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Is Gen Z About to Abandon Social Media?

Please indulge me for a moment by taking the time to count how many social media platforms you currently have an active account with. By my own count, I have active profiles on more than 10, and chances are, you are in that range, too.

We’ve been told that social media will become a ubiquitous aspect of our lives, and in many ways it has. Both Presidents Obama and Trump have used Twitter as a platform to engage with their constituents. Facebook and its Messenger app offer companies both a marketing platform and a customer service arena. Instagram is tailor-made for Influencers with millions of followers who wish to endorse brands. LinkedIn, Snapchat, Reddit… the list goes on.

As a Millennial, it’s easy to see why my generation was so quick to adopt these platforms. I was in college when Facebook first launched and spent my youth utilizing AOL Instant Messenger to talk with my friends. The platform seemed to grow with us, but when I began seeing my parents, aunts and uncles creating profiles on many of these platforms, I truly realized how important they were to society at large.

These thoughts are the reason I found a recent study so interesting: Generation Z, the cohort of Digital Natives who grew up always having Facebook in their lives, is abandoning social media in fairly large numbers. According to data from Hill Holiday’s research arm Origin, cited in Campaign, about 34% of the generation is permanently quitting social media. Additionally, 64% are taking a breaking from the platforms.

The data from the survey of more than 1,000 18 to 24-year-olds across the nation were somewhat perplexing. About 41% reported social media platforms made them anxious, sad or depressed, yet 77% argued having an account provided more benefits than drawbacks. Twenty-two percent argued the platforms make them feel like they are missing out, but 71% noted they have a positive impact on relationships. Twenty-nine percent reported social media hurts their self-esteem, while 61% argued it helps their egos.

“Firstly, most Gen Z’ers are more likely to turn down or temporarily pause some social media sites rather than abandoning them completely, so there’s no need to panic,” said Lesley Bielby, chief strategy officer at Hill Holiday. “But in the light of this, there is definitely a need to think differently about how brands can use social media. While most people in our study felt that the good outweighed the bad, they are more likely to turn down or turn off sites and content that feed their insecurities.”

Additionally, the study focused some on social media and brands. About 65% of respondents noted they follow brands on social media, with a majority citing deals or promotions as the primary driver for the action. However, only 43% of users have bought something directly through social, with Facebook and Instagram the most popular platforms for shopping.

What does this mean for food retailers? Social still provides a great opportunity to engage with customers, but Gen Z’s tolerance for broad marketing campaigns is lower than those that came before them. Highly-personalized content can be relevant with the demographic, as it respects their time and pushes a more positive brand experienced, according to Bielby. She further noted social platforms must be picked depending upon the intended goal.

“Each social platform is so individual, and some are actual polar opposites,” said Bielby. “I think it’s about picking the right product, for the right platform, for the right message, for the right audience at the right time. It’s not about spreading your brand too thin in an effort to extend reach, so that you have all social sites ‘covered.’ Pick the right platforms and then dig deep, in a meaningful way, that is true to your brand… Just because a social platform exists doesn’t mean that your brand has to fill it with content. Gen Z’ers, who are supposed to be social natives, are now at worst, overwhelmed by the amount of sites and content and the amount of mind-space and maintenance that too much social engagement can entail. To that end, only the most relevant and respectful social platforms will thrive.”