Social Media Research: How Gen Z Views Social Media

New social media research has revealed insights about Gen Z’s social media usage, and their views of different social platforms. Here’s what you need to know.
Fanbytes | Social Media Research

In 30 seconds:

  • Social media research can reveal a lot about social media users – like what they want to see from brands, and where they want to see it.
  • There are now multiple social media platforms on offer, and as social media usage spikes in Gen Z, what does their use of social media tell us?
  • Social media research topics covered in our new report include what Gen Z uses social media platforms for, the impact of social media on their mood, and what it means for your brand.

Social media research centred on Gen Zers’ attitudes usually concentrates on how this younger generation of users interacts with the various social networks on offer. 

And while it’s certainly useful for marketers to know that data analysis shows they’re most often accessing their social networking sites on their mobile devices – (Pew Research shows as many as 95% of teens have access to a smartphone) – these metrics don’t do much to help guide social media campaigns that really have an impact

How does Gen Z view social media? What does Gen Z think about the different social media platforms? Which platforms do they prefer – and what kind of content do they like to see on them? 

We stepped into the role of researcher to discover how, exactly, Gen Z views social media – and what that means for your brand’s marketing. Fanbytes’ research methodology is based on survey results from over 2,000 16-24 year olds, and our resulting social media research report is packed full of crucial information and quantitative information for marketers to help inform brand campaigns.

How Gen Z views different social media sites

Speak to any young person in your life, and you might already get a pretty good sense of which social media platforms are the most popular amongst their demographic. (Clue: it isn’t LinkedIn). Our data collection went much deeper than this.

Most would already have expected that Facebook is not the most popular choice amongst younger generations – and they’d be right. Our large datasets found that only 7% of this generation are spending the most time on Facebook, and nearly half of all 16-17 year olds have never even created an account on this online social media platform

Instagram proved more popular, according to our data source, with nearly a quarter of young people citing it as the platform they spend the most of their time on – which rose to a third amongst Gen Z women alone. But it was TikTok that came out on top, with 34% of those we surveyed reporting that TikTok is the app they spend the most time on

Overall, in our social media data, the more granular analysis via age segmentation of Gen Z usership implies that some platforms are simply seen as ‘more relevant’ to younger audiences, with their usership decreasing as age increases. 

So, what does this imply about what Gen Z views each platform as being for

Well, across their two most-used platforms (Instagram and TikTok), our research questions asked Gen Z audiences to report their different needs. On TikTok, 76% stated that comedy and humour were the primary purpose of the platform, while Instagram was most commonly used for ‘keeping up to date with friends and family’ (34%). 

For brands, this clarifies a successful route to approaching a new Gen Z audience – via comedic or entertaining content on TikTok – and suggests this form social media marketing much more likely to be successful here as branded content is more welcomed on TikTok, and fits more easily into their perception of the functionality of the platform

How Gen Z views different social content

What about the content itself on those platforms? 

You may remember hearing names as big as Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian recently, who posted Instagram Stories and tweets to call out Instagram’s move towards more video-first content – prompting a hashtag, ‘#MakeInstagramInstagramAgain’. Well, in line with our findings on Gen Z’s expectations for each of the social media apps, it’s no surprise that any move away from the site’s core offerings was going to be negatively received. 

This is important for brands to bear in mind when approaching their content marketing strategies, as content that does not align with Gen Z’s expectations for each social media platform will likely become a victim of the dreaded scroll-past. Gen Z wants marketers to lean-in to the social media platform they’re on, and create content that is native to the platform

This is further supported by their continued appreciation for social media influencers and user-generated content (UGC). When you consider that a whopping 39% of Gen Z respondents stated that brands are going wrong by producing ads that ‘feel false or authentic’, it’s no surprise that by leaning on the communities you’re targeting, brands can more accurately represent the ‘feel’ of each platform in their content. 

And on TikTok, that content should overwhelmingly be entertaining. Our research project found it’s what Gen Z believes the purpose of the app is, and when asked what they like more about the brands they follow on the video-first platform? 34% stated that it was the funny content they provided, while 31% reported that ‘they entertain me’. The most popular choice for the best way for brands to engage with you on TikTok – 28% – said it was by ‘making me laugh.’ Read the report for the full results. 

