Gen Z Social Media Attitudes: Fanbytes by Brainlabs Research

How does Generation Z really feel about social media? Our research gives new insight for brands reaching Gen Z consumers on social now.
Fanbytes | Gen Z Social Media

In 30 seconds:

  • Smartphones and social media play a large role in Gen Zers’ daily lives, but how do younger users feel about the different social platforms on offer?
  • How does social media use affect Gen Z? Which social media apps work best to reach this demographic?
  • From social media influencers to social commerce, how should brands adapt their digital marketing strategy now to attract this younger generation?

Social media is an ever-more complicated landscape. But it’s where you’ll reach Gen Z. As the first generation to grow up with the internet already in full swing, with social media platforms a constant presence in their childhood, Generation Z are naturally heavy users of social platforms. They’re also the first to adopt new behaviours on social media, and have an innate understanding of digital experiences that older generations find harder to access.

For marketers, this means that social media is a great route to secure Gen Z’s attention – but there’s also no room for slacking. It’s vital to keep up-to-date with Gen Zers’ attitudes and behaviours, or you’ll risk being ignored – or even alienating them.

So, what social media platforms do Gen Z prefer? How do they want brands to use them?  In our research, Fanbytes discovered compelling information about platform usage, as well as how brands can reach and attract Gen Z on social media.

Fanbytes research: read our findings on Gen Z social media

What platform do Gen Zers use most – Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube – or something else? And which do they prefer out of social network apps vs. social discovery apps? How are Gen Zers using these apps differently, and how does this affect them?

Furthermore, how can brands deliver the experiences that Gen Z wants on their favourite app? And what kind of content are they seeking out now?

We sought answers to these questions in our research, which interviewed 2,000 16-25 year-old respondents from across the UK. Read our research report to find out what we uncovered.

How much digital natives use different social media platforms

Anecdotal evidence will tell you Millennials and Gen X prefer Instagram, while baby boomers are Facebook’s most active cohort in the UK. But is this truly the case?

Our research found that amongst Gen Z respondents, the app they were most likely to report spending the most time on is TikTok (34.1%). After this, Instagram was second most likely (24.5%), then YouTube (20.9%). Surprisingly, given that Snapchat dubs Gen Z the “snapchat generation”, only 10.6% of respondents reported spending the most time on Snapchat.

Perhaps less surprisingly, Facebook is not so popular. Only 7.3% of Gen Z report spending much time on the social network site. And if you break down the cohort by smaller age groups, it becomes clear that the younger the respondent, the less likely they are to have ever had a Facebook account.

We also discovered key differences between male and female Gen Z respondents when reporting which social media platforms they spend the most time on.

For a full breakdown of our findings, read the free report.

How does TikTok make Gen Z feel?

In 2021, Meta got in hot water when a whistleblower alerted the media to the company’s practice of recommending extreme content to younger users. Instagram has also earned a reputation for a “pressure to be perfect”. Users feel compelled to post only the “best bits” about their lives, and edit photos to make them more appealing. Unsurprisingly, this negatively affects young people, with titles such as Time Magazine calling for an end to the “grave harm” the platform causes Gen Z.

TikTok, meanwhile, doesn’t carry this burden. Its “rough and ready” videos herald a less polished style of social media profile, where the look is less important than entertainment value. The algorithm also recommends content agnostically of follower size, meaning casual TikTok users are on a more equal footing to brands and influencers on the platform. TikTok’s search engine capabilities are also more sophisticated than Instagram, meaning Gen Z are now looking at TikTok as “the new Google”. It’s where they can find up-to-date answers from people like them.

These are the main arguments for why TikTok is becoming more popular than Instagram for Gen Z. But we wanted to go deeper – and understand how TikTok makes Gen Z feel.

Our findings indicate a distinct difference in emotional response amongst Gen Z between TikTok and Instagram. And furthermore, we have identified specific content types Gen Zers look for on TikTok, and why. These insights present exciting opportunities for brands looking to market to Gen Z consumers and drive revenue from their TikTok presence.

For example, Gen Z females were 4x more inclined to feel insecure after using Instagram vs. TikTok. However, a high proportion of respondents reported feeling ‘happy’ after using TikTok (50%) .

