Generation Z has been dominating the conversation when it comes to the importance of knowing your audience, regardless of the industry you are in.
Generation Z (aka Gen Z, iGen, or centennials) refers to the generation born between 1997 and 2012, following Millennials. A generation raised using the Internet and social media, it is often stereotyped as tech-addicted, “social warriors,” or “anti-social.” However, Gen Z is also known for a number of more interesting characteristics:
- They expect brands to be inclusive and diverse in terms of branding and employees.
- They are the most skeptical generation regarding an expectation that brands will keep their data safe. At the same time, they are the least concerned about brands’ data privacy practices.
- They are typically more accepting and open-minded than any previous generation.
How can you translate these characteristics into the news and media industry?
Let’s do a deep dive into the Gen Z characteristics defining their behaviour in news and media, while also identifying how you can approach them to create a relevant and memorable user experience powered by personalisation techniques.
News consumption: online and from a variety of sources
Gen Z consumers are leading the latest shift in news consumption. Mobile devices, news alerts, and push notifications — along with social media feeds full of short-form videos — are the leading channels they use to keep in touch with current events.
To put their online behaviour into context, the average Gen Zer got their first smartphone just before their 12th birthday. They communicate primarily through social media and texts, and spend as much time on their phones as older generations do watching television.
To go one level deeper, the most recent Deloitte Insights Report explained how Gen Z can be split into two further cohorts: teens (ages 14-19) and adults (ages 20-25). Teens consume more news than Gen Z adults with almost 78% getting news or current events daily from at least one source, compared with 69% of Gen Z adults and 84% of consumers across all generations. Gen Z teens favour social and digital news formats, and 50% of this group say they get news daily from social media feeds or messaging services (like WhatsApp or Telegram), while 40% follow the news daily from search engines (e.g. TikTok search bar).
These platforms all have one thing in common: They allow Gen Z to interact with content that is immediate, engaging, and within the apps they are already using compared to the traditional news formats.
Let’s zoom in further on TikTok.
Among its trending videos and sounds, the social media platform is also known for its search capabilities. TikTok’s rise as a discovery tool is part of a broader transformation in digital search being driven by Gen Z.
While Google remains the world’s dominant search engine, TikTok is edging into its domain, along with other social platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram. As social networks continue to evolve and shape our digital landscape, the ways to find information within them are also expanding.
What is clear is that this era of news consumption is just the beginning, and newsrooms need to start adapting their content strategies if they want to reach the younger generation.
How to approach Gen Z in newsrooms
Understanding their behaviours is not the only element to consider when it comes to approaching Gen Z. Digital publishers also need to know what they care the most about.
Beyond the breaking news or current events, they are mainly concerned about a range of pressing societal issues, including climate change, unemployment, and health care.
Understanding that Gen Z tends to consume news from social media over traditional formats comes with its own set of challenges that need to be considered. Beyond news brands creating their own content on these channels, there is also an increasing amount of user-generated content that has influencers reporting on the news in their own way.
In combination with algorithms that are trained to show content based on user interactions, this might result in creating filter bubbles. Combine this with the rise of fake news, and how quickly something can go viral, there is a recipe for misinformation to spread like wildfire, especially on these platforms.
As a digital publisher, how should you take all of these different factors into account when crafting your content strategy for Gen Z? Let’s take a look at some aspects to consider:
Understand the audience
As we mentioned previously, Gen Z has a number of characteristics that differ from other generations, but they are leading the way in how the news will be consumed in the future. Making an exhaustive analysis of your audience to understand the specific demographics across channels will be a great starting point.
Choose the right channels
Once you know who your audience is, you can then review the channels where you are already active and where you might want to start becoming active. Being present in some capacity on channels like TikTok or Instagram is a great place to start in order to increase your brand awareness. Diversifying your content topics and formats will offer options to your team to test what works and what does not for these specific channels.
Develop relevant content
The next step is content personalisation. We already know that social media platforms have their own algorithms. However, if your content is interesting and the user ends up on your Web site or application, then continuing a personalised journey is key.
For this, we recommend implementing a recommender system that automatically selects the best articles for the right audience. This will allow your audience to read or view the articles they are most interested in.
Personalisation also helps you boost your content library and shows a diversity of articles, which can help reduce the chances of a filter bubble happening across channels.
The format of the content is also important to keep in mind. User-generated content is popular, particularly because it gives a sense that real people — people readers can connect with — deliver the information. Having a mixture of people with text or video footage can keep your content interesting. A great example of this is the TikTok account for the Washington Post, which uses the same faces to deliver the news at the same time in a relevant way.
Remember different goals
Something to keep in mind when speaking to this audience is that Gen Z has different purchasing goals than other generations when they land in your newsroom.
One of their main characteristics as a young generation is their awareness of subscriptions and a tendency to not see the value in subscribing right away. When approaching Gen Z, it is important to build strong brand awareness, so that when the time comes to make a news subscription decision, your brand will come to mind.
It’s clear Gen Z will change the current online landscape and how news and media are consumed. New social media platforms like TikTok are also part of this evolution, which has made its search engine very user-friendly while also forcing brands to rethink how they deliver the news to provide immediate satisfaction to the end user — in this case, the cohort of Gen Z.
But there’s no need to panic. Digital publishers can also join the game by rethinking their content strategy and providing similarly personalised experiences on social media platforms. By selecting the right channels to show the most relevant content in the right format, your content strategy will be trending with Gen Z in no time.
Learn more about recommender systems and TikTok recommendations in our podcast episode with TorStar.