Why Brands Should Consider Community Over Big Social to Reach Gen Z

By Neil Cunningham, Co-Owner and CEO, Cream

Historically, social media platforms – from Facebook to TikTok – have gained traction by appealing to wide groups of people, a potential gold mine for brands looking to target expanding consumer bases. But as these platforms grow in popularity, brand messaging can often get lost in the clamour, with the competition to win consumers’ attention growing ever fiercer.

What brands gain in numbers, they risk losing in context. And with research by Twilio highlighting that 47% of Gen Z are experiencing digital fatigue, it has never been more important for brands to carefully consider their platform usage in such a noisy landscape.

So, for brands looking to reach customers – especially those always-desired Gen Zers – broad-based platforms are not necessarily the best fit. Rather, to establish deeper relationships, apps and platforms focused on more specific areas of interest, can provide more relevance and reach targeted audiences.

Gen Z’s media landscape

As Gen Z’s buying power grows, brands must adapt fast to understand how to connect and engage with this group. But this is no easy task – it requires businesses to invest time and energy into really understanding their consumer, to get to the heart of what they are looking for. Only with this level of audience insight can brands determine where their communications will best land and in what context their messaging will have the most impact.

As digital natives, Gen Zers are hard to impress – they demand authenticity and personalisation. So, previously tried and tested methods of mass promotion/advertising via large scale social platforms are not necessarily the best option. And understanding their motivations and behaviours in this increasingly fractured media landscape is challenging but necessary. Although some of their behaviours are remarkably similar to their parents’ generation, for this demographic their world has always revolved around engaging with news, entertainment, information and passion content in the social sphere.

What does this mean in practice?

This means that individuals are now transitioning away from generalised social media platforms towards specialised networks which give them the opportunity to engage with selective groups who share similar interests. The effect is to reduce the noise and it allows users to see the kind of content that really entertains or educates them – what they actually want to interact with. For brands, niche networks also offer the opportunity to create a community for like-minded individuals and get their brand in front of people who are genuinely interested in their offering.

This is not to say that Gen Z will dismiss the bigger social platforms, as they are still drawn to credible sources, and want to be part of something greater than themselves. But what this does mean is that they will not necessarily default to established media brands, and they certainly won’t spend any of their time with content that doesn’t speak to them directly. In fact, data from YouGov Profiles in March 2023[1] shows that Gen Z are 20% less likely than Gen X and older to source news content from the BBC, and 30% more likely to source news content from Twitter – increasing to 300% for Reddit (where the content is by its nature responsive and based on interests, communities, and search behaviour).

The same can be said for the broadcast landscape too. Gen Z are 60% less likely than Gen X and older to respond positively to adverts through traditional broadcast TV, and are instead over twice as likely to gravitate towards podcasts, and this is even more pronounced for cinema advertising[2]. This intuitively makes sense when advertising consumed at the cinema, or during a podcast, is far more personalised to better reflect the targeted demographic of the main content.

Mob Kitchen’s Peckish app is a perfect example of a platform putting community at the heart of its offering. Viral food videos, recipes, and “what I eat in a day” TikToks and Reels have been widely created, viewed and interacted with ever since the pandemic in 2020. Mob championed this, and created an interactive, branded, social media app where anyone can share their dishes and recipes, method, ingredients, and images of recipes they have made, all while engaging with a community of like-minded individuals.

Brands like Corteiz have taken advantage of niche marketing techniques but in a different way – deliberately ensuring its communications audience is small by keeping their social channels private and website request access only. This creates a sense of exclusivity and mystery around the brand, and grows a sense of focused community around its efforts. It will certainly be interesting to see what impact the recent Nike collaboration and associated noise will have on their passionate core following.

Large media brands are also beginning to recognise the need to engage with a Gen Z audience via targeted, niche platforms. In an attempt to re-engage Gen Z, who are drifting further away from traditional broadcast platforms, ITVHub produced a one-off immersive, inclusive experience hosted by Twitch, where popular, diverse streamers were faced with battling through custom-branded challenges based around key ITV programming. Here, ITV was able to increase its brand awareness with this tough to reach audience, engaging with them in a meaningful way, through creating an inclusive environment where anyone from anywhere could participate.

What do advertisers do about it?

Lead with audience insights. To get through to Gen Zers, brands need to pay much closer attention to where they are placing their content – if brands are going to take the plunge and focus on niche platforms for advertising, they need to be sure they are focussing their efforts in the right place. And to do that, they need to spend time and resources to understand their audience. Generic research or outreach won’t cut it – brands must understand the targeted customer’s true motivations in each context.

Don’t dismiss or discredit the power of niche marketing techniques or platforms. They may feel inefficient at first, but there is power in exclusivity.

[1] : Audience analysis : YouGov Profiles March 2023

[2] : Audience analysis : YouGov Profiles March 2023