As its members begin entering the workforce, gen Z is now the fastest-growing demographic on LinkedIn. But members of this generational cohort are not using LinkedIn in the same ways as their predecessors, as their values, priorities and views regarding work and professionalism are uniquely theirs. It’s time for brands hoping to engage with and gain the loyalty of gen Z audiences to start taking notes.
Exclusive data shared with The Drum reveals that gen Zers, who by 2025 will comprise 27% of the workforce, are increasingly turning to social media for professional development, learning, networking and commerce opportunities. And while the social network-loving cohort of 9-24-year-olds are most often associated with TikTok and Instagram, they’re increasingly flocking to LinkedIn.
The pandemic has only accelerated this shift; on LinkedIn, the total number of engagements by gen Zers is today more than two-and-a-half times higher than it was in early 2020. And with 78 million gen Zers on LinkedIn today, the demographic already represents 10% of the platform’s total user base. Based on current data, that number is likely to continue growing in the coming years.
But these youthful users aren’t using LinkedIn in the same ways as their predecessors, and they are navigating the digital world in ways that are shaped by and also subsequently inform their values, beliefs and priorities. And their decisions are not without consequence.
“Gen Z’s economic power is rising fast and will reshape our economy and social norms,” says Lisa Sy, insights analyst at LinkedIn Marketing Solutions. She notes that these changes could include major disruptions to wages, consumption habits, housing and investment. “Gen Z is expected to maintain significant shifts in what they buy and how they spend, and companies now have a major need to keep up with trends to captivate these consumers.”
So how are gen Z’s digital habits shaping up, and how are these habits expected to impact larger market movements? And how can brands engage this diverse segment of consumers in meaningful, value-adding ways?
Gen Zers are next-level, social creatures
LinkedIn’s new data indicates that gen Zers are, by and large, more engaged with social platforms than millennials. More than seven in 10 gen Zers spend over an hour on social media every day, and their use, on average, outpaces that of millennials by about an hour.
Their access point of choice is mobile, with 75% reporting that they use a smartphone more often than any other device. That said, gen Zers are comfortable switching between device types – and 66% use multiple devices at a time.
And it’s not just Snap and TikTok capturing gen Zers’ time and attention. 70% of gen Zers say that content shared on the social platform is relevant to them and 80% say that LinkedIn is a brand they trust.
And in some ways, it makes sense. Gen Zers are digital natives, and LinkedIn has become cemented into the digital zeitgeist. “[Around the age that] millennials received Facebook ... gen Z received LinkedIn,” says Dylan Gambardella, the 25-year-old chief executive and co-founder of Next Gen HQ, a gen Z-focused leadership consultancy. “They don’t really know a world without LinkedIn as a tool for connecting, for recruiting, for personal branding. Knowing that aspect, LinkedIn is almost a necessity to the level that having a Facebook profile may have been 10 or 12 years ago.”
How gen Zers use LinkedIn
Young people, who are increasingly joining the social platform during or following high school, are using LinkedIn more than other social media for purposes related to networking, research and learning.
36% of gen Zers report using LinkedIn for work-related networking and research, compared to just 26% who use other social platforms for the same purpose. 46% use LinkedIn for reading news stories, versus 39% who turn to other social platforms. Somewhat surprisingly, 4% more gen Zers say they use LinkedIn rather than other social sites for finding products to purchase.
They also use LinkedIn to learn and develop their own personal and professional abilities. In fact, 74% of gen Z LinkedIn users say they want to learn new skills. Among the most popular LinkedIn courses taken by young people are courses on Microsoft Excel, project management, data structuring and data visualization softwares, coding language basics and search engine optimization. Taken together, this data suggests that gen Zers who are investing in online learning via LinkedIn are primarily aiming to develop digital and analytical skills.
Gen Zers’ digital habits reflect their values
Gen Zers’ habits on LinkedIn evidence the generation’s overarching ambition and interest in professional development. Compared to users on other social platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, young LinkedIn users express greater interest in finance, investment and business. 73% express a desire to be successful and 72% say they want to be financially secure. They are also concerned about the challenges they may face in achieving professional success and satisfaction – nearly eight in 10 think they will need to ‘work harder’ than other generations in order to enjoy a fulfilling career.
“Overall, this generational cohort has its own wants and needs distinct from other generations,” says Sy. She points out that not only are they financially savvy and prepared to make well-researched decisions, but that they are also “socially conscious, and value diversity and equity.”
And though young people are using LinkedIn at an accelerating rate, their values and priorities – especially concerning work – also inform how they view the platform itself and how they think about navigating career development. For instance, gen Zers are increasingly embracing the gig economy; some 50% of gen Zers freelanced in 2020. The sea change has led to upticks in the use of freelance-focused sites including Upwork and Fiverr.
In fact, while millennials have disrupted traditional labor norms by jumping from job to job, gen Zers are in some ways upending the traditional working model entirely. This of course affects how they think about tools such as LinkedIn. Larry Milstein, co-founder at gen Z marketing consultancy PRZM, for one, says that while gen Zers’ proclivity for digital communication drives them to use LinkedIn and other social platforms to uncover new opportunities, these platforms should take note that things are changing. “Given the ways in which gen Z has often challenged conventional career trajectories, LinkedIn will need to continue evolving in order to capture the multi-hyphenate nature in which gen Z self-expresses, including our work interests and personal achievements,” he says. “Rather than relying on a one-page CV or cover letter, gen Zers also seek out alternative ways to demonstrate our skills for potential opportunities, whether building a visual portfolio on Instagram or producing resumes on TikTok.”
In many ways, LinkedIn has already made changes to better accommodate and attract young users – which may account in some part for the platform’s growing gen Z user base. “For example,” says Sy, “gen Z likes to communicate more through video instead of text, so we’ve added more features to members’ profiles to include video cover stories.”
She also points to features such as ‘Creator Mode,’ which offers content creators tools to more seamlessly share their ideas and insights with followers. Earlier this year, the platform also introduced a new tool that gives users the ability to add their gender pronouns to their profile. Sy says this feature empowers users to “showcase [their] individuality” and speaks to young people’s comfort with gender neutrality and fluidity.
The degree to which LinkedIn evolves to further appeal to gen Zers’ demand for unconventional career paths and new modes of working remains to be seen.
How brands can connect with gen Zers on LinkedIn
It’s clear that gen Zers have established not only their own values, but modes of interacting online and habits for skills development and career advancement as well. Their priorities and approach to work are radically different from those of generations before them. And their impact in the marketplace, as of now, is only just being made apparent.
“As they join the workforce,” says Sy, “their income is estimated to rise more than fivefold to $33tn by 2030, and in turn so will their collective purchasing power. It’s clear that gen Z will soon be the largest consumer segment, disrupting not just the economy but political and social systems.”
In order to connect with these young consumers and capture some of their growing influence, Gambardella and Milstein – both gen Zers themselves – recommend that brands focus on one factor in particular: authenticity.
“Authenticity ... is the big word. You have to be authentic, you have to own your brand, your personality, your values, what you stand by,” Gambardella says. “Be transparent and be authentic. If not, gen Zers see through that. And that is more apparent than ever in the digital age.”
Milstein suggests that a surefire approach entails collaborating with gen Z audiences. “Brands should recognize the importance of not just ‘winning’ the gen Z consumer, but bringing us in as true partners in the marketing process,” he says. “It is often pretty clear when campaigns try to mimic gen Z trends and internet-speak without fully understanding the broader context, which can often yield pretty ‘cringe’ results. Authenticity is key to gen Z, so an easy first step is ensuring our voices are included in the conversation.”