Knowing What You Don’t Know: Gen Z’s Relationship with Influencers

Think you have a pretty good idea of what kids these days are into? Well, think again. These young people have grown up in a radically different way than any other generation before them. Their reality is not yours and if you think being a parent of these kids is difficult, trying to appear relevant or cool as a brand is next to impossible. Traditional tactics for advertising in the past have been bypassed by teens with massive loyal YouTube followings that seem virtually impervious to any conventional marketing trend. Confused? You’re not alone. And, short of completely figuring them out, let’s at least see what’s happening in the world of Generation Z.

Who Are They?

Generation Z members are generally considered to be born between the mid-1990’s to the mid-2000’s. They have never been without easy access to the Internet, and have grown older simultaneously alongside all the various social media platforms out there (including those that have failed)…meaning, they’ve had a way of socializing and gleaning information and opinions throughout their lives that few of us had as children.

Events like 9/11 and the Great Recession aren’t anything they’d remember, yet their lives have been shaped greatly by them. They make up a massive 25% of the U.S. population, and are more diverse in all ways than any other preceding them. They’re at once more sheltered and more globally aware at a young age than most of their teachers in school.

If you think all this information at once unlocks the secrets of Gen Z, then we’ve got a job here waiting for you. If it’s still a little vague, however, let’s try to pull these facts apart a bit more.

Diving Deeper

Understand this: this generation has had unlimited choices. What does that mean? Well, there’s always an alternative. In fact, it’s generally preferred. Gen Z social media influencers are socially aware and savvy, and they’re not afraid of moving away from big corporations…or, in some instances, towards them. They will at once praise and promote their friend’s t-shirt business and Wendy’s in the same breath; anti-establishment can become establishment, and vice versa. And, because their measure of success is the approval and engagement with their generational peers, this can pivot on a dime without any indication that it might.

The takeaway for marketers? Have a clear line of communication with potential influencers and a close eye on their channels. Even talking to kids about what they’re watching is a good way to get a feel for which way the trends are heading. But, be careful with your inevitable judgements (we all have them!)…you don’t want to be dismissive of something that may be red hot right now.

Keep It Rolling

Here, we get back on a point that many experts have been pounding the drum about for quite a while: keeping influencers on for an ongoing campaign, rather than a one-and-done deal. We’ve already established that these trends and loyalties can change quickly; not because they’re young and impetuous, but because their audience is shifting also. That’s just good business, and if your brand is already employed as a part of their everyday musings, you’ll be a part of many of their stories for a long time to come. If not, you might be in yesterday’s trash folder with all the others. Also, as we all well know, authenticity is key and an influencer’s stock in trade. They don’t get thousands of followers for nothing and the good ones will make sure they are able to find a fit for your brand organically. And, as a bonus, Gen Z social stars are well acquainted with all FTC regulations, as are their followers, who are more accustomed to and less put off by sponsorship disclaimers than many older viewers.

All In Motion

In case you haven’t heard, video is king. According to this article, an average teenager goes through an average of 65 videos a day! Before you spit your drink out, try to calculate how many you watch a day going through your normal social media, news and sports routine. It’s probably more than you think…all those short clips and highlights add up. And this is where the future is going, whether it’s YouTube or embedded videos on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Brand-produced content, in any form, continues to decrease in efficacy, where influencer-produced content is capturing more and more of the market…and every Gen Z star is using it. Look at the most viewed videos on YouTube and see for yourself. Video typically costs a bit more to produce, but it’s worth it.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Hire ‘Em

Lastly, if you’ve tried multiple ways to connect and be relevant to this Gen Z and you’re still struggling, look into hiring a member of your target group to advise you. For example, Connor Blakely currently advises huge brands like the NHL and Johnson & Johnson on how to become relevant and accessible to his peers. Even reading an interview can help you figure out a few things out…like the importance of social causes for a brand or the revelation that no one his age really uses Facebook anymore. Short of hiring someone his age, marketing departments would do well to at least do some research and consultation with someone like Blakely.

So, to wrap it up, we can agree there’s a lot we don’t know. But, considering this generation will have billions of buying power in the next few decades, we’d better do the work to figure it out.

Is your brand trying to market to Gen Z? Share your experience in the comments below!

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