Gen-Z Social Networks are Fundamentally Different

The pressure to compete for gen-Z attention on social media has accelerated the development of task-specific apps. As a result, gen-Z consumers build friend networks that are more focused on each app’s purpose and more independent of the app itself. 

A common mistake made by many marketers is to apply Millennial-focused social media strategies to gen-Z consumers. Instead, companies should prioritize their campaigns around the apps that best align with how gen-Zs interact.

How Gen-Z Uses Social Media Apps

In our recent research on gen-Z and millennial social media behavior, we found two crucial differences.  First, gen-Z accesses social media for different reasons.  Second, they access it through a wider variety of apps, with a much greater focus overall on the here and now.

For example, they use Instagram to find aspirational images of beauty they want to copy, but on Snapchat they share silly filters in the moment, with no parents watching.  On Facebook (yes, they still go there), they stay in touch with older relatives. On YouTube they watch make-up tutorials to recreate that Instagram look.  And on Twitch, they live-stream games for hours in the background.  Meanwhile, they jump between apps with the uncanny task-switching ability reserved for the young, all the while commenting and interacting with friends.

Meanwhile, millennials are accessing social media for different reasons.  They are more focused, for example, on friends and family.  They use social media to look for personal information, share articles and get information on nearby events.  Indeed, the reasons millennials use social media overlap more with gen-X (of top 10, 9 items in common) and Boomers (7 items in common), than with gen-Z (only 2 items in common).

Tips for Brands

So what should you do to increase engagement?  We advise building campaigns for gen-Z consumers that are not only mobile first, but app-specific to reach their “in the moment” mindset.  And because marketing budgets are limited, consider how to prioritize resources to those apps that offer the highest return.  Don’t spread yourself thin with one campaign spread equally across all platforms.

Gen-Z Consumers Manage their Networks Differently

Meanwhile, marketers need to understand that gen-Z social networks are evolving differently than those of older generations.  Millennials and older generations adopted Facebook as a result of a winner-take-all network effect.  Facebook became “the” network.

But since then social media competition has resulted in the proliferation of task-specific apps.  Each is a master at facilitating “one task ” a young person wants to do.

As a consequence, gen-Z could develop a fundamentally different approach to managing their social networks.  While older generations were locked in to Facebook with its robust range of functions, gen-Zs built multiple friend networks across many functionally-specific apps, including Facebook.

Be aware that the gen-z networks are fundamentally less app-dependent than those of older consumers.  As new innovations in social media emerge, gen-Z (and younger) consumers will be more likely to adopt and abandon apps more easily, because they are secure in the knowledge that their actual network of friends is reproduced in many apps at once.

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