A Gen Z Mini Series: Finding your social residence
Online digital cultures and social media are everywhere in young people’s lives today. Facebook is a pub whereas Instagram is more like a swanky bar… What does that make Reddit? Reddit is a club, everyone is just sort of there and nobody really knows each other.
Social media platforms form a very real source for information and socialising, especially for those who haven’t been able to find their tribe in the physical world. Trans vlogger Alex Bertie provides his 300k followers with videos on practical tutorials like ‘bindings for beginners’ as well as more emotive vlogs about struggling with the bureaucracy of an inept healthcare system, gender dysphoria and being subject to misgendering. Guiding his followers through transitioning and providing information to those who would otherwise have a million and one questions about the process. So rather than thinking scrolling through Instagram is ‘detachment’, it’s increasingly being used more as a place for real life community, connection and visibility.
Given there’s more depth and meaning to these online communities, the challenge for brands is how to engage a collective audience of hyper-individuals who are moving towards focusing more on their own lives, work, and close-knit circles.
Every social media user engages with an exclusively selected sample of sites, pages, vloggers and news outlets. The algorithm knows this and takes your individually curated choices to build your news feed. For example, I get inundated with Mediterranean cooking traditions when all I searched for was a halloumi fries recipe. Relatable content can turn into echo-chambers of reverberated interests and opinions to the point where every person has a different exposure to what is essentially the same stimulus. So now the lay of the land is far from homogenous, it means building your brand into the collective memory is a much harder challenge than simply running a 30 second TVC during Coronation Street. So what can brands do to meet these challenges?
Building block 1: Share more than a sales pitch
I’m about to move out from my parents’ house, and while ideally I want spacious living areas with natural light and a garden, I’m also a realist, and want to move out to lead a more independent, personal lifestyle full of my own influences. Some of the brands I follow and engage with the most are those who create a vision of a lifestyle I want, and not just clean, pristine airbrushed photos of their products. @oatly post the lovely oat-milk ice-cream recipes but they also run a monthly interview series called ‘Je ne sais quoi of the month’. Speaking to various creative professionals working in sustainability, Oatly don’t just sell you oat milk, they provide an accessible and inspiring community of forward-thinking individuals. They share ideas, social movements and feel good news about sustainable actions which make me, the user/viewer, consider how else I can better adapt my life. While I continue to drink all of their oat milk.
Building block 2: Be distinctive
You don’t move into a new house without knowing exactly what you’re moving into. From running an inventory, to requesting up-to-date meter readings, everything you discover should ideally reinforce the reasons why you wanted to move there in the first place. As it takes 5 to 7 impressions for someone to remember your brand (Pam Moore), consistent and distinctive messaging that builds to a coherent whole is the goal. One way to achieve this is to leverage distinctive product and brand assets. When you see yellow stitching on boots, you think Doc Marten, if you see a lemon and herb flag, you think Nando’s, and if a meerkat is talking to you about insurance, you definitely know who’s talking….. (Compare the Market, it’s Compare the Market).
Building block 3: Co-create
The housemates I’m living with are the overarching motivator for me moving to a new house. I want to build memories with them, decorate, put up our wall-hangings together and create a home we’re all proud of. The rise of TikTok, a platform literally built on co-creation where creators add their own spin to current trends, is a proof point to how well collaboration goes down with Gen Z. In 2019, Converse founded a community initiative called Spark Progress. They have a dedicated Instagram where they constantly share opportunities for London based creatives to feature their work and apply to exciting internships. Converse also generate opportunities of their own for the young creatives to work alongside the big people. Asking Croydon-based Alicia to reimagine the Star Chevron logo using knitted yarn, or Jay to take control of a Pro Leather look book. They not only listen to their audience, they engage with them, understand their pressure points, and make their participation feel ownable, while providing real life opportunities for Gen Z.
While it can be tough to get Gen Z to opt in for your social community, once they’re there, the chances are they’ll never want to leave. It’s worth building a deep brand connection with Gen Z’s in their 20s as they’ll most likely stick around for years and years. Which is true lifetime value!
- Are you creating something that is thought through from all perspectives?
- Is your messaging coherent and consistent?
- What lifestyle does your brand inspire?
- How can you involve your audience in new ways?
- How do you get your audience to participate instead of simply observe?