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Gen Z and the news: how to keep young people interested
May 4, 2021
Gen Z comprises about 30-40% of the global market, but popular opinion suggests teens and young adults aren’t all that interested in the news. While it’s not true that young people born between 1995-2015 are simply news avoidant altogether, they do present unique challenges to publishers trying to understand Gen Z news consumption. Most importantly, after gaining young readers’ attention, publishers must leverage effective strategies to retain these subscribers: how can publishers keep Gen Z invested in the news?
Know your audience: substance, relevance, and tone matter
“Know your audience” remains perennial wisdom for marketers and media brands...but most publishers still misunderstand or underestimate younger audiences. A generation of intelligent digital natives, Gen Z is not easily swayed by sensational reporting or promotional marketing. They are also skeptical, migratory consumers who deeply value high quality digital experiences and brand authenticity over brand loyalty. Young audiences will shift to the platforms and publishers working to appreciate what's behind their generation's expectations. This absolutely applies to issues like the quality of an app or visual and video content accompanying an article, but it also cuts to deeper audience concerns like substance, relevance, and tone of content.
Platforms have been learning this in ways publishers should draw from to better understand Gen Z. For instance, YouTube is seeing mixed success converting Gen Z users into ongoing subscribers, but Netflix has managed to both convert and retain Gen Z audiences consistently. Tech and consumer goods specialist Leo Sun, offers an explanation: “Netflix seems to recognize the growing importance of the Gen Z market. That's probably why it launched teen-oriented shows...Those shows, along with Netflix's expanding portfolio of original and licensed content, helped the platform retain its teen viewers…[Alternatively] there's a growing sense that YouTube is becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none...” Even when stacked against major competitors like Snapchat and Youtube, Netflix is driving young subscriber retention by offering substantive, relevant, and original content uniquely tailored to these viewers.
This kind of strategy will prove effective for news media publishers too. Younger readers expect highly pertinent content, even more so than slightly older Millennials. Marketing technology company Campaign Monitor affirms that while both generations subscribe to the newsletters of major news organizations, Gen Z tends to demonstrate the most brand loyalty and subscriber retention when “brands appear human” and offer them niche, segmented content.
However, to maintain deep connection with diverse, dynamic, and digitally savvy Gen Z subscribers, having data points about young readers is not enough. Certainly, publishers must earn data from younger audiences and present content in compelling ways to avoid churn, but then they must also humanize the data trends while developing content strategy. Brands who respond to why Gen Z behaves the way they do are more successful than those who robotically collect data about Gen Z audience patterns. Getting specific about the human dimension empowers publishers to clarify their brand value for young readers within niche segments. Gen Z audiences are arguably the most digitally sophisticated of all generations, and they require publisher brands who can meet them on that level.
For example, this generation is frequently misread as being uninterested in heavy hitting news--or news at all. However, in 2019 Gen Z consumers averaged 14 paid entertainment subscriptions per person, and Gen Z and Millennials are the top users for mobile subscription content, which is primarily streaming services not news. If publishers asked deeper questions about why this data story exists for entertainment subscriptions but not for news media, they will discover a more complex narrative about young subscribers. Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism explained:
“In our interviews, young people were often frustrated by the negativity of the news agenda, about sensationalism and about [the] perceived agenda of the mainstream media. Sometimes they feel that the views and concerns of their generation – such as climate change and minority rights – are not properly represented. But equally they do not want traditional media to go away, dumb down, or radically change their style just to appeal to them. For instance, young people expressed dissatisfaction with the tone used by automated news bots built by traditional news brands.”
From their own viewpoint, Gen Z audiences are not simply rejecting traditional news or requiring entertainment all the time. Rather, these readers have logical, varied reasons for their skepticism and real concerns about the tone and relevance of AI-generated subscriber content. A publisher brand that takes these reasons for news avoidance or subscription churn seriously can create more effective solutions--such as working to fairly represent issues impacting young people, offering content with a more nuanced tone, and relying less on sensationalized stories to retain Gen Z readers subscribers.
Diversify: subscription content, advertising, and pricing structures
Gen Z audiences are clearly more attuned to the overabundance of digital information and, therefore, demand higher standards from their subscriptions. Publisher brands hoping to keep Gen Z readers must diversify digital entry points for younger readers, but they must also diversify the available experiences within subscription offerings if they wish to retain these readers.
For example, most Gen Z readers will expect high quality technological experiences as a baseline to engagement. If branded websites and apps load slowly or advertising content displays poorly, young readers will move on. To advance beyond audience attention to reader retention, however, publisher brands must also leverage other kinds of diversified experiences within subscription packages. Beyond technological excellence, choice and digital agility are implicit Gen Z values that publishers can leverage through a range of subscriber options.
For instance, publishers can offer customization options for opting into or out of different types of content within a subscription. They can also diversify pricing structures of subscriptions to reach different reader types and utilize trial experiences before expecting paid commitments. Publishers who diversify ad experiences--targeting ad content accurately and in meaningful ways--will build even greater value into the overall digital subscriber experience for younger readers.
These kinds of approaches build on the understanding that younger readers are incredibly digitally intelligent and content smart. Millennial and Gen Z marketing expert Jeff Fromm suggests, “Gen-Z trains algorithms...[They] purposefully like, comment on, or share content to ‘train the algorithms’ to give them the content that they're after. One thing to think about: Gen-Z is very information-savvy. They like the content they like, and are adept at getting the online content they want (and less of what they don't). [Ask] how can you help Gen-Z get the content they're after in regard to your brand?”
Finally, publishers can diversify their subscriptions experiences by offering space for audience feedback. Gen Z readers may be tech savvy, but they ultimately value human connection most. Publisher brands who demonstrate a commitment to building digital dialogue with younger readers will, in turn, cultivate more resilient subscribers. These tactics can double on their own value by not only improving reader experiences and the quality of content, but deeper data insights that are increasingly valuable to marketers in a combined revenue model.
Market intelligence firm Infiniti Research argues that young people are uniquely eager for this type of relationship with brands. “Gen Z consumers are generally more willing to participate in surveys, provide their feedback on a service or a product, and socially connect with brands. Every brand that wants to capture the Gen Z audience must leverage data to offer personalization to customers and drive brand engagement and customer loyalty.”
Subscriptions testing and data collection tools (like surveys) can help publishers remain responsive to young audience needs, migration tendencies, and values evolution. Ultimately, publishers who refine a balanced offering of humanized, high tech subscriptions experiences, insightful and dynamic personalization strategies, and original, relevant content will be in the strongest position to attract and retain Gen Z subscribers.