Cracking the Code to Understand Gen Z

Gen Z grew up watching their elders commit public flubs on Facebook and Twitter, from embarrassing moments to inappropriate rants that caused dire repercussions to their personal and professional lives.

Generation Z, with an estimated spending power of $44 billion, is fast becoming an important cohort for marketers. So how do you target them on social media? First off, don’t just look for them in the same places as you would for their predecessors. This generation consumes content differently. I’ll walk you through their preferences, what they look for in social platforms and messaging apps, and ways to connect with them as a brand.

Gen Z’s View on Social Media and Messaging Apps

Gen Z grew up watching their elders commit public flubs on Facebook and Twitter, from embarrassing moments to inappropriate rants that caused dire repercussions to their personal and professional lives. As a result, they are a cautious and realistic generation. They have a strong sense of personal brand and an innate understanding of the risks and rewards of living in a constantly connected world.

While many of today’s teens grew up wanting to be on Facebook, by the time they were old enough to have one – it was crowded. It wasn’t the obvious place to carve out a private space where they could interact securely with their friends. In fact, many post-millennials disavow Facebook—more than 25 percent left the social giant in 2014, according to a Sparks & Honey report.

So, What Are They Looking For?

Millennials made texting the go-to form of communication. Their younger counterparts live in a world of cheap bandwidth and ubiquitous big-screen smartphones and tablets. Images and videos personalized with filters, emojis and doodles are the go-to methods of connection for Gen Z. For personal communications, they prefer messaging platforms that emphasize privacy and provide rich visual interactions—a reason why Picpal has been so successful among teenagers.

From our data at Picpal, it appears teens are looking for a way to let loose and share photos with individual groups of friends without their entire network getting in on the jokes. We see that teenagers are more selective about sharing their Picpal collages and when they do so, they prefer to share them within the Picpal platform and not on bigger social platforms, keeping the circle of viewers more close-knit. They also customize their pictures using filters and doodles more than their older cohorts.

Establishing a Gen Z Connection

With the current social landscape, brands need to step up their game in order to connect with today’s teens. Here are a few things to keep in mind when developing your marketing strategy:

Keep it visual: Remember this generation grew up communicating visually. Be liberal with your use of gifs, memes, infographics and videos. For example, we might make a meme out of the user experience on Picpal to grab attention on Instagram or use a gif to convey the collage process.

Know the platform: Customize the creative to the specific platform in both content and style.  For example, in an Instagram post, keep it artistic or funny and non-promotional. In a Snapchat video, keep it fast-paced and edgy. On Vine, create content that resonates in loop videos. Keep in mind not all platforms may be right for your brand. Oftentimes, boutique channels with a loyal audience yield better results.

Short is sweet: Attention spans keep getting shorter with each new generation. Instead of 12-minute videos, we’ve learned short-formed video content resonates the most. Remember, this is the generation of the disappearing Snapchat, six-second Vines and scrolling Instagram videos. Your content will need to hook them in the first few seconds, or they will swipe you away.

Be authentic and make it shareable: Gen Z loves to share content that resonates, but they can also sniff out any marketing ploys or ulterior motives. Content and testimonials from real people (user-generated content) attracts this pragmatic group. Influencers are another great way to connect with your audience in a genuine fashion. When choosing an influencer, make sure his or her fans are the right target audience for your brand. From our work with YouTubers and bloggers, we always ensure they understand our brand and align with our values. Additionally, we work closely with influencers to find new ways to engage with their fans—a gesture that’s always appreciated as it helps them strengthen the relationship with their audience.

In addition to this generation’s massive spending power, Gen Z is at an age where marketers can establish brand loyalty. With a better understanding of this group’s preferences and actionable strategies, marketers can build a grassroots network of brand ambassadors.

MR_HeadshotMahesh Rajagopalan is the CEO and co-founder of Picpal, a real-time group photo collage app. Prior to Picpal, he was a co-founder and president of Resolvity, a leading provider of cloud-based speech recognition and authentication technology that automates customer service calls for Fortune 500 companies.