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Young and social: How social media impacts youth engagement

Jennifer Reid
President and Chief Methodologist

They tweet, ‘gram, and snap. Follow, like, and share. And if you play your cards right, they’ll even engage.

Note: This is the third article in a series of blog posts from our President and Chief Methodologist, Jennifer Reid, on how to engage Gen Zs and Millennials in the mobile age. To get notified of new content from this series and for more best practices for market research and insight professionals, subscribe to our blog.

For young people today, social media is a huge part of how they connect with the world. Generation Z spends an average of two hours and 55 minutes on social media each day — for Millennials, it’s two hours and 38 minutes. They use it to consume media, share their feelings, and interact with their chosen communities. But the social sphere has also become a key point of brand engagement: a place to search out reviews, gather product information, and engage with brands.

As such, it’s a critical tool for marketers looking to attract and connect with young consumers. But every social media channel has its own specific rules of engagement, and unique challenges that go along with them. To understand how to reach out, you need to understand both.

Where to find this generation? 🔍

So where do young people spend their social media time? Forget Facebook; while it may still be the most popular social media channel across all demographics, this generation isn’t interested. Instead, they flock to these four channels:

Snapchat: Immediate but fleeting

The favorite among 34% of U.S. teens in 2020, Snapchat is more temporary than other social channels, offering users the freedom to get up close and personal without fear of repercussions. Not surprisingly, its user base and general vibe is also more youthful than Facebook, meaning brands shouldn’t treat them the same. In terms of marketing opportunities, a little goes a long way here: Snapchat has found that Gen Z users have a 55% recall after watching an ad for just two seconds or less.

TikTok: Intimate and authentic

The new kid on the block, TikTok has become synonymous with Gen Z. In 2020, it was listed as a favorite among 29% of teens, up from just 4% the year before — proof of exactly how much its popularity is growing. Offering both intimacy and authenticity, the video-based channel is where young people engage with all facets of the world, from politics to social justice issues. It’s also where they go for user feedback on products and brands — as long as it feels suitably authentic to them.

Instagram: Aspirational and curated

While Facebook may not be a go-to, Facebook-owned Instagram is, with 25% of teens naming it their favorite in 2020. That number was down from 2019, though, and not surprisingly. The photo-based, filter-reliant channel has traditionally had a more curated appeal — something that can feel dishonest to a generation that craves authenticity. For brands, the biggest Instagram challenge is finding the balance between aspirational and authentic.

Twitter: Conversational but combative

Twitter may seem as old and dusty as Facebook, but 29% of U.S. adult Twitter users are between 18 and 29 years old — meaning it’s still relevant for brands looking to reach Gen Zs and Millennials. In fact, it’s often where young people research and reach out to brands. But Twitter’s also known for its “angry mob” mentality, where the wrong words can start a backlash — making some people (and brands) resistant to say too much.

Everything you need to know about Gen Z market research

Building Gen Z engagement on social

So how can marketers use this knowledge to empower their own social media interactions with young people?

Keep an eye on user content  👀

When researching a brand, this generation is more likely than ever to seek out user-generated content like videos and reviews. But they want that content to feel genuine, without the false veneer that many Instagram influencers have become known for.  

With that in mind, marketers shouldn’t be afraid to solicit content from users. But they should be prepared to pay the price of authenticity: negative feedback amidst the positive reviews.

Don’t equate “likes and follows” with real engagement

It’s not unusual to launch a post on a channel where you have millions of followers, but hear nothing but crickets in response. Even if you get likes and follows, how many of your followers truly engage?

Getting someone to activate or engage on social media is difficult, requiring a strong call to action and an incentive. If you really want eyeballs, you’ll have to put money behind the post to get it in front of people who care.

Start a conversation — and keep it going

Young people want to interact with brands. But for this generation, a timely and personal response equals good customer service. If they reach out to ask a question or share an opinion, they want a response — and to feel like a real person is giving it, not an empty corporate voice.

Those conversations can help brands learn more, too. But keeping them public, where fear of that angry mob culture abounds, can stop them from going deep. Taking the conversation offline to a more private chat environment can help.

Getting to know your audience

Knowing how to engage with young people on social media means understanding where and how those young people engage. But that engagement must be built on a foundation of trust. And more than anything, that trust starts with authenticity, honesty, and transparency. For brands targeting this key cohort, those three things are the difference between success and failure — both on social media and off.

Want to know what I mean? I’ll dive deeper in my next post.

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