How to Connect to Gen Z, the Post-Digital Generation

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

While we often refer to the Millennial generation as the first digital natives, today’s teens are truly the first generation of consumers to have grown up in an entirely “post-digital” era.

For Generation Z, which we’re dubbing the Pivotal Generation, digital is as important to their daily life as the very air they breath. Starting in early childhood, if they did not know an answer to a question, they were taught to “Google it” or “ask Siri.” This immediate availability of information and the ease with which it can be accessed has had a major influence on shaping the way Pivotals engage with brands, make purchase decisions and connect with their peer networks.

As a result, our market is now dependent on a two-way conversation – something that did not exist during the Baby Boomer years of mass marketing.

The advancement of social media has heightened the need for brands to have constant communication with consumers. Because if a brand doesn’t have a responsive online presence in today’s world, does it even exist?

At least, that’s what teens are thinking.

While all generations are active on at least one of today’s social platforms, Generation Z is by far the most voracious and complex in their use of all social media. Our research found that Pivotals lead when it comes to usage of YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Kik, Periscope and even Tinder. And according to the #Being13 Study conducted by CNN, some 13-year-olds check their social accounts as much as 100 times per day, making it evident that this generation has no concept of what daily activity is like without social media and the technology that fuels it.

“Constantly connected is their norm,” said Mia Dand, CEO of digital strategy and research advisory firm Lighthouse3. “They are growing up in an always-on, mobile-only world with messaging apps that allow them to instantly and effortlessly connect with anyone across the globe in real-time.”

And Pivotals aren’t just hyper-connected to their peers. They have the same expectation for brands.

“It’s a social norm for them to not only be connected with their family and friends, but also with brands and businesses – essentially the world – at all times,” said Ramsey Mohsen, CEO of social news and edutainment company Everhance.

Unlike the Millennial tendency to broadcast everything, however, we are seeing a shift by Pivotals to a mentality of only sharing specific stories, to specific people, on specific channels. This is evident when we look at the platforms that teens are most likely to use. Rather than frequenting the “over-sharing” platform of Facebook, they are top users of platforms that allow them to select who sees their content such as Snapchat and Instagram.

“These platforms are so popular because it’s only the people they choose to connect with that see what they share,” said Mohsen. “After all, the only way social networks work is to have the people who are relevant to you included and sharing content.”

This means that using social media is not a free-for-all for Pivotals.

In fact, our research found that there is a detailed ecosystem of rules and guidelines when it comes to the Big Four – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat:

Instagram is for conveying carefully manicured style. Snapchat is for in-the-moment messaging. Twitter is for real-time talk around trending events, and Facebook, well, that’s for Mom and Grandma. As social media becomes ever more ingrained in daily life, it’s critical for communicators to understand how young users interact across different media and to handcraft messages that abide by the rules of each platform.

This mixture of hyper-connectivity and selectivity when it comes to social media usage by Pivotals makes it necessary for brands to keep their finger on the pulse of constantly shifting expectations in order to market most effectively. If mass media died with Millennials, then members of the Pivotal Generation are digging the grave.

“Brands need to tread lightly – the same types of social tricks that Boomers and even Millennials found surprising will be completely see-through to Gen Z,” said Joe Cox, engagement director at Barkley Ad Agency. “Unless a brand knows their editorial authority – what they have permission to talk about based on the true beliefs of their brand – and the rules Gen Z has put in place for social networking, they won’t resonate with this consumer group.”

Want more on Gen Z? Order your copy of Jeff Fromm & Angie Read’s new book, Marketing to Gen Z, available here!

About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.