This article is based on excerpts from the book ‘Hello Gen Z’ by Claire Madden.
Over 100 members of Generation Z (that is, those born 1995-2009) shared their thoughts on what impacts technology have in their day-to-day lives, and unsurprisingly, social media is a big part of the picture. Analysis of the research data highlighted 10 primary reasons why Gen Z use social media, and in this article we’ll walk you through the first 5 – click here for part 2!
Stay constantly connected
“I use social media all the time… to talk to my friends, to see what is going on in the world…” Nathan, b.2000
24/7. Feeling like they are constantly connected and able to continually communicate is a core driver for why Gen Zs are on social media. The ease by which they can stay in touch with their broad network means they can maintain a breadth of connection with their peers, regardless of geographic proximity.
For Gen Z, the frequency of communication over digital platforms plays a key role in building friendships and forming friendship groups. In the past, conversation or social interaction would largely cease when physically separated. Being in the same location is no longer a prerequisite for socialising. Gen Zs use social media platforms to connect with multiple people at once, investing in relationships even when apart.
Continue the conversation online offline
“I use it because it does keep me connected with my friends. To everyone else, it’s just as valid as a face to face conversation.” Jodie, b.1997
The desire for Gen Zs to stay connected constantly has shaped the way they choose to communicate. For Gen Z, communication is fluid and continual, with online communication seamlessly flowing on from any face to face interaction and vice versa – there is no real barrier or demarcation between online and offline. Social media is now so integrated into everyday life that it is no longer considered separate from other forms of interaction, and many find it easier to communicate online with their peers and social network than they do face to face.
Track the trends
“Social media is actually really good for the current news – it’s the fastest information out there – you know what’s trending. Have you heard about this? You go somewhere proper like the Herald and find out it’s actually the truth. With social media you’re up with the latest.” Lucas, b.2001
New content is constantly being generated and shared across social media platforms, and many young people find genuine enjoyment in following trends that relate to their particular interests – in much the same way that previous generations might have visited a particular display show or simply borrowed newly released books on a topic from the library.
This need to constantly track the latest trends can create a social pressure for Gen Zs who can feel like they are excluded or on the outer if they haven’t kept up. Since social media guides so much of what is considered current and socially relevant, without regular access to it, a Gen Z can feel out of the social loop.
“I rarely post on social media such as Instagram however I am almost constantly looking to see if anyone such as my friends or celebrities have posted anything, watch videos and browse through photos.” Alex*, b.2002
The public display of people’s lives through social media platforms has created a dynamic not only with those who actively post content, but with the far reaching audience who consume it. The audience, behind the barrier of a screen, are not required to respond in a way that would be appropriate and expected in a face to face scenario.
The over-exposure to people’s lives has had an impact on this generation, with research identifying a decline in empathy amongst this screen-dependent generation[i]. Some Gen Zs expressed a growing desensitisation to real life events, as social media users are bombarded with updates from relationship breakups, to political opinions, to deep personal sharing interspersed with highly superficial comments, requests for advice, bursts of humour, entertaining memes and news articles about unfolding current affairs.
[i] Sigman (2012). “The impact of screen media on children,” 88-121.
Affirmation and identity
“That’s probably a big difference if you compare generations… The fact that you can comment on people’s photos and like it, heart it or react to it – you can do all these different emojis now and immediately – it’s instant – a minute later you know if someone has liked it. You look at teenagers now – even when I was a teenager, my wellbeing was very much based off what other people thought of me.” Lillian*, b.1996
Having their identity tied into their activity on social media drives Gen Zs to continue their engagement with the various platforms, particularly during their formative years where the hunger for social acceptance is a major driving force in their lives.
Developmental tasks of adolescence involves the process of finding acceptance, belonging and identity, however Gen Z are navigating this life stage in a time of unprecedented complexity, and seeking feedback and affirmation from an unmediated audience. The increased exposure Gen Z has to unfiltered content, along with the pressure to present a certain online image during these formative years creates a challenging context.
Here’s part 2 for more of the top 10 reasons Generation Z uses social media.
To understand Generation Z better and help to unlock the potential of these Post-Millennials, take a look at the new book by Claire Madden, Hello Gen Z.