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How Does Gen Z Use Social Media?

Hi! I’m Layla Harrison, a Summer intern at Media À La Carte. I want to share how I use Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Pinterest in my “Gen Zer” lifestyle, as well as ways to use the platform to reach a Gen Z audience.

In the digital age, unplugging, while freeing, proves unsustainable. The emergence of Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, arguably LinkedIn, and most recently BeReal, fuels a reliance on our phones in order to stay connected with our communities and the world at large.

A Gen Zer's View of Instagram v. Facebook

I speak for most of Gen Z when I say, “Instagram is a lifeline.” Instagram is the action hub for my favorite celebrities, companies, news outlets, magazines, and friends. Acting as a constant source of information and stimulation, Instagram offers an infinite stream of new things to buy, see, and learn.

As much as people would like to believe it’s simply about the “next new thing,” the reliance on Instagram over Facebook isn’t a “generational thing.” Instagram relies on the “show don’t tell” method, whereas Facebook allows users to upload hundreds of photos paired with a lengthy caption in one post. Instagram allows users to post a 2,200-maximum character caption as opposed to Facebook’s 63,000 limit … Or lack thereof. To me, Facebook is how I keep up with my mom’s life while I’m at college.

Instagram is how I decide what outfit I’m buying next, where my next vacation will be, what magazine I need to read based solely on the cover, whose style to emulate, etc. Put simply, your Instagram page is your brand. Your personal brand is constructed by where you visit, what you post when you’re not the subject of the post, and what you’re wearing and doing when you are the subject of the post.

There’s a time and place for versatility, but Instagram is a home for eye candy and consistency. Typically, an Instagram page lacks aesthetic power if images have heavy saturation, poor quality, or lack of cohesion. A brand relies on vision and Instagram relies on visuals. If you don’t supply your audience with pleasing visuals, you’re not pleasing them, and hence will not succeed on the app. Try your luck on TikTok?

A Gen Zer's View of TikTok

TikTok invites interaction more than other social media. I’ve noticed my generation is less reluctant to comment on a TikTok video, whereas they hesitate to comment on an Instagram post by the same creator. TikTok invites conversation and encourages personality, two traditional aspects of social media that seem to be lacking nowadays.

I typically turn to TikTok for a laugh and the occasional fashion inspiration. When I make videos, I tend to show off my outfit or try my hand at the latest trend. Similarly for companies, TikTok is an outlet to put forth a public personality. Duolingo brought their owl logo to life, dedicating their TikTok page to capturing the mascot executing trends. Similarly, Irish airline Ryanair has visually personified the body of their airplane, utilizing TikTok’s eye-filter to give the vessel a face. Besides developing brand awareness via humanization, companies collaborate with popular users on the app to reach broader audiences. Companies often create videos that are part of a trend, relating the content to their services.

Often, brands collaborate with influencers who appeal to their target audience, or a niche within that group that the brand attracts. The app is divided by niches, separated by hashtags frequented by the community. The app’s algorithm is designed to catch elements of videos that users interact with, whether it be the sound, hashtag, creator, caption, etc, and place videos with consistent features on the user’s “For You Page”.

A Gen Zer's View of Pinterest

I create boards to guide impending aspects of my life. For me, that includes apartment decoration and outfit inspiration to dictate my living space and wardrobe, both of which arguably affect the way others see you. Other boards include quotes to narrate my mental processes and art that appeals to my aesthetic. I track the consistency of the images in each board. Brand identity dictates what you are associated with and proves vital in recognizability.

Pinterest is a great brand curation tool. Pinterest organizes a brand’s mood rather than a tangible persona. Ideally, images come together to provide a sense of brand ethos that aligns with personal ethos.

The Pinterest marketplace is lucrative. People typically search Pinterest to find or plan something, for example: wedding venues or a new living room couch. There’s no way to know whether a pin on your feed or search result is an advertisement until you click on it. If an advertisement is disguised as an image, you see a link to the site where the item is sold, the price, and a seemingly infinite list of similar items for sale. This is a fantastic advertising opportunity, because when someone clicks on a pin it’s a clear indication of interest in the product presented. Even if there’s not a physical sale, the Pinterest user may save the advertisement image to their profile or board. By engaging with that post, the user sends that post to the feeds of other like minded users.

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