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Gen-Z crave digital communities & connections - here's how brands can give it to them

by Crystal Malachias

November 30, 2022

Crystal Malachias, global growth and development director at ITB Worldwide explores the impact of next-gen closed-door communication apps (and the role of creators and influencers within them), and shares advice for brands on how to join the conversation.

Digital connectivity plays a vital role in keeping people connected; after all, 77% of global internet users say that the most important group they’re part of operates online. Gen Z, in particular, crave community and connection more than ever and are using the collective power of digital communities to create a kinder, safer, more welcoming internet for all.

Collective action is inspiring new modes of communication and brands must consider their cultural relevance in these spaces to create a sense of belonging that young audiences crave. Social apps with communities at their heart, like Twitch and Discord, are giving Gen Z the boost they need to feel confident online; 65% of them state they feel more confident using these social apps over more traditional feed-centric apps like Instagram and Twitter.

With an overall lack of trust in digital platforms and data privacy concerns, the Gen Z cohort is turning towards more tight-knit communities as they seek safer social spaces online in pursuit of becoming world builders, in spaces where they can celebrate their individuality.

This emphasis on community is a bid for the Gen Z audience to find meaningful connections in a divisive world filled with so much noise. There’s a strong desire for a sense of belonging in the pursuit of social validation and the desire to become changemakers, especially those from marginalized communities who feel a threat from voicing their opinions.

Due to their one-to-many versus many-to-many broadcasting framework, legacy platforms like Instagram and Twitter sit on the periphery of group dynamics rather than at the center, and while they are essential for communication and amplification, they are poorly made for collective planning, thinking and doing.

Next-generation communication

Enter next-gen social platforms which are providing renewed vigor for defining and constructing a new form of community and freedom of expression.

Geneva is a free social messaging app combining text, audio and visual tools to deliver the world’s best group chat for keeping communities connected. Since launching to the public in 2021, the app has quadrupled its user growth this year alone, particularly among Gen Z.

Beauty and fashion brands have been testing the platform to build hyper-engaged online communities and one-to-one relationships with customers. Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez, for example, has been engaging audiences by inviting them into the brand’s ‘house’ to talk about bigger topics beyond products, sharing resources for mental health.

Discord is an instant messaging social platform popular with gamers, giving users the ability to communicate as part of different communities via ‘servers’. Samsung, for example, is using the platform as part of its metaverse strategy, creating a server on Discord with two separate rooms for key audiences: gamers and Web3 fans interested in NFT or metaverse-related topics, regularly interacting and engaging with them to test their strategy.

Somewhere Good is another example of a digital space which creates experiences built around trust, knowledge sharing and authentic kinship. The positivity-focused social media platform is brought to life with voice and audio. Founded by people of color, it focuses on healthy conversations and positive experiences for underrepresented members of society.

For social film discovery, Letterboxd is a social network that allows cinephiles to keep a diary of opinions on films, write reviews and interact with others who have similar interests.

These closed-door communities are providing opportunities to create safe spaces for collaboration amongst like-minded people with similar interests, whether it’s gaming, sport, music, fashion, family, food and more. Brands are welcome in these spaces but have got to be in it for the right reasons to create quality connections with these communities.

Meaningful connections with like-minded audiences

With the influx of community-based chat apps, influencers with followings of all sizes (macro to micro) are becoming tastemakers on these platforms and leveraging the power of fandom where people are connecting on mutual grounds. Creators are taking their trusted like-minded audiences to spaces where they are guaranteed to connect with each other in meaningful ways – giving brands a unique opportunity to be part of those conversations.

Many creators are creating their own closed communities for their audiences to interact with them and each other, via both paid and free avenues. We see this in the form of influencers like Caitlin Bea, who has created a book club on Patreon, and Facebook groups where readers of popular bloggers come together to discuss common interests – which could be anything from life advice to relationship struggles. Grace Atwood of The Stripe, for example, has a popular community The Stripe Facebook Group, as does lifestyle blogger Lindsay Silberman, who runs #TheSilbSquad for the same purpose.

For inspiration, you only have to look at things like the Content Creators Cabin on Discord which allows content creators from any platform to join to grow and learn more about content creation; Crypto Witch Club – an inclusive, equitable space for all to learn about blockchain tech and Web3; and podcasts like the Kate Ferdinand x Blended Podcast which celebrates blended families, inclusive and adaptable for those with different set ups.

We’re now in a phase where consumers prioritize collaboration over individual gain, and brands and apps are helping them achieve this more and more. These new communities are a chance for brands to establish a direct communication channel with customers and fans. There’s an opportunity for brands to partner with a trusted influencer who has this tight-knit, hyper-engaged community to activate as focus groups or offer limited/exclusive access.

For younger generations, collective action is now seen as the most important way to combat social fragmentation, crisis and deep alienation. Brands can be part of cultural conversations by looking beyond traditional social apps and platforms to find new audiences, tap into news interests and communicate authentically to build this better world.


gen z insight
Digital / social media