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Reaching Generation Z: Many Businesses are Rethinking Social Media

After years of focusing on millennials, it’s time for businesses to turn their attention to the newest kids on the block, Generation Z. Born between the years 1995 and 2015, the…

After years of focusing on millennials, it’s time for businesses to turn their attention to the newest kids on the block, Generation Z.

Born between the years 1995 and 2015, they’re between 2 and 23 years old and there’s nearly 74 million of them in the United States. While the 2-year-olds aren’t doing much buying, a large percentage of this generation has access to $44 billion in buying power with a high ratio of discretionary spending.

Unlike millennials, the Gen Z population was born into the digital era and many had phones in their hands as soon as 10 years old. But while they are all about digital, the way they consume their content differs from millennials in meaningful ways – and businesses need to take note of those differences if they want to try to harness that buying power.

James Shockley of Hidlo Studios and his newest business, Social Media Movement, is not only a business owner trying to help businesses connect with 20- to 35-year-olds, but he’s also part of Gen Z. He knows what Gen Z is looking for from businesses because it’s the same things he’s looking for. And, according to Shockley, the places businesses are used to marketing are out.

“I can’t tell you the last time I followed a business on Facebook,” Shockley explained. “The same for Twitter. I think only old people use Twitter.”

While Gen Z uses their smartphones 15.4 hours per week, they’re not necessarily “plugged in and zoned out.” According to Shockley, they want to go out and have experiences and share their experiences with friends. This is why his business began with Snapchat geofilters. This generation flocks to Snapchat because their parents aren’t there, and Shockley said it offers a more personal experience. It also offers the opportunity for “artwork that happens to be ads.”

Shockley’s first business client was Dublin Square and he and his team designed a Snapchat filter that would allow customers to use a specific filter when they were at the East Lansing bar. When they are using the filter, they are bragging about where they are and advertising for the business to their friends. Plus, Gen Z trusts their friends over ads.

In fact, according to a study by Vision Critical, the world’s leading customer and intelligence platform, many don’t see traditional ads anymore as they are only watching 13.2 hours of TV a week, compared to the 24.1 of baby boomers. So, where are they? Snapchat and Instagram are huge, but they’re also on YouTube.

“It’s replacing TV,” Shockley said.

Courtney Lane Maki Larvadain of Glow Social Media, a social media strategy company, has also noticed this trend. Along with diversifying their time across multiple channels, Gen Z is also utilizing ad blockers on these various channels. The best way around these blockers, according to Larvadain, are influencers. Gen Z doesn’t follow businesses on social media, they follow people – people they trust and will listen to. Those people are called influencers, and if companies can get those people to use their products, Gen Z will notice.

Larvadain was working with a client that sold gymnastics equipment. While they could reach the parents in traditional ways, they had to start thinking about things like Snapchat to reach the gymnasts.

“We looked to influencers,”  Larvadain said.

Gen Z has only ever looked to their phones for the latest trends, and they get those trends from the personalities they trust online. 

A visually pleasing Instagram account can go a long way in gaining the trust of Gen Z, and that’s where Shockley is shifting the focus of his business. Beyond Snapchat filters, Social Media Movement wants to help businesses offer something new and fresh that the next generation will appreciate.

“Gen Z loves aesthetics,” Shockley said.

According to Lavardain, keeping up with Gen Z means staying on top of trends. She said she still hears companies say they don’t need social media, “and by the time they realize they do need it, they’re way behind.” Companies need to figure out how to reach them on the apps they already use. Lavardain added that it’s important to embrace the changes they are influencing.

“They are looking for ways to make communication easy and different. If they communicate in certain ways, we have to get on board,” she said.


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