How can social networks and apps appeal to Generation Z?

Facebook is testing a new gif and meme sharing app – appropriately named LOL – in a bid to attract younger generations (and to keep them coming back for more).
It’s long been reported that younger users are abandoning the platform. It’s the platform of their parents (which means that while they may have to be on it, they’re not keen to share the kind of personal updates that Facebook craves). In 2018, Pew Research confirmed that teens were flocking to apps like Snapchat and Instagram as an alternative to Facebook.
As a result, Facebook is looking for ways to make the platform more attractive to younger generations and LOL may provide something different enough to get them interested enough to find out more. Social media platforms are starting to realise that what worked in the past won’t necessarily appeal to the younger generation. But what does appeal to them, and how can platforms (and brands) respond?
1. Entertainment over catching-up
Social networks like Facebook have thrived on the friendship factor. Finding old friends, staying in touch with friends and making new ones. It’s a place where you can keep the family updated and speak to people thousands of miles away.
But that function is being taken over by WhatsApp. It’s easier to create group chats, and personal conversations can stay private.
While keeping in touch over social media may be important for older generations, younger generations have myriad ways to chat with their friends. They’re using social for something else. Entertainment.
GlobalWebIndex has also found that Gen Z tends to prioritise their own entertainment when using social media. They want something that will pass the time (48%) or provide them with “funny and entertaining content” (45%). Yes, they want to see what their friends are up to (41%), but only 34% of respondents said that their main reason for using social media was a social reason.
It’s easy to see why platforms like Facebook are looking to get into the viral content sharing side of apps.
Brands that advertise on social media may want users to share more personal details with networks, but there’s a great opportunity to engage the younger audience by publishing compelling content that inspires them to act. They’re also using apps like WhatsApp to reach consumers directly.
2. Influencers trump advertising, brand comms and friends
Research by Piper Jaffray found that teenage girls are increasingly using influencers to discover new information about beauty products. By the Autumn of 2018:

  • 76% got their information from influencers
  • 64% from friends
  • 29% from brands
  • 13% from media

Social networks and apps are adapting to this by introducing more features for influencers. Instagram, for example, is focusing on creator accounts that will make it easier for influencers to build and engage with their audience.
Brands are realising that they can get results from working with specialist micro-influencers as well as influencer mega-stars. Skincare brand, Olay, worked with influencers and saw a 20% increase in engagement on social media.
3. Engagement through creation, empowerment and ownership
Gen Z doesn’t look at social media as a passive experience. They want to be content creators – whether that means becoming a YouTuber, a Twitch streamer or an Instagram influencer or simply someone who shares videos on apps like Vero.
They also see the opportunity to earn money for their content via cryptocurrencies. While Millennial’s love a bit of content creation themselves, Gen Z has a greater opportunity to profit from what they create.
Networks like Steemit and Minds pay users for using them, but at the moment the major social networks and apps are still using the old model of making money off their users, rather than paying money to them. It’s possible that this model may start to shift as entrepreneurial Gen Z’s start to gravitate towards the apps that best serve their goals.  
In general, younger generations seem to value:

  • Entertainment over socialising
  • Influencers opinions in preference to friends, brands or media
  • Being active members of communities and profiting from their contributions

Networks like Facebook are starting to explore ways that they can appeal to younger audiences. In the next few years, I predict that we’ll see an increase in these networks introducing new functions designed to create a more engaging and active role for users of their services.

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