76% of Gen Z respondents say they look to TikTok to provide “comedy and humour” – and a far greater proportion of Gen Zers said they trust influencers on TikTok “a lot”, whereas more were inclined to “not trust Instagram influencers at all.”

For more on our findings, read the research report.

Marketing to young people on social

Social media marketing is a must when reaching Gen Z. But it’s vital to understand which social media platform suits your brand, or your social media presence won’t net you any customers – and could even damage your brand reputation.

Our research uncovered that a considerable portion of Gen Z (28%) believe that “all brands should be on TikTok” – but a larger portion (46%) believe that “only some brands should be on TikTok”.

This points to a desire for relevance. Gen Zers are not interested in brand social media output that doesn’t provide value. If you can provide what Gen Z is looking for, however, there’s a compelling opportunity to win over Gen Z – and given that 60% of TikTok’s 1 billion + monthly active users, that’s a huge opportunity for brands who can get it right.

Our research provided insight into how to get it right, too. 39% of our Gen Z respondents said that brands on TikTok get their marketing wrong because “ads feel false or inauthentic”, whilst 20% believe “ads are too perfect and edited.”

We also asked our Gen Zers, “what makes you want to buy a product after seeing it on TikTok?” and what steps they usually take when buying something after they’d seen it on TikTok. Our findings illustrate the importance of trends, influencer marketing and relevant ads, as well as mobile-optimised shopfronts.

For more detail on our findings, read the full research report.

The wider landscape of Gen Z social media research

Our research tells a compelling story alongside other areas of Gen Z social media research.

Forbes reports that Gen Zers have “moved beyond the e-commerce favoured by millennials and has become at home with social commerce.” This is the practice of purchasing wholly within a social media platform. While this trend is evident in our data, we’ve uncovered that it’s Gen Z males who are far more likely to complete their purchases within social media platforms. The majority of Gen Z women would still rather shop for products they discover on social media via the brand’s website. So, mobile-responsive websites are vital.

Pew Research reports that Gen Z is tiring of Facebook, with the share of teens who use it “falling sharply.” This correlates with our findings. However, Pew Research focused on US-based Gen Zers, and found that YouTube was their most-used platform. Our UK-based Gen Z respondents reported that TikTok was their most-used platform, followed by Instagram, then YouTube.

Ninan, Roy & Cheriyan (2020) found that “Gen Z prefers social media ads to the traditional ads contributing to an improved brand awareness, product perception, brand loyalty, customer-business interaction and purchase intention”. Furthermore, they found that “brand awareness, perception, brand loyalty and customer-business interaction through social media marketing influences the purchase intention of Gen Z.” This correlates with our findings.

Adobe & OnePoll found that a large proportion of UK Gen Z respondents say “social media is the only place they can truly be themselves.” But they tend to do so via an alter ego (33%) or a secret social ego (55%). This explains the growth in popularity for apps like BeReal, which encourages users to ‘be the real you.’ but it also corresponds with our findings, as TikTok UX is less concerned with documenting reality – and showing off about it – and more about authenticity through self expression.

Next steps for marketers

Getting your social media messaging right is vital for attracting Gen Z – but understanding how to use social media platforms in a Gen Z-ready way is just the first step. To stay ahead of the curve, marketers should seek to understand this younger generation.

Our research digs deeper into the thoughts, feelings and attitudes driving Gen Z and their use of social media. If you’re looking to understand young people, it’s a great start.

But our insight goes far further than this: we have over 2,000 Gen Z-orientated social media campaign activations and 5,000+ Gen Z-orientated influencer collaborations under our belt, and have worked with over 500 brand partners including Adidas, Burger King, Mattel, Estée Lauder, Ubisoft, HM Government and Sony Music.

We have an in-house data and insight tool, ByteSights, that allows us to see Gen Z social media trends early on and leverage them for brands. It gives us a clear and comprehensive view into how Gen Z is behaving online, and helps us analyse their perception of and reaction to brands’ social campaigns.

If you’d like to find out how our expertise can help you win over Gen Z on social media, get in touch.

Alternatively, for weekly insights into the world of Gen Z and social media, sign up for our free Gen Z newsletter.

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