Our agency recently conducted nationwide research to learn more about Elder Z, the upper half of Gen Z (ages 16-22, born 1998-2004). We chose to do this for a couple of reasons: 1) This group is quickly gaining momentum and becoming a force in the marketplace, and 2) We know so little about them compared to their generational predecessors, the millennials.
The effort netted many meaningful takeaways, including insights into what matters to Elder Z, what worries them and what role social media plays in their lives (more here). Here, we share more details about Elder Z’s social media habits along with the implications those have for marketers and brands looking to reach them in the future.
Social Media Is Significant, and Significantly More Than Just Social
Not surprisingly, smartphones and social media play significant, multifaceted roles in the lives of Elder Z. What is surprising and noteworthy is the fact that they view social media as much a source for information and entertainment as a space for community.
Because they consider social their go-to for data, connection and good times, Elder Z is seriously invested in the space. Our 1,221 research respondents averaged more than three hours on social each day, engaging on an average of 3.9 platforms. YouTube (87%) and Instagram (77%) were the social darlings, with peer groups preferring to connect with each other through Snapchat (88%) and Instagram (87%). When we conducted our research in the Q4 2019 pre-COVID-19 timeframe, TikTok was a rising star with usage hitting 26% for regular use and 53% for use with peers – and we know that has only skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic, jumping 48.3% with an additional 12 million unique visitors in March alone.
Men report using Twitter and Reddit more than women, but that doesn’t mean male-centric brands should put all their eggs in those two social baskets. While it is true men are more active on Twitter and Reddit, they are still spending significantly more time on other bigger platforms – just like women. Females both out-post and out-stream their male counterparts by about 10%, while males out-game females by 24%. However, as a whole, Elder Z spends more time posting than gaming, and social posting outranks activities like video games and going to the movies.
Geography played a role in platform use, with Instagram trending 10% higher among Elder Z living in urban/suburban environments and Facebook usage trending 15% higher in rural settings. That confirms that Facebook is sticking around and remains relevant among younger users, despite predictions to the contrary.
Last but certainly not least, it is important to note that Elder Z isn’t just showing up and passively consuming content on social, they’re engaging in significant ways with what they find there – both on their own and with friends. What they create, consume and share varies wildly, including eating weird stuff and eating stuff weirdly (i.e., ASMR), makeup tutorials and routines, dance and lifestyle videos and more. Again, all of this underscores the versatile and engaging role social plays in the lives of this group.
Social Implications for Marketers
Given Elder Z’s social media tendencies, here are four implications for brands hoping to use virtual platforms as conduits for real-life connections with this cohort.
1. Do good, honestly.
Despite enjoying the countless features and filters festooning their social media platforms, Elder Z values authenticity, and they want and expect brands to do good and be honest. This includes everything from business practices to customer service to owning mistakes and making things right when needed.
Fortunately, social media offers great opportunities for marketers to do and be these things in ways their future Elder Z customers can bear witness to. One way to show your brand has a heart – and wear it on your social sleeve – is to spotlight the people who bring your products and services to life. It’s also beneficial to engage with, acknowledge and affirm your fans, which can be done by creating UGC-inspired content and interacting with them via customer reviews, comments and DMs. Give-back initiatives to causes that align with your product or service also make sense, as does contributing to the local or global community during a cultural moment (e.g., a natural disaster or pandemic). Warning: Take care not to overdo it lest your brand be seen as opportunistic. Even your generosity must be genuine.
2. Experiment across platforms.
As we know, social media is extremely important to Elder Z. Although the data show that Instagram and Facebook are here to stay, that doesn’t mean they’re the only places your target will play. Cases in point include Elder Z stats around Snapchat and TikTok. Your brand should be present where your target is, but you must also explore new platforms as they pop up. Some may not be right for your brand in the near term, and some may not be around for the long term (e.g., Vine, Google+, etc.), but some could end up being great tools for connecting with Elder Z as they age into your target audience. Plus, the best time to figure out a social platform is when it is new – allowing you to explore the upsides and get good at using it if it proves to be a good place to intersect your target.
3. Use Social as a Storefront.
Elder Z is very comfortable shopping online, with about 50% buying their clothes online and ordering food on their phones, which is why brands should treat their social channels like virtual storefronts. Make sure your messaging and displays not only showcase relevant products and information with the right look and feel, but also include an easy way to learn more about and purchase the product in a matter of a couple clicks.
Don’t forget to consider how this extends to influencers. Influencers and their accounts are ultimately ethereal spokespeople and pop-up shops that drive awareness and sales for your products and services. Partnerships with them will no doubt continue inspiring target audiences, including those who are Elder Z, and generating sales for brands via their own social storefronts.
Because Elder Z uses social for entertainment, it isn’t surprising that they expect social media to be entertaining. To win them over, brands must create social content that is emotionally compelling, interesting or humorous. It’s best to use video. In terms of formatting, movie trailers provide a good template to model – they’re brief, action packed and dramatic, drawing the viewer in quickly with movement, music, sounds and visuals that communicate the story. That type of format not only allows for a lot of creativity, it also proves especially effective for social because platforms can be limiting and attention spans are short. Whatever your approach, the snippet you create should be short, sweet and create a hunger for more.
Speaking of more, there’s still more to share from our Elder Z research, specifically from the deeper dives we did into this segment’s views and habits specific to money matters and restaurants. We’ll be revealing those soon – and offering additional takeaways for those industries, many of which can be put into action now. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, what we’ve shared here is a great starting point that allows brands to start thinking about how to evolve their marketing to connect with and win over Elder Z.
Interested in how research can grow your brand’s understanding and strengthen its connection with your target? Email Ted at firstname.lastname@example.org.