GenZ Social Media Whys
Due to the fact that most are still in their teenage and college years, Generation Z is still in the process of development and experimentation, making pinning down their social media habits difficult. Even so, there are some distinct broader trends in their concerns about social media and the platforms that they are gravitating towards that six key insights emerge from the data: They're gravitating away from Facebook and towards YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, as well as experimenting with numerous newer platforms like TikTok. They're primarily looking for entertainment and are highly visual. While they do enjoy connecting socially, they care deeply about their online privacy and so are gravitating towards platforms which help them to guard that. Finally, they want authenticity in their interactions and they want to change the world ... using social media.
Below is a deep dive into our findings. Note that while we did at least a surface-level study of each of the platforms mentioned in the report criteria, not all will be addressed in this brief. Fortnite, for example, is an online, multiplayer game, not a social media platform per se (even though it includes a social element and has been noted to build friendships between players), and so is outside of the intent of this report.
THEY'RE GRAVITATING AWAY FROM FACEBOOK
Gen Zers are connected almost perpetually through mobile devices; 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone and the average teen spends an average of 11 hours per week on it. YouTube is by far the most popular social media channel among Gen Zers, drawing 90% of those age 18-24. The popularity of YouTube is hardly surprising given that Gen Z spends an average of 23 hours a week streaming videos. The video sharing platform is followed by Facebook (76%), Instagram (75%), and Snapchat (73%) in popularity.
However, except for Instagram, which grew in engagement from 71% in 2015, engagement with every major social media platform decreased in the last year, with YouTube and Facebook dropping 4 points and Snapchat dropping 5. Younger Gen Zers (the teens) are shifting away from Facebook even more quickly, dropping from 71% in 2015 to just 51% in 2018. Meanwhile, teen Instagram usage rose from 52% to 72% and Snapchat grew from 41% to 69%. Pew Research states, "For the most part, teens tend to use similar platforms regardless of their demographic characteristics, but there are exceptions." For example, Facebook is more likely to be used by teens from lower-income households. Girls are more likely to use Snapchat the most often (42% to 29%) while boys prefer YouTube (39% to 25%). Incidentally, both boys and girls enjoy video games, but for boys, gaming is almost ubiquitous (97%) compared to girls (83%).
As summed up by a Criteo study, "Older platforms like Facebook are still relevant, but the newer social networks like Instagram and Snapchat appeal more to the younger set." This is likely due in part to how they prefer to absorb content and their privacy concerns (see below).
Few (17%) use LinkedIn yet, but this is likely because the platform is primarily used by college graduates and only the oldest Gen Z members have reached that point yet. WhatsApp is only used by 20% of Gen Zers, though it is fairly popular among Hispanics (42%, not segmented by age in the available data). Reddit only captures 21% of Gen Z, but this is higher than for any other group besides younger Millennials (23% for age 25-29), meaning that Gen Z is well-represented within the platform, though it is not a favorite.
Some marketers are concerned at a recent study that shows that 34% of Gen Zers have "'permanently' deleted their social media accounts." Of course, as the NYU Dispatch notes, "permanence is a vague concept among this age group," and there's every likelihood that they'll be back--"even if on a different platform." For example, TikTok has risen rapidly in popularity among this generation at the same time that their Facebook usage has declined. This follows a finding that 49% of 18- to 24-year-olds said in 2018 that it would not be difficult to give up social media.
THEY'RE HIGHLY VISUAL
While Millennials mostly use social media to stay in contact with friends and family, Gen Zers "are actually more likely to be using social media to fill up time and to find entertainment." This affects their choices regarding platforms in ways which, stereotypically, older generations often just don't get. A common running joke among article writers is that if you're old enough to remember Kesha's 2009 song "Tik Tok," you're probably too old to know about the TikTok social media app. The app currently has over 100 million active users, or "Musers," over half of which are in Generation Z. These can create and post 15-second clips, most often of self-made music videos of themselves lip-syncing, though various challenges and memes are also popular. The 15-second limit hits the sweet spot for Gen Z's infamously short attention-span, which Whitney Dailey, Director of Marketing/Research & Insights, only half-jokingly called "as short as the loading time on a website."
Another reason for TikTok's popularity is because Gen Zers want "highly visual and compelling content," with 68% preferring videos, 56% preferring pictures, and 49% preferring written stories and articles. Counter-intuitively, only 33% prefer infographics or other means of giving them raw data. Even more surprisingly, only a quarter prefer quizzes or games for their online content, suggesting that they prefer to absorb information somewhat passively and with the context or meaning built-in.
THEY'RE LOOKING FOR NEW FRIENDS
Being so visual, Gen Zers find that Facebook's limited and mostly text-based messaging just isn't cutting it. Instead, they are shifting to new social media apps like House Party, which enables video chat between up to eight people at a time. Many are interested in apps designed to help them safely meet new people. So, for example, Monkey links with Snapchat to allow a 15-second video chat with new people--long enough to decide if they want to add more time, short enough to "avoid cyberbullying and threats." Meanwhile, Bumble has grown from a Tinder-like dating app to become a "friend discovery marketplace" with Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz.
