Generation Z : The 21st century's social media managers

Today's teens are natives at social media and have a different view of brands

Every new generation has its own way of using media. Generation Z — comprising teens and tweens born between the late 1990s and early 2000s — is the first to grow up with easy, 24-hour access to the Internet, smart phones and social media. And you can see it in their media habits.

Members of Generation Z are incredibly sophisticated users of media. You won’t find a lot of predictable shared links, family photos or food-porn shots coming from this crowd. Today’s teens have taken it upon themselves to curate an elevated, premium sense of their personal brand.

It was around the time that Heat started working with Teva, long known as an adventurer’s brand, that we decided to conduct a study that would help us understand how teens and tweens are navigating the digital space. We wanted to find a way to introduce Teva to a new generation of consumers. We started with a series of interviews with teens and tweens, then built a case study that reflected their digital habits.

What we found was that teens are best thought of as their own personal social media managers. Not surprisingly, we found that 60 to 75% of our respondents between 13 and 17 use some kind of visual social media. We were surprised by these teens' exceptional awareness of which of their posts most engage their followers, even down to the time of day and the type of content they post.

Many of them schedule posts for mid-day and evening to maximize engagement from their peers. Almost 50% of teens post in the evening, and conduct 75% of their social media activity on Fridays and Saturdays.

Teens also engage in a wide variety of cross-platform use on their devices. For them, it is more than just multi-tasking and multiple screens. It allows these media mangers to consume and share content all at once. Teens are their own eagle-eyed editors, programming content, limiting the volume of posts and paying close attention to quality content. Brands should watch the continued growth of multi-screen and mobile to authentically feed content to this new generation by finding the right balance between frequency and oversaturation. Paying close attention to these habits will enrich the kind of engagement brands can create for this growing audience.

Marketers probably already know that teens are spending serious time on platforms like Instagram, Vine and Tumblr. Less visible is their activity on more-anonymous sites like Snapchat, Kik and Yik Yak. Almost 25% of teens say they scroll through their Instagram feed and message their friends on Kik hourly.

But online, these teens treat brands less like friends than like, well — their parents. When it comes to connecting with marketers on platforms, 35% of teens like the posts of brands on social, but only 30% will follow those brands. Additionally, 40% of them won’t even comment on brand posts. Many teens feel that brands don’t understand the kind of content they are looking for on social media. When brands are out of touch, they lose followers. How can marketers prevent this? Meet this group where they are in a way that provides engagement and entertainment while at the same time feels native to the platform.

Finally — and this is a big one — teens want to speak their minds and share their thoughts without the hindrance of leaving a permanent digital footprint. As teens grow into young adults, they want to express themselves freely while carefully building their own personal brand.

However, they also want to be able to test alternate personas and say things they normally wouldn’t without the threat of leaving a lasting impression. Remember when Millennials and the late Gen Y had to deal with the lax privacy settings on Facebook when they started looking for jobs out of college? Generation Z is more savvy than those early adopters. About 25% of teens have multiple Facebook and Instagram accounts. The rise in anonymous platforms such as SnapChat and Kik allow teens to be their truest selves online. By living a double life on the Internet, they are able to keep their highly controlled and curated images, while retaining the ability to express different ideas elsewhere.

Generation Z is digital in their DNA, making them natural digital trendsetters. The growth of video chatting and the emergence of private networks have been led by the needs and wants of these young people. Though not wholly dependent on a single generation, this connected contingency can hold key insights that play into long-term brand strategies.

Nick Reggars is director of content strategy for Heat.

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