To connect with Gen Z in a post-pandemic society, brands need to get on their level. According to a new report “Gen Z: Digital Community Building” by trend forecasting firm WGSN, this means approaching the cohort as humans—and not just a target audience.
As the generation that can most easily pick up on inauthenticity, brands are especially challenged to provide Gen Z with compelling content that provides value. And what this generation may value most, according to the report, is community.
Citing a 2019 Tapatalk report, WGSN noted that 74 percent of Gen Z respondents said that belonging to an online community has improved their sense of unity in the world, and 77 percent said it had improved their overall wellbeing.
There are multiple ways for brands to tap into Gen Z’s community-driven mindset. “Creating a sense of community does not always require interaction, and it may not even require contribution,” WGSN stated in the report. “It can be as simple as letting people know they aren’t alone; that they’re engaging in a shared experience.”
Case in point: WGSN encouraged brands to get personal and take cues from Sprite, which launched a campaign in Latin America in 2019 entitled “No Estas Solo,” which translates to “You Are Not Alone.” The brand used data to uncover commonly Googled personal pain points among the young generation, and set up Reddit forums accordingly, each one led by an influencer facing the same challenges.
For Gen Z, who are native digital users, the pandemic underscored what they already knew: Digital communication can be just as effective as in-person communication. In fact, some communities are even stronger online than they are in person.
Gen Z is more likely to choose online forums over social media when they want to feel understood by like-minded individuals. “The power of forums lies in the ability to connect individuals interested in topics, ideas, and lifestyles that may seem taboo on other parts of the web or IRL,” WGSN stated.
For these reasons, WGSN suggests social media madness may end with Gen Z. The cohort’s aversion to privacy breaches and monopolies often associated with social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have them seeking out alternatives to community-building—and they’re willing to pay for them.
“Community as a service” has become an increasingly lucrative business in the aftermath of the pandemic, when isolated individuals are seeking a sense of belonging. In the report, WGSN called attention to IdeasDrop, a paid social community for sharing new ideas and designs, and noted that while it can exist in the real world, a digital approach makes it possible to attract a wider audience with more diverse opinions.
And despite their age, Gen Z has significant buying power, and their affinity for authentic, ethical and creative businesses opens up a new realm of possibilities for brands. For example, Patreon, a paid online membership community, connects creators with their fans so they can provide original content on their terms. This opens up a new market for brands and better incentives for them to provide original, genuinely impactful content.
Also high on the list of interests among Gen Z is open-source platforms, which likely comes as no surprise considering the cohort was born into a technology-first society. Photo editing site VSCO allows users to adjust presets to create their own photo filters and share them with others. This led users to build communities of their own, including the VSCO girl, which became synonymous with a young woman that values artistic expression.
“For brands looking to win in this space, open-source creativity evolves the notion of co-creation and can lead to product innovation from an unlikely source,” WGSN stated.