Gen Z is a unique demographic shaped by smartphones, increasing climate concerns, and a global pandemic and even though Gen Z is reaching maturity, this generation maintains a mindset all their own, particularly when it comes to engaging on social media platforms.
To better understand this dynamic age group and how they are looking to engage in meaningful ways online, Smartly.io conducted two surveys in May of 2022—one focused on 1,000 U.S. based consumers over the age of 18 and the other on 1,000 Gen Z adults, ages 18-22. We hope our findings give you a glimpse into Gen Z and what matters to them. Even while we learn about Gen Z, we have much to learn from them including their love for authenticity and the planet.
From a plethora of social platforms to endless types of content, Gen Z embraces variety. Gen Z engages with more social platforms than any other age demographic, regularly leveraging Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Snapchat, among others while general consumers ranked Facebook and YouTube as their top platforms.
Gen Z also takes more into consideration when deciding what ads or brands to interact with on social media - from discounts to their need for the product/service offered to a brand’s transparency and perceived trustworthiness to the style and aesthetic of ads.
While millennials viewed social media as a place to reconnect with family and friends, Gen Z is a social savvy group that represents a new wave of social media usage. Time-killer, de-stressor, and a personal shopping research center, Gen Z utilizes social media in ways that are uncommon or unseen in other generations. A 2021 survey from SproutSocial showed that the most common reason Gen Z uses social media is to kill time, and they are the only generation that ranked this above connecting with family and friends.
For Gen Z, social platforms are a place to test the mettle of brands and discover new products. From our survey, we discovered 82% of Gen Z consumers use social media as a way to find new brands compared to 57% of general consumer respondents (U.S. adults, age 18+). Combine this with the fact that Gen Z is more open to seeing ads on social media, and you’ve got a generation who is ready and willing to converse with brands on social platforms. From the surveyed, 87% said they are open to seeing advertising from brands they like or have purchased from before as well as new brands they are unfamiliar with.
The visual experience has reigned supreme on social media for almost a decade, but in more recent years, Gen Z has taken it even further, moving away from the curated aesthetics many Millennials adopted and opting for content that feels more authentic and unfiltered. The purest form of this style is video—a richer, more versatile form of content with options to focus on visuals, audio or both.
Studies in recent years show that video serves as a way for Gen Z to decompress and de-stress. Additionally, video, or motion-specific content, is more eye-catching to this audience and is often tied with authenticity, especially for users participating in TikTok and Instagram Reel trends. This may be why 40% of Gen Z consumers prefer Stories, Reels or TikTok videos when seeing ads from brands on social media.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that 75% of Gen Z have clicked on an ad from a brand they saw on social media in the past 30 days compared to 62% of general consumer respondents. However, clicks do not equal purchases with 63% of our consumer respondents saying they have not made a purchase based on social media ads, and 55% of Gen Z saying the same.
For Gen Z specifically, there is a 30% gap between respondents who are clicking on social media ads and those making purchases as a result of those ads (45%). Engaging with Gen Z on multiple platforms and implementing authentic creative are the first steps to closing this gap.
While personalized creative or current trends are important, true authenticity goes beyond these elements. Gen Z may be more likely to research brands on social media, but part of this research is holding corporations responsible for social issues—particularly climate change. While the pandemic and war in Ukraine are top issues across generations, Gen Z ranked environmental issues higher than other age groups with 55% of Gen Z listing it as their most important issue compared to 37% of general consumers. Gen Z wants to engage with companies who are transparent about their eco-friendly missions and offer sustainable products.