In 30 seconds:
- Gen Z has grown up through turbulent times, and it has made them more aware of social issues than previous generations.
- Despite popular myths depicting them as lazy and entitled, studies show over a quarter of Gen Z 16-19 year olds actually volunteer on a regular basis.
- And with their social conscience alive and kicking, brands should be aware of what changes this younger generation is demanding.
For a generation that spends upwards of ten hours a day online, you might find it difficult to believe that Gen Z has the time to be politically or socially active.
However, the rise of Gen Z online activism means that social media is populated by young changemakers who are challenging the narrative on a whole range of issues – and reaching huge audiences with their educational posts.
According to the Pew Research Centre, they’re the most racially and ethnically diverse of any previous generation. Perhaps this, along with their status as ‘digital natives’ (having never lived without constant online access) has led them to build more diverse communities. 56% of Generation Z is friends with someone they only know from interactions online.
These communities of online Gen Z activists are concerned with a huge range of issues. From fighting environmental damage to advocating for better understanding of mental health issues, Gen Zers are demanding change across the board.
Gen Z and social justice
For proof of Gen Z’s political engagement, you need look no further than the United States presidential election in 2020, where it was reported that a record number of young voters turned out to assist Joe Biden in defeating Donald Trump’s reelection bid.
The majority’s support of the democratic candidate was expected, even if their voting numbers were not. In many ways, Gen Zers hold similar views to their millennial predecessors; on social issues, young adults overwhelmingly support causes relating to race and ethnicity, human rights, feminism, and LGBTQ+ issues.
However, unlike older generations, Generation Z views consumption as a matter of “ethical concern”. It makes them wary of supporting brands who they do not view as promoting the kind of causes they themselves support – meaning that brands who want to capture this important consumer generation need to consider where they’re able to lend their support.
Gen Z Activists: The names to know
There are young activists speaking out across a whole range of social issues, often leveraging social media to reach larger audiences. These activist influencers bring politics and social justice into Gen Z’s everyday online experiences.
From climate change to racial injustice, you can be certain that Gen Z activists are educating themselves – and their followings – as they make an impact in the real world.
At the forefront of Gen Z’s push for change, these are the names you need to know:
Famous for her school strike protests against climate change, Greta Thunberg is a key Gen Z figure in environmental activism.
She has inspired a whole cohort of Gen Z climate activists, and established the climate crisis as a key concern for a generation already seeing the effects of global warming. This environmental consciousness has had a keen effect on Gen Z’s buying habits. They try to buy “green”, and among U.S social media users, 45% of Gen Z adults have interacted with climate change content. That’s more than double the number of Baby Boomers who’ve done the same (21%).
Ed Winters (@EarthlingEd)
Animal welfare is an issue Gen Zers feel strongly about. 93% of those surveyed said that they believe brands have an obligation to take a stand on environmental issues – and this next generation (along with Millenials) are also most likely to go vegan.
(We’ve previously covered the top vegan TikTok influencers – most of whom have attracted followings that include curious meat-eaters and vegans alike to their animal-friendly fare.)
One famous face in the social media animal activism space is Earthling Ed. He has over 580k followers on his Instagram account (one of which is Greta herself) and a new book, both of which promote a vegan lifestyle for the sake of the animals.
Ed uses his Instagram account as a platform through which he can argue against prominent anti-vegan claims, as well as highlight instances of animal cruelty. His evocative content enables him to easily engage with his followers (a huge proportion of which are members of Gen Z), capturing their attention with videos that support his message.
Stella Keating (@GenderCool)
70% of Gen Zers believe it’s important to defend causes related to identity. They are more likely than any previous generations to accept a wider range of pronouns, for example, and 35% of them say they personally know someone who identifies with gender-neutral pronouns.
Stella Keating launched The GenderCool Project as a way to challenge negativity surrounding transgender youth, and shine a light on “transgender and non-binary youth who are thriving”.
Stella was also the first transgender teen to testify in front of the U.S Senate, at only 16 years old, where she spoke as a witness in support of the Equality Act – taking her calls for change to the highest levels.
Chloé Hayden (@chloeshayden)
Last year, Simone Biles made headlines when she stepped down from the Olympics in order to protect her mental health. She was far from alone among her peers – 35% of whom reported that their mental health suffered during the pandemic.
It’s why mental health awareness content is so popular on platforms like TikTok, where a majority Gen Z user base share their struggles in entertaining videos. We wrote about the rise of mental health advocacy on TikTok and what brands can learn from it here.
The platform is also home to creators advocating for better understanding and support for a range of stigmatised health issues. Take Chloé Hayden, for example. She creates videos highlighting her experiences as an autistic woman, and calls for better support and understanding for autistic people.
She hit headlines when she criticised pop artist Sia’s movie “Music” – after which the musician blocked her. The film, though, went on to rank lower amongst young audiences than the famously-hated Cats.
If nothing else, it’s proof that Gen Z activists are getting their voices heard.
Amika George (Free Periods)
Amika George launched the “Free Periods” project when she was only 17. Her aim was to draw attention to the fact that one in ten girls in the UK cannot afford to buy menstrual products – and her campaign took her from a grassroots online petition, to a protest outside Downing Street.
