Understanding your Gen Z audience

Gen Z media consumption trends stray from their predecessors, Millennials. What can news publishers learn to help them adapt to the younger audience?

By Sahar Amer | July 26, 2019

Research from Atlantic Re:think, together with Comscore, and Harvard College Consulting Group, studied the behaviours of Gen Z in comparison to Millennials, and found that interests between the two groups differ. This year’s most populous generation will no longer be Millennials, with Gen Z surging ahead making up roughly 32% of global population. As a result, organizations and companies need to understand what this younger audience likes and how to grasp their attention.

Top findings:

  1. 48% prefer older media brands
  2. 82% think social responsibility is an important characteristic  
  3. 61% more likely to engage from a diverse range of spokespeople
  4. 67% use video to interact with news media brands

In-depth, meaningful content

Some of the more Gen Z oriented news sources are pretty patronizing… in a way that presumes that people who are young are also stupid.”

— Atlantic Re:think, Gen Z Doesn’t Love You…Yet

The Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Washington Post are a bigger hit with the Gen Z audience over newer ones like Cheddar, Buzzfeed and The Outline that Millennials favour. It is suggested that this is due to Gen Z preferring more ‘sophisticated’ news reporting, which older publicists offer, rather than newer media groups which tend to sound ‘patronizing to their younger audience’. The news Gen Z likes to read tends to be more in-depth and less along the lines of clickbait content – which may be a symptom of newer media publishers. 

Brands with more social responsibility

Gen Z are looking for brands with social responsibility at the heart of its conscience. Even though environmental and societal issues are a priority for Millennials, Gen Z hold these responsibilities much higher. After quality and price, the top characteristics of favourite brands are:

  • Experience
  • Responsibility
  • Personalization
  • Personality
  • Eco-conscious
  • Innovation

They feel connected to important causes and have a strong sense of identity, inclusivity and value. Examples such as the student-led climate strikes around the world that took place on March 15th 2019, or the teenagers that organized the political campaign for the victims of the Parkland shooting, attest this generations heightened sense of social conscience. 

A report by Newswhip, Gen Z content trends for 2019, saw that Teen Vogue’s top articles for engagement on Facebook were topics that included ASL (American Sign Language), gun reform, race and gender politics. Teen Vogue have seriously overhauled their editorial in recent years to reflect these diverging interests. The significance of this change— considering they’re a fashion and celebrity magazine– speaks to the changing priorities of this age group, and importantly, the kind of journalism they care about.

Data from NewsWhip Analytics from Jan 1 – Nov 12, 2018

Diversity and inclusivity matter

Advertising should be a reflection of the world, not a mirror image of your target.”

— Atlantic Re:think, Gen Z Doesn’t Love You…Yet

Unlike Millennials, Gen Z are less likely to be brand-loyal and are more likely to buy brands that include diverse spokespeople. They want to see a variety of age, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds rather than people who look like them, compared to 66% of Millennials of who prefer spokespeople to be their age. 

Gen Z are the most ethnically diverse and socially tolerant group compared to other generations, which means they are more willing to pay money to companies and organizations that reflect their values. HuffPost is a publication favoured by this age group, thanks to their commitment to actively pursuing diversity and inclusivity in their newsroom and content. Their Communities section covers news for and by queer voices, women, black, Asian, and Latino voices with over 1 million followers on Facebook

Going the extra mile, HuffPost UK are also rolling out The HuffPost School of Journalism at Birmingham City University in September 2019. By offering students real-life experiences of what it’s like to work in a newsroom, HuffPost’s directors are challenging the gap between diversity, inclusivity and academia to requirements of working in a newsroom. Not only is this scheme enabling young people build up confidence and knowledge of the news industry but it’s encouraging the voices of younger generations to be heard and included in stories that matter to them. 

“To be able to work with young students in this way is a resource that many journalists would kill for. I am so excited to hear about what kind of journalism they are interested in and which stories they want to read and watch.”

— Jess Brammar, Executive Editor, HuffPost UK

Social video content

According to the Wibbitz report, How to Reach Audiences with Social Video: From Millennials to Generation Z, Gen Z mostly watch video on Youtube and Instagram, compared to Millennials preference for Facebook. They also spend more time watching video online averaging 3.4 hours per day, rather than reading articles amounting to only 2 hours per day.

Data from Wibbitz report How to Reach Audiences with Social Video: From Millennials to Generation Z, Nov 2018

News media publishers have already been experimenting with video for social media, but they are also investing resource in making their content engaging for younger audiences. Al Jazeera’s AJ+ is a good example, the channel produces current affairs video explainer content adapted to all of the main social media platforms. Alongside creating relevant, in-depth content, AJ+ applies user-centred designs like bold text and subtle graphics to engage their audiences (over 680,000 subscribers on Youtube and over 257,000 on Instagram). 

Many news channels are simply trying to reversion their TV footage for the Internet, or using social networks as a means to drive audience off of social networks and on to their websites, but we see the value in meeting our audiences where they already are and keeping them there.”

— Alan Saura, Audience Development Strategist AJ+

Podcasts are also a rising hit with Gen Z, research from Ofcom shows that half of the podcast market in the UK is aged 35 and under, and in the US Gen Z are consuming 18 hours of podcast listening per week. The Los Angeles Times found that younger audiences are more likely to listen to podcasts that:

  • Have been recommended by friends
  • Shared on social media
  • Relate to them/identity 

Getting ready for 5G

With 5G well on the way to changing the media industry, publishers need to consider how faster browsing speeds and the use of AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) will affect how their audiences engage with content. According to a Cognizant report on How Gen Z in Shaping the Future of Media and Entertainment, 60% of Gen Z participants said they would actively use VR to watch video and online games, compared to 51% of Millenials who would use it to watch movies and live events. 

The BBC have already been experimenting with AR and VR with a smartphone application that uses ‘remote rendering’. The Roman Baths trial provides the user with a real-time historical view of a place through their mobile device. Feedback from the trial saw that users want more personalisation when it comes to considering the level of their knowledge, which should vary between older and younger audiences.