Social IRL for Generation Z

Posted by: Jeff Fromm

Contrary to popular belief, Gen Zers don’t always have their eyes glued to their phones.

“I definitely prefer seeing my friends in person rather than over social media because I feel closer to them when I really see them,” explains 15-year-old Greta J. “I love to laugh with them and be able to see a genuine reaction rather than an “LOL” over text. How am I supposed to know if they are really laughing or if they just don’t know what else to say?”

Uniquely Gen Z,” a 2017 IBM Institute for Business Value report, found that socializing offline is just as important to socializing online.

Gen Z Spending Chart

From “Marketing to Gen Z” by Angie Read and Jeff Fromm

Can this be true of a generation that has never known a world without the power of digital technology? Yes, and the reason is their craving for authenticity. As Greta alluded, isn’t it so much easier to understand intent when that interaction is physically tangible?

And when it comes to Gen Z, it’s time to get real. Pivotals are not only prioritizing real-life social interactions (perhaps more so than Millennials before them), they are also creating an influx of social platforms that encourage and celebrate such authenticity.

As Greg Witt, Executive Vice President of Youth Marketing at Motivate Youth, told Fortune, “The first and most prominent mistake I see brands make via their social media strategies is that they create an ingenious character to represent their image. Gen Z wants real. Gen Z wants transparency. Gen Z wants originality.”

Witt encourages brands to take cues from Levi’s. While Levi’s gained its reputation with Gen Z’s parents, it is not having a problem keeping up with the times. The brand is strategic about who it selects as brand ambassadors. Instead of looking for the most popular influencers or the ones with the greatest number of followers, Levi’s instead tries to find individuals who fit its brand DNA.

Another factor paving the way for increased importance on IRL interactions and new platforms? Privacy and anonymity.

Pivotals learned from an early age, thanks to rapid advancements in technology and the mistakes of Millennials, the importance of online privacy. As a result, they are acutely aware of what is and isn’t acceptable to share online. One of the first things they do when turning on their phone or logging into a social app is enable their privacy settings. They’re also very good at policing themselves online. They know embarrassing photos or rants can live forever online, potentially hurting their chances at that dream college down the road.

Aside from saving certain topics for face-to-face, Pivotals have also increased the popularity of more anonymous and temporary platforms, such as Snapchat and Whisper. They are also flocking toward “dark social,” or as you might know of it, messaging apps. Didn’t you ever wonder why the Facebooks and Instagrams of the world started placing big bets on these apps?

While both Snapchat and Whisper offer advertising opportunities, connecting with Gen Z through incognito apps is tricky and will continue to be a learning process for marketers. The key for brands, however, is to appeal to users, who want to feel like people rather than marketing targets, in a way that doesn’t appear as an intrusion or “selling.” Only time will tell the winners (and losers) of this endeavor.

Want more on Gen Z? Stay tuned for Jeff Fromm & Angie Read’s new book, Marketing to Gen Z, coming Spring 2018. Pre-order here!

About Jeff Fromm

Although not a Millennial as defined by his age, Jeff Fromm is the Millennial Marketing Guy. Jeff is President of FutureCast, a marketing consultancy that specializes in Millennial trends, and is a contributing writer at...See Jeff's full bio.