Verified: Influencing Gen Z

September 28, 2022by Hiebing

Here at Hiebing, we are fascinated by the elder half of Gen Z, also known as “Elder Z” – particularly the wide range of habits this cohort is building. From eating and travel habits to how they spend their free time, we’ve researched it all since launching our proprietary quantitative research in 2019.

Given that Elder Z is the first generation of true digital natives, it’s second nature for them to spend a lot of their time in the virtual world. They consume content and socialize through social platforms at a rate far higher than any of their predecessors. In fact, 41% say they spend at least five hours a day on social media, and 32% spend three to four hours a day on their social channel of choice.

What’s even more fascinating about Gen Z is the type of content that keeps them glued to their phone – and the trendsetters who create it. With the rise of influencer partnerships, we decided to expand our research to better understand how to market to Elder Z in an age when influencers backing your brand can really pack a punch.

Living in the Age of Influence    

No matter what social media channel you’re scrolling through, influencers abound. We tend to hear a lot about certain influencers, even in the general media – e.g., big names like Kylie Jenner and Logan Paul carry worldwide fame. When Elder Z was asked to name the first five influencers that came to mind, however, there was little consensus. Topics of interest vary wildly for this group, so it’s no wonder we were unable to collate a top-five list. Some interests listed include music, comedy, gaming, cooking, beauty, pop culture and fashion, to name a few.

Overall, 844 influencers were mentioned – giving you a sense of not only the enormous number of influencers out there, but the vast fragmentation of influencer fame broken down by topic.

One of the most often mentioned influencers was Markiplier, a YouTuber with over 33 million subscribers. The genesis of his online success originates from playing indie and horror games, which led to recognition of his side hustle in sketch comedy and music – totally checking the boxes of top Elder Z interests. Capitalizing on his influencer fame, Markiplier expanded his brand by becoming the co-founder of a clothing company and a podcast co-host.

Perhaps due to the scope of topics Markiplier covers, 5% of those surveyed named him as an influencer they regularly tune into. The next influencer of note was Joe Rogan, coming in at 4%. As you can see below, only ten other people made it onto the “mentioned by at least 2% of respondents” leaderboard.

 Top Two Things Elder Z Likes About You

Characteristics of beloved influencers are less flashy than one might imagine. Authentically caring about followers is a critical trait of an influencer – the inauthentic need not apply. Markiplier has such a loyal following due to the audience believing that he truly cares. Going down the Quora rabbit hole, we found some insight into what makes someone like Markiplier so popular with this generation.

I had the privilege of meeting him at VidCon 2018, and for the few minutes I was talking to him, he was so sweet and nice to everyone, and I found myself wanting to talk to him more and get to know him.” – Varian


On Tumblr, there was a blogger I follow who received Anon hate … Markiplier supported him (with a post) … Just from this, (the blogger) gained a lot of supportive followers and received 10,000 notes from this post.”
– Angelique

We found that sense of humor matters almost as much as authenticity. Jacksepticeye, an Irish native who has 28.6 million YouTube subscribers, has captured this generation’s attention through humorous voiceovers on video games he plays, as well as collating the funniest TikToks he can find. Brandishing wild green hair and an endless array of silly voices, Jacksepticeye brings levity to horror and indie games to enchant Z’ers who want to have a laugh while learning about the gameplay.

Trust Is Key, but Not a Deal Breaker

Trust among influencers and their audience is built over time and through a narrow lens of public scrutiny. When this age group was asked about the level of influencer trustworthiness on various social media channels, their skepticism – or call it realism – showed up. Only 13% of our 600 Elder Z respondents felt that influencers on Instagram or TikTok were “extremely trustworthy,” a larger percentage than the 8% found on Twitter.

It may be that trust is difficult to foster between Elder Z and influencers because this class is grounded in realism. They know influencers are human, flawed and hyper-scrutinized in all aspects of their lives, yet they expect accountability for causes they champion. Although swift to shine a spotlight on hypocritical behavior, Elder Z will continue to follow content creators who are trustworthy in their sphere of influence, even if they may lack trustworthiness in the media at large.

Take for example, Logan Paul. Prior to 2017, his base had amassed to a startling 23.5M subscribers making silly Vines and YouTube videos. After a controversial and insensitive video of Paul finding a dead body and laughing in what’s known as the “suicide forest” in Japan, numerous sponsors and ad partnerships quickly pulled their support for the influencer to brace for the financial backlash. The actual results were less impactful than brands originally thought – resulting in a total loss of just over 6,000 followers the day after the video posted. Most of this generation continued to tune in to what Paul had to say, regardless of the controversy. The vlogger has since gone on to pursue successful acting and boxing careers.

Elder Z believes that influencers should walk the talk about the things they publicly care about, so to speak. They promptly call out celebrities who are vocal about climate change yet travel the world on a whim in their private planes. They’re not winning any points among this audience, who take climate change seriously and lose trustworthiness in their realm of influence. How about poor Kylie Jenner’s unfortunate visit to her cosmetics lab where she’s seen “developing products” without following protocols like wearing gloves? Her trustworthiness may have dwindled, but Z’ers will continue to buy her products and follow her beauty tips. Why?

Because while building trust among Gen Z is important for influencers, skeptics may still opt to subscribe to an influencer’s channel if they seem trustworthy enough.

Trustworthy or not, influencers continue to inspire purchases among this group. About 50% of our Elder Z respondents said they had purchased something in the past six months based on something they saw either on Instagram or TikTok. That’s a lot of purchasing going on. So much so that it has even inspired trends like #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, which make it easy for Gen Z to find influencers who promote products they absolutely cannot sleep on.

Marketing in the Age of Influencers

Partnering with influencers can be a gamble, as trends are always changing – but one trend here to stay is influencers themselves. In fact, they’ve always been with us, they just didn’t have a moniker as such.
Brands looking to partner with an influencer to promote a good or service with Elder Gen Z would do well to:

  • Find an influencer who checks boxes of authenticity and trustworthiness on topics that this cohort enjoys.
  • Set clear terms of expectations, with clear deliverables.
  • Equip the influencer with information to create authentic content around a core message.
  • Review content before it goes live to ensure it meets brand thresholds.
  • Encourage your influencer partner to engage with followers in a heartfelt manner.
  • Let influencer’s sense of humor and genuine personality sparkle.

Wondering how to leverage influencer partnerships to engage with Elder Z? Email Dana Arnold at to set up a call.

Subscribe to Blogworthy
Stay fueled.

Sign up for Hiebing Marketing Fuel, our monthly newsletter, and we’ll send even more real-world inspiration and information straight to your inbox.