Strategies & Tactics

Social Strategy: Telling Stories That Matter for an Increasingly Influential Generation

April 1, 2019

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[anibal ortiz]

Marketing and communication professionals from various industries agree that Generation Z — born between 1995 and 2012 — has already impacted storytelling across platforms and markets.

Gen Z has never known a world without the internet or smartphones, so they’re sometimes called “iGen.” (See, for example, Jean M. Twenge’s book “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”)

Thanks to the social-media sharing habits of their Gen X and millennial parents, most Gen Zers have had social-media footprints since conception and learned to swipe before taking their first steps. Although the youngest in the age group won’t be eligible to vote until 2030, the oldest have already graduated from college. Starting next year, Gen Z will make up 40 percent of consumers.

Professional communicators in every field should pay attention to this influential generation. In their book “Marketing to Gen Z,” authors Jeff Fromm and Angie Read write “Brands that work to understand and follow their rules will reap the rewards, and those that don’t will quickly be ignored. And that’s a best-case scenario.” 
 

Based on my experience of working in higher education — and the successes and setbacks that have come with it — I recommend the following tips for reaching this important constituency.

Keep it short and simple.

If your messages don’t engage iGeners within the first three seconds, you’re wasting their time — and yours. Their generation is inundated with more content than any in the history of humankind. For your message to stand out, make it mobile-friendly with strong visuals. Stick to the mantra “Less is more.” 

Make it ‘Snappable.’

Gen Zers spend most of their screen time on YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, following friends and influencers, not brands. As Fromm and Read point out, these young people have transformed the old adage “No news is good news” into “Pics or it didn’t happen.”

Rather than buy name-brand clothing, they prefer to spend money on experiences they can share with their friends on Snapchat or Instagram — images that elevate their social status. Their brand loyalty comes down to “Brand Me.” Regardless of the product or service we offer, we need to provide “Snappable” moments that enhance the lives of Gen Zers and help them connect with their peers — and with our brands.

Talk with, not at.

The broadcast-media world that baby boomers and Gen Xers grew up with — wherein the consumer just consumed — is declining fast. Today, brands can no longer just announce what they offer on TV, radio, in print or on any other platform, including social media.

Generation Z has shifted the dynamic from monologue to dialogue. Thanks to social media, they regularly interact with influencers, celebrities, politicians, TV shows, etc. They expect brands to listen, respond and have real conversations — not to sell, but to engage.

Tell heartfelt stories.

This generation has witnessed tragedy. Most were born into the post-9/11 world. Many saw their families struggle through the Great Recession. Active shooters are on their radar. And in the last decade, as social media and smartphones have ascended, instances of cyber-bullying, isolation, anxiety, depression and suicide among teenagers have skyrocketed.

As a result, iGeners mistrust stories that pretend everything is or will be perfect. They know your brand can’t solve their problems, and pretending that it will only insults them. They want heartfelt stories of real challenges.

As professional communicators, embracing life’s messiness will not only help us better engage Gen Z; it gives us permission to be more honest with one another and ourselves.

Flip the ‘profit over people’ narrative.

Diversity and inclusivity with race, gender and sexuality are must-haves for iGeners. Climate change will likely be the defining crisis of their generation.

As a result, they expect brands to flip the “profit over people” formula to prioritize people over the bottom line, to care for the planet and use their corporate privilege and platforms for the greater social good. Many Gen Zers will dismiss brands that don’t.

Check your analytics — and adjust accordingly.

We talk about data driving our practices — as it must — but how often do day-to-day tasks distract us and render analytics an afterthought? Last year, I learned this lesson the hard way. My team had created a video that featured Gen Zers telling authentic stories about their lives, without a hard sell in sight. We were getting lots of views and feeling great about ourselves.

Unfortunately, I got so caught up executing the campaign’s other tactics that I didn’t check the analytics until months later. When I did, I found that while thousands had seen the video, the average viewing time was only half the length of the video itself. We dropped the ball by making a four-minute video and — while it’s impressive that people watched for two minutes — had I realized earlier, we would have edited it down. This would have ensured more completed views and boosted our engagement on YouTube.

In response to these analytics, we now aim to make our videos 30–60-seconds long, or two minutes for long-form clips. It’s a challenge to pack in everything we want to say, but clearing away the clutter makes for more meaningful stories. Which is exactly what Gen Zers want to hear.

Stephanie Abraham, M.A

Stephanie Abraham, M.A., is a Gen Xer who spent a dozen years earning degrees from UCLA, Cal State LA and USC. She’s currently the marcom specialist in strategic communications at Cal Poly Pomona. Connect with her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/stephanie-abraham.

Comments

Hasmik Simon says:

Great information, thank you!

April 2, 2019

Josephine C Kuehn says:

So true! Let's cut to the chase and deliver our message! Thank you, Stephanie!

April 3, 2019

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