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Why Gen Z Is Breaking Up With Social and What it Means for Your Brand

Gen Z, though labeled as a tech-loving legion, is taking time off from social media sites or jumping ship altogether, choosing brick-and-mortar stores over Amazon for product research, and is savvy enough to willingly hand over personal information to brands in exchange for something of value.

Twin studies from BabyCenter in partnership with Collage Group and Hill Holliday in partnership with Origin highlight who members of Gen Z are, how they behave on social, and the ways in which they buck some common assumptions about the first truly digitally native generation.

The downside to being a digital native

FOMO is real for Gen Z, which Hill Holliday describes as ages 18-24 in its Meet Gen Z: The Social Generation report. (Note that new Pew research, positioned as being the authoritative source for defining these generations, identifies millennials as born between 1981 and 1996, which would make some of the individuals in the Hill Holiday study millennials rather than Gen Z.) BabyCenter’s study describes its Gen Z moms as those ages 18-20 having babies.

Young enough not to know a time before smartphones and social networking, members of Gen Z live in the “virtual” just as much—if not more so—as in reality. Nearly all (91 percent) are active on social platforms and 51 percent use these sites practically around the clock.

Though Hill Holliday’s survey takers say social media is overall a good thing that benefits friendships (71 percent) and self confidence (61 percent), nearly a quarter (22 percent) admitted that being on social sites instills a fear of missing out (FOMO), while the majority (77 percent) indicated that social platforms are overly distracting. Gen Z women polled by BabyCenter have even greater FOMO at 71 percent.

These troubling sentiments are leading many members of Gen Z to just say “no” to social, according to Hill Holiday, which found that 58 percent want some form of relief from the overwhelming barrage they encounter on social sites. While more than a third (34 percent) declared they’re abandoning social media altogether, the majority (64 percent) indicated they needed to put things on pause for a bit. Facebook led (64.9%) as the site most Gen Zers are taking a break from, followed by Instagram (43.9%) and Snapchat (33.6%)—and this data was collected in December 2017, well before Kylie Jenner’s infamous Snap-directed tweet, though she later chose the platform to show off her new daughter.

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Facebook also is the platform Gen Z is most likely to give up for good (43 percent), though Twitter and Instagram are tied for second place at 33 percent. Just 20 percent of Gen Z said they’re permanently walking away from Snapchat. Hill Holliday’s survey found numerous reasons for the social media breakups, from a desire for greater privacy (22 percent) to a respite from boring, irrelevant content (26 percent) to simply not using the site often enough (31 percent) or the platform becoming overly commercialized (18 percent).

Stores over Amazon

Despite acknowledging the negative side of social, Gen Z looks to these apps and platforms for brand engagement, discovery and transaction. Facebook (61 percent) and Instagram (47 percent) lead in product discovery, though the Gen Z moms (49 percent) in BabyCenter’s study indicated that Instagram edges out Facebook as the place they flock to in order to like and follow a brand.

Though social is tops for product discovery, Gen Z likes to visit physical stores when they’re in product research mode, the BabyCenter study found. Gen Z moms turn to stores (48 percent) and family (45 percent) first and foremost when learning about new products, while less than one third (31 percent) check reviews on Amazon and just 21 percent visit a brand’s website. Note that this is a stark departure from the more than one half (54 percent) of millennial moms who trust Amazon reviews above all else.

Hashtag happy

Given their status as digital natives, it should come as little surprise that Gen Z moms often eagerly share content with brands (48 percent) and include a hashtag in their social posts (42 percent). They have their eyes wide open, too, about the realities of the give-and-take with brands online. Forty-six percent of Gen Z moms said they’re fine with handing over personal data if it means they’re targeted with relevant ads tailored to their specific needs and tastes.

“Having grown up in an era where digital screens are the norm, this is potentially because they are simply used to these types of ad experiences,” the report noted. “In addition, it is likely that they have a better understanding of the value exchange between data for free content or services than their millennial counterparts.”

Hill Holliday’s research echoed these findings and reinforced the importance of social in reaching Gen Z shoppers. While 55 percent pointed to ads in their social feeds a key purchase driver, another 40 percent said they clicked through a link posted by a brand and ended up buying. However, celebrities and social influencers hold formidable sway over Gen Z; 57 percent of survey respondents admitted to purchasing after one of their favorite stars posted about a product.

Overall, more than two fifths (43 percent) of Gen Z has purchased via social media, indicating that they harbor fewer concerns about privacy and data security on these platforms than predecessors. Indeed, Gen Z is four times more likely to convert on social media than are millennials, Hill Holliday found.

The best brands on social

Though brands such as Victoria’s Secret and Forever 21 made the top-12 cohort of companies most mentioned and followed by Gen Z on social, perennial favorites Nike and Adidas, respectively, topped the list, Hill Holliday found. Nike also got a shoutout as teens’ favorite apparel and favorite footwear brand in Piper Jaffray’s most recent teen shopping research, while Adidas made the top five in both categories.

On social, though, Hill Holliday attributes these athletic brands’ popularity to their pop culture savvy, as they often spark conversations around the latest news and happenings, positioning themselves as relevant and “in the know” to their young followers.

Going forward, social will play an increasingly larger role in reaching Gen Z, whose annual spending power is tipped to be as much as $143 billion by 2020. With just 29 percent of Gen Z getting content from TV, according to Hill Holliday, brands will need a curated, comprehensive social strategy to connect with these shoppers on the social sites that commend their attention.