlike their predecessors, Gen Z teens are actually more private than public, even on social media
- Realistic: The harsh economic conditions in which they’re born into makes them less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed
- True Digital Natives: Born into an entirely post-digital era, they view technology as an invisible and seamless part of their lives
- Multi Screened Multi Taskers: Huge multi-taskers, they can watch TV, message their friends, play an online game, do their homework, and listen to music almost simultaneously
- 8-Second Attention Span: Yes, they’re easily distracted and don’t have the patience to wait
- Mobile-First: Gen Z teens have never lived in a world without smartphones
This quote from the book best summarizes how this generation behaves with technology:
“Millennials adapted to technology as they got older, starting with laptops, then iPods and iPads, then the iPhone, etc. But Gen Z is the first truly digital generation—the first generation who could FaceTime their friends, text their mom and order a pizza, all at the same time.” – Connor Blakley
How Gen Z Teens Use Mobiles
While teens are perpetually logged on to the Internet, they use technology quite differently from older generations.
73 percent of Gen Zs cite texting and chatting as their main mobile phone activity in 2017 IBM study.
Using tools like FaceTime, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Skype and Google Hangouts, teens love to chat online. However, they limit their intimate social lives to a tight circle of friends and family.
Triggered by what others are sharing on social media, teens value experiences like concerts and sporting events, going out to eat, traveling or hanging out in trendy places with friends. These encounters often provide fodder for what they share and communicate with their peers on social media.
Teens also love online gaming—over 66 percent proclaimed that gaming was their main hobby. They enjoy humour, and are huge fans of funny videos, memes and GIFs.
Social Media Habits of Gen Z Teens
With smartphones as their primary devices for accessing social media, Gen Z teens expect brands on social networks to provide on-demand and instant services, while being authentic and transparent.
They appreciate the importance of online privacy and security, and prefer “dark social” messenger apps (eg Telegram) or temporary Snapchat posts over the sharing of permanent posts.
Susceptible to two social syndromes: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and FOLO (Fear Of Living Offline), youths may spend up to nine hours a day on online media.
Often, they’ll check their social media accounts 100 times (or more) daily, addicted to the instant gratification which they receive from the likes, comments and shares on their social posts.
Let’s look at how they use different social platforms.
Nope, Facebook isn’t dead in the eyes of Gen Zs. According to the book, 77 percent of teens still use Facebook regularly.
What changes, however, is that these youths do not share their photos, videos and other content on Facebook. Rather, they use it as a jumping-off point and a channel to read news or access content.
In other words, Facebook has become more of an information hub rather than a networking platform.
What about Twitter—the “always on” platform?
Interestingly (at least in the US), teens are fairly active on Twitter. 45 percent of them are regular Twitter users, compared to 34 percent for Millennials and Gen X and just 13 percent for Baby Boomers.
Beyond using Twitter to get information, teens also engage with their peers by retweeting their content, or replying to them.
Avid users of #hashtags, they also engage freely with brands on Twitter, expecting them to respond expeditiously to their requests.
Instagram is the place where Gen Z teens go to get inspired. 63 percent of them are on this platform compared to 47 percent of Millennials.
Unlike older generations, teens are very careful about how they use their Instagram accounts:
- They spend time editing their images and only post the most aspirational versions of themselves
- They do not want to clog their friends’ feeds with “low-quality” images—that’s what Snapchat is for!
- They regularly delete their Instagram photos so that only a handful appear at any given time. This helps them to optimize the number of likes per photo.
- They are heavy users of Instagram Stories, and put in effort to design each post with location tags, hashtags, stickers, sound effects, filters, and visual effects (eg boomerang)
- They are also heavy users of hashtags on Instagram—adding 10 to 15 #hashtags per post isn’t uncommon!
Desiring to personally connect with their friends, Gen Z teens use Snapchat to share real-time updates.
Like Instagram, Pivotals lead in the use of Snapchat at 61 percent versus 34 percent for Millennials, and even smaller numbers for Gen Xers and older generations.
Allowing their friends to peek into their reality, Snapchat shares tend to be more risque, spontaneous and un-curated. Like Instagram, the mobile-first nature of Snapchat makes it attractive to teens.
Using filters, teens love to turn their selfie videos into weird or comical content pieces.
YouTube is the new TV for teens. According to a report from DEFY Media cited in the book, Gen Zs watch YouTube videos from sunup to sundown.