In 2019, it was announced that free menstrual products would be available in all secondary schools and colleges in England. Now, George (who received an MBE for her campaigning work) is working to make sure that becomes enshrined in law.
Taylor Jones (@taylorcassidyj)
With the rise of Gen Z activism, it’s not uncommon to find high school students educating each other.
Such is the case with Taylor Cassidy Jones. Jones is a young TikTok creator who uses her platform to shine a spotlight onto lesser known Black history. Her video series “Fast Black History” was her response to a noted lack of Black voices on her FYP – and several of the videos have since gone viral.
The Black Lives Matter movement clarified the need to amplify the experiences of black women and men in the fight for racial justice. While the majority of Gen Z report using social media mostly for “entertainment”, accounts such as this one prove that the platforms have huge potential as bases of education, too.
How can brands win over Gen Z activists?
Establishing your brand as a force for good amongst Gen Z activists is important, because 70% of Gen Zers report trying to purchase products from brands they consider to be ethical. It shows that they’re willing to take their activist stance to the bank.
Here are three tips for successfully engaging with Gen Z activists:
1. Be Responsive
Keeping up-to-date with the news allows brands to react to issues in good time – establishing trust amongst their followings.
According to research from McKinsey, Gen Z consumers increasingly expect brands to “take a stand” on issues that matter to them. After the murder of George Floyd, for example, brands like ice-cream company Ben & Jerry’s received praise for promptly taking to social media to denounce “a culture of white supremacy”.
Remaining aware of social issues and speaking out, when relevant, is key to proving to Gen Z activists that their loyalty in your brand is not misplaced. It’s vital that brands not only lend their voice to these concerns to drive awareness, but also lend meaningful support in the form of donations to charities, implementing programs and sharing resources.
2. Be Authentic
Gen Z wants the brands they buy from to reflect their own ethics and beliefs – but simply saying your brand is helping climate action, for example, is not enough – and Gen Z are hot on the tails of brands that aren’t acting responsibly.
Gen Z are motivated to learn about brands’ activities, and they are more equipped and accustomed to sharing their findings with each other on social media – with explosive results. TikTok user Anna Sacks (@thetrashwalker) regularly goes viral for her videos exposing unsustainable and wasteful business practices, including deliberately destroying excess stock.
Gen Z are using hashtags such as #retailmademe to share their experiences of being forced to carry out unethical practices. It’s good news: After one of Anna’s videos on Coach went viral, the company changed their policy. Gen Z are forgiving of brands that own up to their mistakes, so it pays to listen and share how you’ve improved.
To work with Gen Z activists, therefore, brands need to be transparent – and evince the ethics they stand for throughout their business operations.
3. Amplify Gen Z voices
The rise of social media has put consumers on an equal footing with brands. Whereas traditional brand messaging trickled down, and junior employees had less voice than senior workers, this is no longer the case. Gen Z has the microphone, and many have online audiences that rival global companies.
Brands can adapt by using their own platform to amplify the voices of Gen Z. And, as the #retailmademe hashtag shows, this support can start close to home. Consider your Gen Z employees and talk to them about your brand’s values, and how they inform your work practices. Ask them about their experiences to learn where you can help.
You may find room for improvement – and you can turn this into a marketing piece to share how you’re listening to your Gen Z staff and actively working on becoming a better company for them.
In this article, we’ve shared some of the biggest Gen Z activist voices, from climate justice to social justice – but the truth is Gen Z’s favourite social media platform, TikTok, has an egalitarian approach to content: its algorithm ensures anyone with an engaging message can go viral. So, the work for brands is to make a message that all Gen Z wants to shout about, and foster a reciprocal relationship with them.
The impact of Gen Z activism
A generation’s most popular activists can reveal a lot about the overall beliefs of their peers. And Gen Z are turning their attention towards everything from environmentalism, gender equality and racial justice, to addressing issues such as period poverty and unethical retail practices.
This is a generation that understands its own power to illuminate the experience of underserved communities, and the diversity of causes evinced by Gen Z illustrates how universal their motivation to improve the world really is.
No stone is left unturned, because the barrier to entry for sharing experiences is far lower. Everyone has a platform with the potential to affect real change. Social media has given Gen Z the power to share with their peers, and by seeing others like them make an impact, this group is even more encouraged to speak up themselves.
The implications of this groundswell of Gen Z activism are huge – and their potential is still growing. Gen Z are young in the workplace, but they are already able to change global companies through holding them accountable online. We’ll see even more changes for the better as they age.
In 2022, brands need to be activists. Brands that win the support of Gen Z will be the ones that don’t just “keep up”, but are the voice on new topics that will help the world. Brands must lead by example to win a loyal fanbase of Gen Z. You’re not just ensuring the future of your business with these younger customers: you’re making a difference to their future, too.
If getting into the heads of Gen Z is something you want help with, get in contact with us at Fanbytes. We have experience changing perceptions amongst this generation – from our work with ACCA to encourage young people to get interested in accounting, to busting myths about the source of meat in Burger King’s hamburgers. We’d love to share with you how we’ll be your Gen Z partner and take your brand to the heart of Gen Z.
Want to learn more about how to meaningfully engage with Gen Z? Read on: