Mar 17, 2022
The Inside Scoop: What Gen Z consumers want to see from your brand’s social media

The Inside Scoop: What Gen Z consumers want to see from your brand’s social media

Anna Kloehn
Anna Kloehn
Marketing & Digital Studies, UW-Madison
Anna Kloehn
Marketing & Digital Studies, UW-Madison

Now more than ever, consumers are looking for authenticity and transparency from brands and influencers. But just how is Gen Z’s trust gained and maintained? Hear from them directly in this roundup of our live panel in collaboration with Home From College.

We recently sat down with a panel of five students to gain insight to what Gen Z is looking out for from branded social media. Do they prefer TikTok or YouTube? Is long-form content losing its edge? How can you tell if an influencer is really being authentic during a brand deal? Our panelists shared their honest truths in response to these burning questions, and much more! 

Now more than ever, consumers are looking for authenticity and transparency from brands and influencers. But just how is Gen Z’s trust gained and maintained? Whether you happened across this article by chance or have been looking for the secret sauce to spice up your brand’s social media pages, we have the insights straight from college-aged consumers hailing from the US and Canada.

Gen Z’s Post-Pandemic Expectations

In the past few years, how we view the world has changed immensely. And when it comes to consumer expectations, Gen Z wants to see the real you. Authenticity, diversity, behind-the-scenes content, and transparency on business practices are just a few qualities that make for a highly trusted brand.

Wanting to hear founder stories and journeys was one common thread we heard from the panelists. When consumers can connect with a brand’s founder, it makes them trust the brand and its products or services even more. The same goes when it comes to diversity. The students we talked to said that it’s clear when a company truly values diversity as opposed to just mentioning it in a job posting. Having a team that represents the world around us is important, and consumers would much rather see that over hegemonic teams. Additionally, our panelists mentioned that with heightened awareness on climate change, transparency on a brand’s actions to combat this global issue is extremely important to the continuation of their support. 

Overall, trust is a huge theme in what consumers are looking for. Trusting in a brand, yes, but also in the influencers that work alongside these brands to promote products to their followers. 

What makes an influencer “trustworthy”?

Influencers who share their honest thoughts about a product– even if it means giving a negative review– are respected and appreciated by consumers. Our panelists want to know that the influencers they support are giving their true opinions as opposed to making a quick buck. Victoria Paris, a TikTok creator and self-branded as “The only living girl in NYC,” is a great example of this. Her blunt product reviews and honest thoughts on major brands scream trustworthy, and are part of the reason she has over 1 million followers on TikTok.

Gen Z also wants to share the same values and beliefs as the influencers they follow. Having the same outlook on sustainability, politics, or fashion are great connectors that build trust within these online relationships. Those who have a passion for thrifting might follow a creator like Laini Ozark, who frequently shows off amazing second-hand finds. People who strive to stay informed on the latest in politics and also have an eye for fashion may like Amelie Zilber’s content, which contains a mix of designer clothing and global political rundowns. 

Influencers who disclose their brand partnerships and PR packages have also been deemed more trustworthy by our Gen Z panelists. When a creator makes sure to tell their followers that they truly like, use, and recommend a product or service, it is reassuring to viewers. Similarly, sharing that they have personally bought a product from a brand themselves or continuing to shout-out a product after their partnership has ended is a great way to build and keep an audience’s trust. 

Is Gen Z more likely to engage with brands or influencers?

Our panelists all agreed that they are more likely to buy a product that is promoted by an influencer than directly from a brand itself. Simply put– it’s just more trustworthy! One Gen Z source said:

 “Being a business student and having taken marketing classes in high school and in college, I'm very hesitant to purchase things based on a brand's marketing. There are specific influencers that I trust who share the same values, same sense of style and things like that. So if they were to be wearing an item, then I'm more likely to buy it versus being influenced by a brand.”

Influencers who are great at what they do come off as a friend recommending something they just know you’ll love. Several panelists said they like the idea of someone else testing out a product before making the commitment to buy it themselves. They want someone who “wouldn’t be sharing this brand unless I seriously believed in it!”

Creators who have cracked the code

With so much content available these days and algorithms that seem to know exactly what we want to watch (even if we haven’t quite figured that out ourselves), it can be hard to pick a favorite creator. Our panelists narrowed down endless options to the following creators:

  • Shelbi Storme, @shelbizlee, shares fun and educational sustainability content.
  • Trace Alexander, @tracesoats, shares quick and easy oatmeal recipes that are innovative and perfect for his college audience.
  • Victoria Hammett, @victoriahammett, breaks down political information into bite-sized pieces for her audience to understand.
  • Robyn DelMonte, @girlbosstown, shares PR and marketing moves as if she were on a celebrity or brand’s team.
  • Meg Gallagher, @meg_squats, creates helpful fitness videos and provides her viewers with nutritional information and scientific processes of weight loss and muscle building. 

Social platform rundown: what kind of content should live where?

Throughout our insight panel, we covered several content areas, including fashion, cooking, politics, and wellness. Depending on the brand’s intentions with their social media content, a different platform will lead to the desired results. Here’s what our Gen Z panelists had to say regarding their go-to platform to find each type of content:

Educational Content

Content creators and news outlets alike are taking to TikTok to share breakdowns on everything from politics to pop-culture and entertainment. The Washington Post’s TikTok account has weekly breakdowns keeping viewers up to date in a quick and easy-to-consume manner. Another app Gen Z uses for such updates is Snapchat. Tap-through stories on Snapchat from magazines and publications are a fast way for consumers to stay up-to-date in between sending selfies to friends.

Cooking Tutorials

When it comes to college students, most everyone is looking for quick and easy recipes. The top two content platforms mentioned were YouTube and TikTok- both for different scenarios. Our panelists described TikTok as the go-to for something new to try or fun variations to common meals like pasta or salads. On the other hand, YouTube, typically home to longer-form content, is where Gen Z goes to watch more in-depth cooking and baking tutorials. 

Lifestyle & Wellness Content

Several of the Gen Z-ers we chatted with mentioned having go-to YouTube channels that they are long-term subscribers to. Lifestyle vlogs were the sort of content that these panelists routinely watch. From weekly vlogs to fashion hauls to what-I-eat-in-a-day videos, this longer-form, lifestyle-based content typically lived on YouTube. TikTok is also a huge player in the lifestyle and wellness content space, as all of the above can be transformed into short-form videos. And with consumers’ love for quick, easily-consumable content, creating short and engaging videos raving over the hottest wellness product or aesthetic morning routines are a great way to rake in the engagement.

All in all, Gen Z’s favorite brands are transparent, honest, and friendly, just like the best influencers. TL;DR, let the brand shine through on your social platforms, and the right consumers will engage! After all, social media is meant to connect us– connecting with brands and influencers alike is the new normal.

Enjoyed this article? We'd recommend Hailey Friedman's guide on how to be your own growth marketer.

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