With buying power between $100-200 billion, the younger generation known as Zoomers or Gen Z is not a market share to be ignored. They are digital nomads and digital natives raised in the fast-paced misinformation age, which has made them selective and skeptical about their brand choices for media and news consumption. Quick to drop brands or subscription offerings that don’t offer the content and experiences they want, Gen Z presents a challenge to publishers trying to attract their attention.
A Gen Z brand engagement study conducted by IBM and the National Retail Federation confirmed this generational trend, saying “The fluidity and speed with which GenZ cycles through media platforms and apps potentially make them more challenging to target. Technology has made Gen Zers into brand enthusiasts, but not all display the same level of enthusiasm. They are less likely than other generations to be brand loyal as traditionally defined.” So what does it take to get young people’s interest in a news media brand? Here’s what you need to know about Gen Z news consumption.
Know where to find them: agility and attention attract Gen Z
Born between the mid-1990s and up to 2015, Gen Z was raised on the internet and has spent most of their lives with social media and smart mobile technology. Unlike older generations who have had to learn along the way, migrating to new digital spaces or new tech formats is natural to them–and they expect the brands they follow to be capable of the same.
For publishers, this means having strong attention on where Gen Z moves, as well as maintaining the brand agility to shift with them. This generation is mobile, visual, and social; here are their trends:
- Gen Z was the largest generational group on Twitter in 2018, but by 2019, Gen Z had migrated primarily to Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram for news–first thing in the morning on their mobile smartphones. (Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in 2019 )
That research from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in 2019 also reported that while most younger people have a digital ‘anchor brand’ as their go-to source for major stories, overall “…news brands [were playing] a very small role in young people’s lives…Young people have a very low threshold for apps that don’t provide a great experience, while they value services that are relevant and useful at all times. No news app was within the top 25 apps used by all the respondents in the study, whereas Instagram was the application found on almost all phones with the highest use in terms of daily minutes used.”
- Since 2018, Instagram’s popularity as a news source for young people has doubled, and it may pass Twitter as the favorite source in 2021. (The Washington Post)
- Gen Z communicates in image-based content 150% more than text-based content, correlating their attraction to apps like Instagram and Snapchat. (Social Media Today)
- Video-first platforms like TikTok are rapidly becoming top news sources for young folks: “Gen Z is far more likely to keep up with news via video (57%) over text (43%). (YPulse)
Diversity of tactics and high quality tech draw younger subscribers
For publishers trying to attract and retain subscribers from a range of generations, these unique preferences create a complex dynamic. Two years ago, The Reuters Institute forecast that publishers will have to“[work] to identify ways to reach and monetize audiences on third-party platforms,” but now publishers will also have to work to identify ways to reach a highly migratory, visual generation with less traditional concepts of brand loyalty.
With changing data privacy laws, the relationships between third-party platforms, advertisers, publishers, and readers of all ages are already shifting. First-party data from reader subscriptions is becoming increasingly important for monetization, yet visual content seems to be a stronger motivator for Gen Z than written content. Some of this may have to do with poor tech experiences on branded apps, which may change organically with an evolving legal landscape.
The need for better digital experiences that funnel readers towards first-party data generating subscriptions and advertising value has already led some publishers like The Washington Post to create their own innovative technology to harmonize some of these tech and legal issues. This shows promise for a generation expecting high-quality mobile experiences from the jump and who will still engage text content when presented in digestible formats.
Beyond creating higher quality tech experiences that still meet monetization goals, publisher brands can also utilize more visual content throughout written pieces they already produce. This creates the potential for more agile branded content that can elevate publishers in a range of mobile social media spaces where Gen Z can be found.
The Reuters Institute encouraged a greater diversity of tactics that still holds true today: “…[Gen Z does] not want traditional media to go away, dumb down, or radically change their style just to appeal to them…On the other hand, they also expressed strong interest in news formats that were more visual and easier to consume than an 800-word article…Video is not the way to engage young people, rather it is one of many formats that can engage.”
Be real: brand authenticity and Gen Z
Beyond understanding where and how Gen Z moves within social platforms to access mobile news content, it’s also key to know why they engage. It’s not only about visual presentation. When they do engage with brands, authenticity is one of Gen Z’s highest values, and that expectation holds true for their news consumption too. For Gen Z, being real is about much more than staying on message: it’s about cultivating an authentic relationship with them as a diverse audience and with the causes they care about.
In the previously mentioned IBM and National Retail Federation brand engagement study, Gen Z was described as being ‘practical and skeptical’: “Their focus is on quality and authenticity—not on marketing hype. After all, Gen Zers are growing up at a time when “alternative facts” has become a newsworthy phrase, and their familiarity with technology means they are not easily fooled. One size does not fit all. On the surface, Gen Z is one connected community with similar habits, but technology has provided a vehicle for Gen Zers to interact with brands on their own terms.”
Gen Z expects individuality at the core of their digital experiences with a brand, which only adds to the case that publishers must leverage AI segmentation tools and other high-quality technology to drive customized subscriptions offerings. But Gen Z also expects brands to match their personal values. For some, this is a hunger for “news which helps with self-development whilst providing a source of entertainment,” according to independent publishing company Journalism.co.uk. For most, it is a requirement for expressed and honest commitments to corporate social responsibility.
Millennials first set this expectation of brands, according to Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication: “…Millennials grew up with the Internet and want their voices heard. They expect a two-way, open dialogue with companies and their brands…Brands can bring their CSR efforts to life through authentic storytelling…[and businesses] that under-appreciate the need for CSR do so at their peril.”
This presents an opportunity for publishers to search their own brand stories and how their values show up: Are their values evident in journalistic choices or in the ways they make content more accessible? How can their brand better align with the values they espouse? Do hiring practices match stated values?
Hiring younger writers is one other way publishers can ensure their content connects more authentically with Gen Z values. Nieman Lab suggests that Gen Z readers want more than performative brand authenticity: “[Gen Z] are the ones who are leading the reckoning for inclusive newsrooms and are often the new union shop leaders. They, along with their allies, are demanding better, more representative leadership that truly understands digital and audience — not the kind of leaders who just spout buzzwords but have never practiced the concepts.” Who better to cover issues they care about with the values they hold than young people themselves?
Understanding your audience: tools for success
Balancing the needs of divergent audiences requires publishers to think broadly–from how to diversify their presence on different platforms to assessing brand authenticity, to updating technological tools. Amplio is one such tool that can help publishers enact these ideas and connect with Gen Z readers more effectively: it’s clear that the most agile, responsive publishers who can shift their tactics and tools for better audience modeling will be the most successful at drawing subscribers of all ages.