Another particularly interesting content trend identified in our research was the growing popularity of educational content on TikTok – especially amongst female respondents. 

Double the amount of female respondents as male said that the thing they like most about the brands they follow on TikTok is that they ‘teach me new things’ – and more than double agreed that the best way for brands to engage them would be to ‘teach me something new’. 

This is an insight few social media analytics platforms can indicate – but highlights an effective creative route for brands’ social media strategies.

The hunger for education is perhaps related to Gen Z’s status as the generation most likely to have engaged with higher education. A study from the Pew Research Centre found that Gen Zers are less likely to drop out of high school, more likely to be enrolled in college, and also more likely to have a college-educated parent than the generations before them. 

The stark difference between male and female behaviour here clarifies new possible areas of social science study and social research to determine why young female social media users feel more compelled to use TikTok to learn (or possibly “improve” themselves) as opposed to purely entertain themselves.

Whatever the reason, there’s no denying that brands have a few clear paths to better engagement with Gen Z on social media based on the information from the survey – and whether they’re targeting young men or young women may well influence the kind of content likely to have the biggest impact

Social media research: A clear message?

Social media research undertaken into Gen Z’s views on different platforms has revealed a fairly consistent, if evolving, view of this generation’s approach to the various aspects of social media

Their views on platforms

Pew Research found that the share of teens using Facebook is ‘falling sharply’, in line with our own findings. However, while their US-based audience used YouTube most often, our UK respondents were most likely to use TikTok, followed by Instagram, with YouTube in the third-place position. 

Information shared in Forbes India suggests that there may well be an element of time involved in the social media rankings – as while YouTube use fell in the year leading to 2021, TikTok maintained its meteoric growth, from 45% of US teens, to 64%.

Their views on content

Social media research undertaken into the role of influencers has consistently correlated with our findings – both anecdotal, and in our survey results.

A 2020 YPulse study found that influencer marketing was steadily growing amongst young focus group audiences, with the percentage of 13-18 year olds following a celebrity online having from from 54% to 70%. That same study found that 58% of Gen Z had bought something as a result of an influencer’s recommendation

And, according to Higher Visibility, over 1 in 4 Gen Zers trust influencers more than product page reviews – which speaks to Gen Z’s preference for influencers’ brand of authenticity online. 

However, while Adobe & OnePoll found that Gen Z find social media to be the place they can ‘truly be themselves’ – more than half (55%) are doing so via a ‘secret alter ego’ that doesn’t exist offline – an interesting approach to authenticity and mental health

What this research means for marketers

When Gen Z are your target audience, the use of social media is clearly a must in your marketing strategy. Whatever the research method, data consistently shows that it’s the best way to reach this audience of younger customers. 

But there’s more to a successful marketing campaign than just the platform you choose to use; marketers need to tailor their campaign to each social media site, and make sure that they’re engaging with Gen Z in the way they expect from brands in each platform. 

For a further breakdown on that, read the report.

Leveraging social media research to target Gen Z

If there’s one clear takeaway from the body of social media research on Gen Z, it’s that social media is the best place to reach Generation Z – and that some platforms are much better for both their well-being and for capturing their attention than others. 

For marketers who are looking to target teen users, targeting your campaign by content and platform is going to spell the difference between a successful campaign, and a flop. 

If you’re unsure how to begin breaching a social media platform, why not use influencers as your gateway? Since our research shows that influencers are still behind a lot of Gen Z’s purchasing decisions, working with creators that your Gen Z audience respects can help to boost your brand’s reputation and performance. 

Plus, this way, you can get a read on the kind of content that resonates best with your target audience – and you’ll be able to lean on their platform expertise (influencers are naturals at mastering social media algorithms and creating online communities, after all) to help spread your brand message. The more knowledge you have on your side, the better your chances of hitting it off with Gen Z audiences. 

Download the full report, or talk to us about how we can help you design a social media campaign with real impact. We have the know-how and experience to help you make the most from your marketing budget. 

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