Business management

How to market to Generation Z on social media

Different age groups use social media differently. Social media marketing experts share their tips for targeting and engaging with younger customers.

Don’t force what doesn’t fit

Hannah Elderfield, senior behavioural analyst at consumer behaviour insights practice Canvas8, says marketers need to engage in ways that are familiar, but not identical to the ways Generation Z are communicating on social.

“Just because young people are communicating in a space, that doesn’t mean brands should be there as well,” says Elderfield. “There are so many nuances about how they interact through channels like Snapchat and ‘dark social’ [difficult-to-track website referrals], and brands should be wary of this.

“Winning this audience over requires brands to acknowledge the fragility of these spaces and be respectful enough not to force what doesn’t fit. Gen Z need to be in the driving seat. We’ve seen brands hop on kinds of creativity that engage and excite in a different way, such as with GIFs or memes.”

Elderfield worked on the media strategy with the team behind Nike’s Nothing Beats a Londoner campaign, which used techniques for engaging teens on multiple platforms, and led them from one platform to another.

“The campaign depicted teen subcultures around London really well, highlighting the nuances of what it means to be a teen today – the things you can’t understand or learn about online, that adults maybe don’t really realise about, like the battle for space on the sports courts or the competitiveness between boroughs,” she says.

“They used influencers who were key for the audience – people that were role models. The social platforms the campaign was activated on were used really smartly, with the knowledge that they had to let the kids have control. It led viewers through from Instagram to Instagram Stories to Snapchat to create a multi-platform experience. The authentic connections between those platforms made it successful.”

Working with Generation Z

Tim Gibbon, founder and director of marketing consultancy Elemental Communications, says wariness of Generation Z is holding some businesses back from finding success with the demographic. “Working with brands, they have almost a fear of interacting with that audience,” says Gibbon. “The internet is second nature to Generation Z, and marketers face putting their brands in the hands of an audience they don’t always understand. The fear comes from a lack of control – but when you relinquish control that conversation becomes more exciting and richer in opportunity.”

Gibbon says an “exciting, different way forward” in this respect could be handing over responsibility for social media activity on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to employees or contractors who themselves belong to Generation Z.

“Let them take control of an account, manage it in their voice. You’ve got to be smart enough to allow controlled risk,” he says. “This comes with the caveat that the individual needs to be educated in the brand, with guidelines and checks in place.”

Social commerce

Social commerce – where brands sell their products on social media – is becoming increasingly important for businesses targeting Generation Z, says Shane Orchard, head of digital trading and marketing operations EMEA at e-commerce specialist LiveArea.

The key to selling to the demographic on social is for products to be truthful, he says. “Where shopping images used to all be Photoshopped, people now want to see models like themselves, who look like them and have the same body shapes,” he says. “User-generated content also needs to feature more than on a typical e-commerce website. A good way to do this and create a community is adding a social page to your e-commerce channel, fed into from Instagram or other social media.”

Do things that are different, and keep in mind you’re competing for attention with friends, influencers and celebrities – not just competitors.

Rachel Morman
Group head of social, TUI Group

Orchard says webpage loading speed can be a deal-breaker for Generation Z visitors acquired through social. “Millennials were still using dial-up going into the big e-commerce boom, so they were used to long loading times,” he says. “With Gen Z, if the content doesn’t load and engage in one to two seconds, they’ll move on to the next brand and site.”

Not only does content need to load quickly; it must also engage visitors’ attention. “When you land on that product page, you want to get that story,” says Orchard. “How was it made and where, is it eco-friendly, and what’s the story behind the material?”

Benoit Soucaret, a creative director at LiveArea, says that Generation Z relates to online shopping more emotionally than previous generations. “If you look at boomers, e-commerce for them is more transactional,” he says. “For Gen Z, it became much more of an experiential journey.”

The key to catering for Generation Z, according to Soucaret, is short, simple interactive content. “They tend to prefer simpler-to-use, more interactive media,” he says. “What they want is context around specific products. They won’t just buy a product, they want to know its story.”

Short, sweet and standing out

Cutting through the noise online is key to targeting Gen Z, says Rachel Morman, group head of social at tourism company TUI Group. “You need to be doing stuff that stands out, because this generation has a particularly short attention span – around eight seconds – with digital,” says Morman. “Do things that are different, and keep in mind you’re competing for attention with friends, influencers and celebrities – not just competitors.

Morman refers to this as “thumb-stopping content”. “It instantly stands out, makes you stop scrolling, catches you for a few seconds,” she says. “It might be through colours, new formats, sound. The content needs to be short, sweet and standing out.”

Morman says innovating with ‘thumb-stopping’ content is currently a focus for her brand. “We’re using platforms like Snapchat, which is new and different in the package holiday market,” she says. “Social channels are great environments for test-and-learn. The content doesn’t stay around, so you can try, fail, learn and try again really quickly.”

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