Gen Z Trends Are Transforming Social Media

Be kind, be real and express yourself

To gain persistent cultural relevance, brands must pay close attention to changes in what people value and how that is reflected across online actions and interactions.

We're entering an exciting new era of social media, where platforms are constantly emerging and evolving, racing to give users new functionality to satisfy changing beliefs and behaviors.

Few groups are more-coveted by marketers than Gen Z. Their relationship with social media is markedly different than prior generations. Gen Z embraces a more fragmented ecosystem, effortlessly navigating a diverse array of apps, each catering to specific needs and interests. This fragmentation increases the expectations on platforms, their creators and the brands that attempt to share the space.

Gen Z is prioritizing positivity, authenticity, while pushing for anonymous self-expression and snackable entertainment. These distinct values are shaping the social landscape and redefining the way marketers must think and act if they want to make connections.

Good vibes only

Rebelling against the millennial instinct to forge ahead and simply avoid trolls, Gen Z is bringing much needed balance to the social sphere. It's inspiring to see that the majority of Gen Z (69 percent) are "focusing on using apps that feel like positive environments" (Snap). Through placing greater importance on mental health and happiness, they're challenging platforms to join them, or rick being left behind.

Brands that align themselves with positivity have that energy reflected back in their direction, and often magnified. So, while every logo doesn't need to include jazz-hands, it's not a terrible idea to create work that aims to inspire, support and celebrate the good in the world and our best selves.

One app that rode this trend to a recent acquisition is Gas. Designed to enhance users' self-esteem, Gas allows folks to build friend circles and participate in polls regarding their peers.

Authenticity is real

After nearly a decade of a heavily-curated Instagram-aesthetic setting the tone, Gen Z is finding power in anti-perfection. People are moving away from neatness, tidiness and order.

This push towards authenticity is no longer niche, in fact, it's more important to Gen Z than independence, changing the world, or (gasp) even wealth and fame. A whopping 92 percent indicate that being authentic and true to oneself is "extremely or very important" (EY).

Gen Z seeks such spontaneity through content and context—what they consume and where they consume it. They are refocusing their energy and attention toward spontaneous events and real-time sharing. This applies not only to what they create, but also to everything in their feeds, including content from friends, creators and brands.

Embracing a more spontaneous and authentic approach to content creation isn't necessarily groundbreaking, but it's worth reiterating. Many marketers are reluctant to accept that their elevated brand guidelines aren't truly serving them and their audience.

We often see an inverse relationship between fidelity and performance. The scrappiest, rawest, most off-the-wall platform-native content is the stuff that flies. In a recent TikTok campaign for a beauty client, UGC content received 2x more views, led to 2x more follower growth, and was 3x more engaging than traditional campaign assets.

In creating evergreen TikTok content for another brand, rather than partner with expected #beautytok skinfluencers, we looked to comedy, lifestyle and science creators to integrate and endorse our clients' products. The engagement rate hit 74 percent above benchmark, in no small part due to their increased authenticity and believability.

The reality is that consumers are telling us what content to create, we just need to know how to listen and be prepared to respond.

Self-expression, but make it anonymous

Gen Z values their online identities more than earlier generations. After all, they grew up knowing that thousands of people can instantly celebrate or criticize them online. This is being illustrated through the use of anonymous accounts in larger numbers than any other group (Canvas8).

Privacy to Gen Z isn't about blocking cookies or ensuring information isn't sold to third parties (that ship has sailed). Instead, it can be assessed in four tiers: personal autonomy, emotional release, self-evaluation and protected communication. Whether looking for acceptance, freedom or a sense of comfort, Gen Zers have arrived at a new era where mysterious identities and personas top personal branding. Anonymous online spaces such as Discord and Reddit satisfy the desire to communicate in ways that feel less pressured and performative. They encourage self-expression and honesty.

As people rebel against the top-down social ecosystem, these spaces play a role in the rise of niche cultures. They provide a level playing field and allowing people to form connections through shared values and interests, rather than metrics and demographic characteristics like age or gender.

Overall, brands need to consider how they connect to Gen Z in both content and context. Stay close to behavioral shifts and constantly explore new apps and platforms—but most importantly, by play, fail, optimize and learn from it all. Rinse and repeat!

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