THEY WANT AN "AUTHENTIC" EXPERIENCE
It is well-known among marketers that rather than reaching Gen Zers through celebrity endorsements in a classical advertisement (which feels forced and inauthentic to the rising generation), the go-to strategy is to find relatable influencers whose interests and personality compliment the brand. We would hypothesize that the inverse is also true: A new social media channel would do well to draw existing influencers and encourage the development of new ones to draw both Gen Zers and marketers to the platform. Interestingly, nearly two-thirds (62%) don't mind ads as long as those ads "provide value" and feel organic; "all the better if ads can feel like native content in actual social media feeds."
THEY CARE ABOUT THEIR PRIVACY
Generation Z is far more privacy-conscious than previous generations, with 87% considering keeping their information private to outweigh getting "likes" or other measures of popularity. Naturally, this is heavily dependent on age, with those under the age of 19 twice as likely to consider popularity to be more important. Two-thirds say that they are careful about what personal information they share online and about the same number say they have personalized the privacy settings on their accounts and that they are uncomfortable sharing their location publicly. Only 5% of females and 8% of males say they "accept every invitation to connect with others."
This concern about privacy impacts Gen Z's platforms of choice. So, for example, in place of the old message board format, in which a person's input may be permanently archived and available to the world, many are turning to Discord to communicate with other fans of their hobbies, which provides a "great degree of anonymity." This is also likely why Snapchat trails YouTube in overall use, yet 35% of teens say that they use Snapchat "the most often" compared to only 32% who said YouTube.
As a result, nearly two-thirds (64%) have recently changed their Facebook privacy settings, and 44% deleted the app from their phone in 2018. Even among those who have stayed on the platform, it is common (47%) to have taken at least one break of several weeks or more from Facebook.
THEY WANT A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE
Privacy concerns are not the only reason Gen Zers are abandoning Facebook and similar social media platforms. Those who leave or take a break from social media cite the following reasons:
- Wasting too much time (41%)
- Too much negativity (35%)
- Not using it as often (31%)
- Not interested in the content (26%)
- Privacy concerns (22%)
- Too much attention-seeking (18%)
- Too commercialized (18%)
- Makes them feel bad about themselves (17%)
This fits perfectly with the fact that they primarily use social media for entertainment. If staying on a platform is creating stress and negativity, Gen Zers see no reason not to delete it in favor of another which gives them "a positive and empowering experience."
THEIR apps need a reason to exist
As a result, there is a disconnect between Gen Z's use of social media and that of Millennials, or Gen X. A common joke among social observers is that if you're old enough to remember Kesha's 2009 song "Tik Tok," you're probably too old to know about the TikTok social media app. The app currently has over 100 million active users, or "Musers," over half of which are in Generation Z. Users of the platform can create and post 15-second clips, most often of self-made music videos of themselves lip-syncing, though various challenges and memes are also popular. This makes it perfect for Gen Z's desire for entertainment, positivity, and privacy.
Note that while Gen Z is highly engaged and willing to try out new social media platforms, they keep fewer social media platforms than Millennials (an average of 7 platforms vs. the Millennials' 8) and have become increasingly choosy about where they share their own content, most likely because of the aforementioned privacy concerns. In addition, Gen Zers don't stay fixed on any one social media platform. Instead, they're prone to "channel hopping," especially when they encounter a new brand. So, for example, they might stumble onto a new brand on an Instagram ad, hop over to YouTube to research it, and get feedback from peers on Snapchat. This, combined with their choosiness, means that each social media platform needs to have a purpose that satisfies a Gen Zer's needs if it is going to stay on their mobile device for long.
THEY WANT TO CHANGE THE WORLD ... WITH SOCIAL MEDIA
Much like Millennials, Gen Zers want to make a difference in the world, and 81% of them believe that "they can have an impact on social and environmental issues by using social media." Since they themselves are as easily swayed by the opinions of others on social media (26%) as they are by the news (also 26%), and because so much of their social interaction is at least mediated by social media, "more than half (58%) feel that supporting social or environmental issues online is actually more effective at making a difference than doing something out in their communities."
The major difference between Millennials and Gen Zers when it comes to social media technology is that Millennials are "Tech Savvy," while Gen Z is "Tech Innate," having never known a world without social media and related technologies that Millennials grew into. Consequently, they grew up with a well-developed sense of the danger social media can present to one's privacy, sense of well-being, and even future. Even acknowledging those dangers, most believe that social media is a tool that plays a positive role in their lives, though their platforms of choice are evolving--as indeed everything in their young lives is evolving. Consequently, while the above observations are true today, no social media platform can afford to remain static if it wants to remain relevant, as Facebook is beginning to find out.