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The future of social media is changing and it’s all thanks to Generation Z

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Communicator reveal that Gen Z want brands to cut the BS and get real.

2020 is around the corner and for content creators, it means fresh budgets and the opportunity to craft bigger and better social ideas that leave the content of 2019 in the dust.

But we’re not going to be creating in the same way as before.

2019 has been a year of change. We’ve seen the explosive growth of cult platforms like TikTok edge out veteran social media players like Twitter and Pinterest, while Instagram has rapidly become the preferred home for Gen Z. Influencers are releasing and promoting their own product lines; video content is king. And if you haven’t heard of Kyra TV, then you’re in for a wild ride.

It’s no secret that Generation Z has thrown the social media world a loop. From ‘Finstas’ and private Snapchat Stories to social activism and the popularisation of the phrase “Ok Boomer”, Gen Zers have given us a lot to keep up with. So, how does this shape social media in 2020?

To the point

Gen Zers don’t want to go through a lot of effort to keep in touch or get their news. Hence the penchant for Snapchat’s bite-sized updates, Reddit’s curated newsfeed, and the proliferation of Twitter topics that are wrapped up in neat little threads.

The quicker they can consume content, the better. Which is why platforms like TikTok are driving this behaviour. This emphasis on short and snappy video content has inspired the likes of ITV News to launch an Instagram news service to keep ‘switched on teens’ in the know. It already has 272K followers. But is short content all that Generation Z wants?

Complex narratives

Generation Z is a paradox; they love longer content with complex narratives too. Attention is a scarce commodity, but if you’re doing the content right, they will give you their attention.

Have you noticed the rise in lengthier Instagram captions? Complex, interactive Twitter threads? A podcast revolution with 2018 data revealing 15 to 24 year olds as the largest demographic tuning in? Add Pew Research Center findings that show that the average video length among the top 250,000 YouTube channels is 13-14 minutes long - and Kyra TV's show “Nayva” boasting an average watch time of 15 minutes on 20 minute content - and you’ve got proof that, when done right, long-form story-telling content is highly consumable.

Getting long-form content just right can be tricky, especially under the scrutiny of younger audiences that specialise in spotting candor and cynicism. With platforms like Instagram removing public likes, the narrative of your content is becoming even more important for driving success. But what exactly will your content be judged on?

Authentic alignment

Gone are the days of the Instagram aesthetic. A brand’s values far outweigh pure visuals and your audience will judge you just as heavily on offline aspects, like employee actions and business goals, as they will on what you post.

Brands are being challenged on their authenticity, and it’s fair to question whether they understand how to translate authenticity onto social media. Being authentic isn’t just about picking a cause or tacking a trending hashtag onto your campaign, it means living your brand values from the inside out and being prepared to be called out when you don’t.

Influencers

Old school influencers are being met with increasing levels of distrust and Gen Zers aren’t happy with seeing some of their favourite content creators ‘sell-out’ to the fame – especially when their community is the reason they found success in the first place.

With content creators being viewed as brands in their own right, the competition for a share of attention and wallet is becoming even tighter. Not only have content creators amassed large and highly engaged communities, they’re even releasing their own product lines, further increasing their influence.

So, what does that mean for brands? Firstly, it means we have to get better at finding ‘influential people’ who have true credibility within their community. We also need to consider what format partnerships take and flip the narrative from pushing products to gathering insights that could bring more value for brands in the long run.

Generation Z is hungry for relatable influencers, who care about the same issues. They're becoming increasingly tired of seeing success portrayed as beauty, money and popularity. So, it's using social media to reject perfection and ‘get real’, and it wants to follow people and brands that do the same.

Social activism

We’ve all seen how Generation Z is using social to tackle complex issues, support activism and do their part for the greater good. These users want to see change and they’re happy to help make it happen, but if you don’t get on board, your brand is at risk of being left behind (or put on mute).

It’s no longer enough to give a nod to a cause, your brand needs to embody it from the top down and help the “me is we” generation with their quest to do social good.

Privacy

Finstas. Instagram's ‘Close Friend’ posts. Snapchat's private stories. Dark social sharing. Generation Z is doing whatever it can to restrict the amount of public information that brands have access to. Why? They don’t trust them. Not enough to leave social media completely, but enough to engage in private spaces, where there’s less pressure to publicly perform.

So, in a space where brands are being closed out, what do they need to do to be invited back in? Exactly what Gen Zers are seeking to do – cut the BS and get real.

It's about sitting down with your content strategists and social team to pick apart what you’re currently doing and reworking it into something Gen Zers can sink their teeth into. You can start small – what content can be broken up into Twitter threads or Snapchat updates? If you have influencer partners, work with them to brainstorm a new approach to developing content in partnership with your brand. Most importantly, do a deep-dive into what really makes your community tick and use those insights to better inform long-form content and how to shape it. Once these pieces are working in tandem, you’ll be well on your way to winning over Generation Z.

Annie Kolatsis, social media manager at Communicator.

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