Gen Z is the first generation to grow up with the internet as a regular part of their everyday routine. Since the youngest Gen Zers are in their teens, many have grown up in a world where social media has always been part of their lives, too.
But what social networks does Gen Z really want to use? And what draws them to those sites?
Gen Z and Social Media: It’s Their Natural Habitat
As the post-millennial demographic, Gen Z (currently somewhere between 13-24 years old depending on who you ask) has never known a world that didn’t involve follows, likes, and views of their own original content. Connecting with others, be it friends, family, influencers, or brands, is as easy as a tweet, double tap, or status update. At nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population, their impact on everything from retail trends to political causes is huge.
So just why is social media such a big deal to them, and why are certain platforms emerging as the winners of their valuable attention?
It starts by understanding just how much time Gen Z spends online — and what they’re doing there.
1. Nearly half of Gen Z is almost always online… watching content.
According to a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 45% of teens now say they are online “almost constantly.” That’s almost twice the percentage of teens who answered the question when Pew conducted the same survey three years ago. Between 2014 and 2015, less than a quarter (24%) of teens said they were online all day.
Additionally, the 2018 Pew study found that 44% of teens say they go online “several times a day”. Combined with the 45% of those online “almost constantly“, this means that that 9 out of 10 teens are online multiple times a day.
Criteo’s recently released Gen Z Report shows Gen Z spends more time on mobile devices (an average of 11 hours per week) and streams more content (an average of 23 hours of video content a week) than any other generation. That’s almost one full day spent watching (rather than say, reading) content.
2. Gen Z has unparalleled access to smartphones… and awesome apps.
It’s a digital version of the chicken-and-egg scenario. Rapid growth of online usage mirrors the ubiquity of smartphones themselves: 95% of teens report they have a smartphone or access to one. That’s a 22-percentage-point increase from the 73% of teens who said this in 2014-15.
The rise of mobile usage all over the world is helping fuel Gen Z’s habitual online activities, like checking social media apps whenever there’s time to kill.
Today’s social media apps are optimized for easy scrolling, sharing, favoriting, bookmarking, searching, and buying. Criteo’s Gen Z report showed that 62% of Gen Z likes ads that provide value. Since relevance is key to feeling organic, all the better if ads can feel like native content in actual social media feeds. Think sustainable shoes when scrolling through healthy food Instagram accounts.
3. Gen Z loves Youtube, Instagram, and Snapchat… because visuals.
Wondering which social networks are Gen Z’s favorites?
It’s easy — they’re always the platforms driven by visual content like photos and videos. Gen Zers tend to create, consume, and engage with much more with visuals than words-only status updates. Read: An awesome concert / amazing look / outstanding vacation is best communicated through well-lit photos, videos, or snaps.
In the 2014-2015 Pew study, over two-thirds of teens (71%) said they used Facebook, while only half used Instagram (52%), and even less used Snapchat (41%). The latest Pew study showed a shift, with only about half (51%) of US teens ages 13-17 saying they use Facebook. This is notably lower than the usage numbers for the big winners: YouTube (85%), Instagram (72%), and Snapchat (69%).
Interestingly, Criteo research shows that older Gen Zers, ages 16-24, are more evenly split across Facebook (55%), Snapchat (52%), and Instagram (52%).
Older platforms like Facebook are still relevant, but the newer social networks like Instagram and Snapchat appeal more to the younger set.
For Gen Z, visual content trumps written content
Like it or hate it, one thing is clear: The most popular social networks among Gen Z are also the most visual.
Brands and retailers who want to win should take a lesson from visually-driven platforms and optimize their online product photos and media like how-to videos, as well as (of course) their actual social media presence. Gen Z also expects two-way communication with brands on social media, and those that can make it easy and seamless will win more of Gen Z.
For more on Gen Z, download our report.