Millennials, make room — Gen Zers are here, and they’re bringing along a lifetime of technology usage, an expectation of diversity, and unique communication practices that will be essential to understand. Born somewhere between 1997 and 2019, Gen Z is changing the social media landscape. As a Gen Zer myself, I’m excited to see the new ways that Gen Z continues to grow up into the world and bring change.
Here are three tips you should know when communicating with Generation Z:
#1 – They value authenticity above all else
People in the Generation Z had iPhones and every social outlet at our fingertips from the time we were children. Things like Club Penguin taught us how to create online communities with strangers, and we continued to create an online presence through our different social accounts and meme consumption. Because of this, we’ve become masters at sensing and finding internet authenticity. While Millennials created the influencer culture of Instagram, Gen Z mastered the creator culture of TikTok, where authentic humor that isn’t filtered performs the best.
Communicating with Gen Z requires a sense of humor, and one that isn’t too filtered or fake. Outlets like YouTube and TikTok are powerful tools to share authenticity, and Twitter and Instagram are tools to enhance a brand’s authentic voice by using things like memes, hopping onto popular trends, or giving (somewhat) unfiltered platforms to others. They will follow and value leaders who also value authenticity.
#2 – They encourage tough conversations
A defining trait of Gen Z is not having memory of 9/11, growing up during the 2008 recession, and school shootings as an unfortunate norm. In our short lifetimes, we’ve been through several wars, deeply divided politics, the Black Lives Matter movement, a dangerously changing climate, and a pandemic all by our teens or early 20s. Topics like mental health or social issues in the country aren’t things we avoid talking about, and many have a deep passion for politics and mental health.
Communicating with Gen Z means not being afraid to speak the truth on difficult issues, and to take a stance when necessary. While topics related to politics can be challenging for a university to participate with, providing resources to educate on all social platforms is a solid way of showing solidarity with Gen Z’s interests. Additionally, they aren’t afraid to use social media as a tool to spark tough conversations and call out their frustrations. This means it’s important to have a solid strategy to communicate during a crisis that focuses on how to build bridges quickly, as the fast paced Gen Z doesn’t want to wait for an answer on something they feel is obvious. Finally, Gen Z cares deeply about the environment and sustainability, and will find deeper value in any product or practice that reinforces some greener effort.
#3 – Individuality and diversity are part of their identities
Gen Z’s childhoods on the internet allowed them to cultivate communities in all corners of social media, and many worked hard to create their own unique set of style and interests. More importantly, Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation the United States has ever seen, with one in six identifying as LGBT. They’ve embraced their diverse identities, and consistently strive for individuality.
Their embracing of their identities means they aren’t consuming media in the same way as older generations, and brands or universities should reach out to them in a variety of ways through a variety of channels. CSU’s “A Ram’s Life” YouTube channel is a great example of this, where young people share their lived and authentic experiences — and other Gen Zers are paying close attention. Practices like this, and others, can illustrate a sense of community and welcomeness for people who crave that feeling the most.