The Break Up: Is Gen Z dumping social media?

4th October 2022

What comes to mind when you think of Gen Z? Tech-savvy influencers? Social justice warriors? Instagram addicts?

In reality, 2022 data published by the Pew Research Center shows that Gen Z is the only generation that has seen a decline in social media usage since 2019. This excludes TikTok, which has seen positive take-up within the age bracket. There are several theories as to why this could be the case, with most attributing the demise to over-regular app updates wearing down younger users’ trust. Which begs the question; what cuts through the noise, and resonates with the “anti-social youths” of today?

#1 Video-centric platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

It’s no secret that there’s a clear correlation between age and attention span. Those born into Gen Z have had access to a whole arsenal of technology from the get-go, which could explain the 8-second average attention span versus millennials’ 12 seconds. Now, we’re not talking NFT birth certificates, or Oculus Rift headsets in the highchair, but rather unlimited exposure to social feeds from an extremely young age.

With so many like-minded platforms competing for Gen Z’s ears and eyes, the content that resonates tends to be delivered on a shiny silver platter, requiring minimal thought power to process. With 96% of people immediately turning to videos to learn more about a product or service, animated or video content has always taken less thought-power to consume compared to text-heavy alternatives. So, when “Entertain me in 5 seconds” is the brief, TikTok delivers. Weekly trends, dynamic transitions, user generated filters and ranked audio libraries create the perfect storm for undivided Gen Z attention. And the oldies are playing catch-up. Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts effectively provide the same platform, among their original format types.

#2 Personalised shopping experiences

Data capture can be dystopian as hell, but frankly, the internet would be a much tricker terrain to navigate without cookies – try working in Google’s incognito mode for a day and tell me otherwise. The same rings true for younger audiences online, where personalised shopping is now the norm. For them, trading personal data for an improved online experience is a no-brainer. Because of this, Gen Z can’t be fooled by generic ads with exhausted creative. Instead, marketers need to consider using guided quizzes, self-segmentation surveys, and on-site behaviour tracking to gather higher quality data on the details that matter most. Favourite brands, sizes, categories and colours are the specifics that mean the most when delivering the tailored content that they need. In turn, we can fine tune ads displaying similar products, offers and recommendations that they actually care about.

#3 Authentic ambassadors

Gen Zers can sniff out branded content from a mile off. Having been targeted by social media start-ups, drop shipping sites and 30-day free trials* (*£59.99 pcm post sign-up) for the past decade, it’s fair to say they’re wise to the ins and outs of shameless paid placements. Which is why it comes as no surprise that, in order to win their trust, brands need to demonstrate integrity.

The obvious workaround for brands looking to build trust, and ultimately advocacy, is to work with influencers to develop less corporate, and more authentic comms. But when 44% of Gen Zers claim that comparing their lives to the unrepresentative lives of content creators has negative effects on their mental health, brands must be selective with their ambassadors. Influencer fatigue is real, and we need to adapt. The creators succeeding are those combining their aspirational regime with real-life causes they honestly care about. Why on earth would a vegan food influencer have a deep-rooted passion for carpet cleaner? Gen Z are fully awake to unrealistic brand partnerships, so always seek authenticity when developing an influencer strategy.

#4 Raising a smile

As some brands seek out authentic influencer partnerships, others are beginning to let down their hair a little on social. While an airline provider would traditionally designate their Twitter feed to more service-orientated content, Ryanair gravitate towards pop-culture, communicating entirely through memes. By recognising and owning the typical inferences that come with budget airlines, there’s no limit for Ryanair’s internet fame. Whether it’s quote tweeting ridiculous customer complaints, or commentating on the recent F1 drama, they frame their services in a relatable, almost charming way. Frequently nodding to ‘the admin’, they’re unafraid to remind the audience that there is indeed a human behind the account – encouraging interaction on a much more personal level.

Around 58% of consumers want to see more social content that makes them laugh. Often brands try to fill a social feed with uninteresting product or service centric messaging, which overlooks the main reason that users are scrolling: they want to be entertained.

#5 Educainment

Social feeds might serve the primary purpose of entertainment, but who said learning can’t be fun? From fashion to food, there’s no denying that social media can act as a source of education. YouTube is now the second largest search engine in the world, with over half of Gen Z internet users having watched a how-to video, tutorial video or educational video on the platform in the past week alone. Social now acts as the immediate solution for those everyday problems, while providing a dose of the good stuff that we didn’t realise we needed to know.

Mob Kitchen x Aldi’s Instagram Reels, Tifo IRL’s meticulous dissection of the beautiful game and Grace Woessner’s TikTok sofa flipping are all prime examples of social subcultures that can land with a Gen Z audience. Nothing is too niche; and if you’re posting about a relatively unknown area, make the content accessible and engaging for all.

Gen Z was always going to be a tough nut to crack. Behaviour on socials is evolving so quickly, it can be hard to keep up. We recommend taking the time to learn about Gen Z’s preferences and prioritise building long-lasting relationships that benefit all parties involved over those quick wins. Ready to optimise your marketing? Drop the saintnicks team a line here to get the ball rolling.


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