(I should know, having such a teen in my own household!)
Beyond entertainment, YouTube and other mobile friendly videos help teens to stay current and culturally relevant. They can also gain lots of educational content, and follow their favourite social influencers.
A couple of points here are worth noting:
- Teens watch videos with the volume off when commuting, but watch with the sound on and in full-screen at home (when they can enjoy unlimited WIFI access!)
- Marketers must engage with video content that are time or location agnostic
- Don’t just put a TV commercial online. It just wouldn’t work.
- Consider the context of where videos are streamed. Include headlines, short descriptions, captions, visual effects and thumbnails with text.
- The first 3 seconds of any video must hook your teen audience—even ads that are entertaining will be consumed by teens
- Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are huge drivers for teens
- “Game” your videos with some interactive activity—teens love to participate. Offer voting, rewards, points, contests and competitions.
Crafting Winning Online Content For Gen Z Teens
Given the above backdrop of how teens engage on social media using their mobiles, how should you craft your online content strategy?
For a start, consider gearing your content towards engagement and discovery, not interruptive advertising. Find a way to tailor your brand’s voice to fit into their lives, and humanize your brand with a personality that Gen Zs can engage with.
Here are 10 ways you can do so.
#1 Be Authentic
Don’t try to act hip if you’re not. Instead, let your natural self emerge from your brand stories and messages.
Gen Zs have an amazing nose for BS—don’t be the brand that gets called out by them!
#2 Be Fast
You only have 8 seconds (or less) to capture the attention of Pivotals. Don’t squander that opportunity.
- Make sure that your content is mobile friendly
- Invest in strong visuals
- Make video an integral part of your marketing
#3 Create Bite-Sized Snackable Content
Use the fewest number of words if possible. Explain something in 10 seconds rather than 30 seconds. Or in 10 words instead of 100.
Twitter only accepts 140 characters, Snapchat videos are 10 seconds per segment, while Instagram Stories are 15 seconds long per segment.
#4 Use Emojis, Emoticons and Stickers
Use emoticons, emojis and stickers to make even your text content visual. Liberally sprinkle them on your posts.
Here’s a good source of such cut-and-paste character code symbols and emojis which you can use.
#5 Produce and Share Videos
Once again, videos are the ultimate content formats for Gen Z teens on virtually all channels and platforms, so invest in them. They don’t have to be long or well-produced—what matters here is being relatable and entertaining.
#6 Match Their Context (Seamless + Consistent)
Consider the unique context of your content across every social media channel.
YouTube works better for longer-form storytelling and “How To” content; Facebook is more issues-focused; Snapchat is raw and silly; Instagram is filtered and aspirational; Twitter is quippy and newsy.
#7 Be Friendly and Personable
To score with Gen Zs, you need to be personable, authentic, and conversational.
Match your offline store experience with your quirky online personality. Earn that relationship by recognising their passions, interests, values and content preferences.
#8 Opt for Humour
Teenagers enjoy offbeat, quirky, raw, and self-deprecating humour. Stuff that is seemingly absurd to adults often appeal to them.
The best way to find out what’s funny (and what isn’t) is to ask them!
#9 Be Compassionate (Have a Cause)
In a world full of environmental disasters, economic terrors, and inequality, teens are keen to make a difference.
According to a survey cited in the book, 60 percent want to change the world, while 76 percent worry about the environmental impact of humans on the Earth.
To appeal to Gen Zs, make sure that your brand stand for a cause. Start a movement but make sure that it is true to your brand DNA.
(Remember that teens can easily sniff out BS!)
#10 Secure and Private
Last, but certainly not least, be sure that you do not exploit the private data of Gen Zs.
With high standards of security and privacy, teens hate to be snooped on, or to be remarketed to with overly intrusive campaigns.
Always disclose what data you will collect, how long it will be held, and for what purpose it will be used.
As a Digital Marketing agency owner and a father of a 15 year old, I’ve always wondered how brands can market themselves more effectively to the younger generation.
While some of the insights from Marketing To Gen Z aren’t particularly new, I found that the book provided good ammo for anybody keen to market to the next generation of opinion leaders, consumers and influencers.
What I’ve covered above is just the tip of the iceberg. The book contains lots of useful case studies and examples that are relevant for brand marketers of any stripe.
Have you started marketing your product, brand or company to Gen Z teenagers? Which strategy have you used and how successful has it been?