How Generation Z uses social media

Born between 1997 and 2012, Generation Z (Gen Z) is the first generation to have grown up using the internet, social media and smartphones as part of their everyday lives.

And as the largest generation in history, Gen Z is fast becoming a powerful force in the global economy.

But when it comes to marketing for this generation, especially at the local level, the old rules of digital-first marketing that worked for millennials increasingly no longer apply.

Generation Z often has very different attitudes towards consumption, shaped by the reality of constantly growing up online and growing up remotely amid a global pandemic.

To make progress at Gen Z, it’s time to break the mold.

As marketers, we need to understand what drives them and rethink our approach to reaching them where they spend most of their time online: social media.

Who is Gen Z?

Gen Z is unique among today’s generations – not only because of the social structure they grew up in, but also because of their spending habits, which differ from other generations.

They have a combined disposable income of about $360 billion, according to a 2021 Bloomberg report.

They save more, frugally and resolutely don’t buy from companies that don’t reflect their values.

Additionally, according to Credit Karma, nearly a third of American Generation Z ages 18-25 live at home with their parents or other relatives, which means less money on rent, groceries, and utilities.

Social media is embedded into the fabric of their lives.

A 2022 Morning Consult survey found that 54% of Gen Z say they spend at least four hours a day on social media, and 38% spend even more time. Her most used social platforms are YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Additionally, data from Statista for 2022 suggests that nearly 80% of Generation Zers and Millennials bought something they saw on social media.

When it comes to shopping online versus in store, things are more of a contradiction in terms. Gen Z is used to the convenience of online shopping, but also appreciates real-world experiences and easy same-day pickup.

A 2023 Deloitte study also found a 50/50 split between Gen Z and Millennials, who see online interactions as meaningful substitutes for in-person experiences, and those who prefer the real.

All of this suggests that an omnichannel approach to customer experience is best for Gen Z, but it still represents an interesting conundrum for marketers.

We know where Generation Zers spend their time and how to reach them, but what does it take to authentically connect with them? And what drives them to log off and shop in person?

Here are five social media practices to consider.

Partner with YouTubers

The concept of the traditional “influencer”—who closes sponsorship deals, embarks on branded trips, and sells a sophisticated lifestyle to his followers through the purchase of products—dominated the 2010s.

But for Gen Z, that heyday appears to be behind us. The better they know when and how to sell, the more important the creator economy becomes.

In this new paradigm, authenticity and originality are becoming more important than sophistication.

The prime example that comes to mind is TikTok inventor Alix Earle. Earle rose to meteoric fame in just a few months and has surpassed 5 million followers today.

She has all the hallmarks of a traditional influencer — travel, high-end products, and a sophisticated lifestyle — but her unpolished and personable tone is arguably why she’s garnered a huge audience and what surrounds her as her lifestyle becomes less and less attainable appears.

When she recommends a product to an audience, it feels organic, like a friend’s recommendation.

As a Gen Z brand, it can be very effective to encourage, engage with and platform this type of user-generated content (UGC) – where your product may not be the star of a scripted video, but a detail in a larger story.

Give personality to the brand online

In addition to outsourcing content to creators with their own audiences, we’re also seeing the emergence of brands becoming influencers in their own right.

Some do this by hiring a well-known YouTuber to represent their brand’s social presence. For example, Kyle Prue, a TikTok creator with over 1.1 million followers, is collectively known for personal finance brand Fizz.

Stylistically, Fizz’s content is virtually indistinguishable from his personal content – aside from the fact that it’s about personal finances.

Others hire a character or employee to become the face of the brand online. Popular language learning app Duolingo has over 6.5 million TikTok followers who create videos featuring their mascot, the Duolingo owl (and most of those videos have nothing to do with learning a language).

Another example with a different twist is bag brand Baboon to the Moon, which uses some of its Gen-Z team members to create content that’s often product-emphasizing, but comes across as snappy and offbeat — a tone that resonates well with the audience Generation Z

Focus on engagement instead of follower count

Generation Z is far less brand-loyal than its predecessors.

Content is often served to you from main social media pages such as TikTok’s For You page, Instagram’s Discover tab, and YouTube’s Featured page.

Looking at the engagement and visibility of individual posts can be a better indicator of success than the number of followers by profile.

From a Local Experience (LX) perspective, this also means that profiling local businesses can be useful to build a more personal connection with those locations.

Showing the location, offers or events specific to that business and the people who work there could lead to more engagement.

For example, the TikTok profile of a Barnes and Noble location in Canton, Connecticut has 16,000 followers and nearly 682,000 likes for its posts.

Democratizing content creation like this can be a great way to generate more engagement overall, especially at the community level, and encourage a sense of ownership in your employees.

Use trends to your advantage

Viral content is more accessible yet fleeting than ever.

Well-known brands that spend thousands of dollars on highly-produced social media content can end up getting mixed reach and engagement, while local library branches, museums, and businesses garner millions of views and engagements by jumping to the latest, hip CapCut -Set template (see: Pedro Pascal and Nicholas Cage.)

Keeping up with current trends and responding quickly on platforms like TikTok, Reels and YouTube Shorts can pay huge dividends when it comes to awareness and positive associations.

And it’s actually positive to keep it simple — unlike on a platform like Instagram, where feed posts are expected to be high quality and aesthetically pleasing.

Optimize your Google business profile

Let’s assume you manage to create the authentic connection and positive association needed to attract a Gen Z buyer.

Locally, their experience begins when they open a new tab on their computer or switch between apps on their photo to search for your brand — and there’s a big chance they’ll turn to Google for that.

In a 2022 study of consumers’ local search behavior (Disclosure: I work for Rio SEO), we found the following:

  • 47% of Gen Z say they use Google Search and Google Maps a lot to find information about businesses near them.
  • 65% of the most searched information on local business listings is the business address/directions – followed by reviews (56%), hours of operation (54%) and website (54%).
  • 68% of Gen Z perform online searches several times a day.
  • 65% of Gen Z want to travel 10 miles or less for a company’s products or services.

To convert your Gen Z leads from social media marketing to conversion, managing your LX and optimizing with your Google Business Profile (GBP) is crucial.

Your GBP should be mobile-friendly and up-to-date with correct store hours and addresses with GPS directions, as well as quick insight into in-store stock, payment options and other store highlights.


The key takeaway is this: Gen Z social media marketing requires a balance between adaptability of the medium and consistency of voice to attract an engaged audience.

By optimizing the online, social media and local experience, brands are able to convert this audience into customers.

The brands that prioritize both sides will be best placed to break through to this notoriously elusive generation.

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Featured image: Carlos Barquero/Shutterstock