Q&A’s From Our Webinar: A Conversation with Gen Zers

Did you miss our webinar with Engage for Good last week? Or maybe you attended, but we didn’t get to answer all your questions. Well, you’re in luck, because today we’re sharing answers to the most popular questions as well as a quick summary of the key takeaways from this highly interactive webinar!

Our moderator, Bernadette Grey, spoke with a panel of five recent high school graduates and rising college sophomores—all Gen Z experts—to advise us on the best ways of engaging today’s youth. They took a deep dive into how corporations and nonprofits can do a better job engaging with Gen Z, as the leaders, activists, and donors of tomorrow — and today.

Download the slides or watch the recording here.

First, a little background on Gen Z. Engaging middle and high schoolers, inside and outside of the classroom can be tricky. One of the most important things we’ve learned is that you must be willing to discard what you think you know about them, and most importantly, ask Gen Zers what they think. And remember: They influence their parents, too.

The social issues this generation cares most about reflects both the times and the nature of Gen Z itself. According to one of the largest Gen Z surveys to date that polled 5,000 students from more than 100 colleges:

  • 70% want their lives to make a difference.
  • They care more about equality than anything else.
  • Other causes they support—and want YOU to support—include the environment, health, students, and poverty.
  • They view buying power as a key vehicle for activism.
  • They expect brands to give back to communities.

Now let’s get into some Q&A.

Q: What are the main differences between Millennials and Gen Z?

MDR-gen-z-millennialsGeneration Z includes people born between 1996-2010, which comprises about 20% of the US population and 27% of the global population. They are seen as confident users of new technology, and they do NOT like to be mistaken for the older generation of millennials! Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are those of us born between the early 1980s-mid 1990s. Today’s millennials are now experienced teachers and parents, while Gen Zers are middle, high school, and college students.

Besides age, our panelists pointed out a few other key differences between the two generations, one being who you were raised by. Itai Fruchter, Director of Employment & Experiences at JUV Consulting stated, “Gen Z was raised by Gen X for the most part, in a world that recognized the establishment was failing them. We saw our older millennial siblings, cousins, family members not able to get jobs in the fields they wanted to. We recognize that isn’t the world that we live in today.”

The other key difference is in their use of technology and social media. While millennials grew up with computers and the internet, Gen Zers are social media natives – they never knew a world without it.

Jake Skolada, President and Co-Founder of Millennial Ad Network, explains, “Both use social media, but they use it so differently. My older friends who are millennials mainly use Facebook, a little bit of Instagram or Snapchat, but it’s all centered on connecting with and following their friends. You’re not going to see millennials with 2,000 followers on Instagram, because that’s not what matters to them. To Gen Z, social media is an expression, it’s where we go to brag about the cool things were doing. Building a following is important to us and we have a ton of engagement on our posts.”

Q: What causes do today’s youth care about?

The top issues teens care about the most, according to Dosomething.org, are:

  1. Animal Welfare
  2. Hunger
  3. Homelessness
  4. The Environment
  5. The Economy

MDR-generation zHowever, what they say isn’t always when they show up. While these issues are important to them, they are more likely to actively follow hot-button issues that are related to current events like gun violence and sexual harassment and abuse. Their advice for nonprofits? Find a balance between relatability and specificity. Whenever possible, tie your cause marketing efforts to a specific event to make it easier to empathize with, but not too specific that it’s not relatable. They are much more likely to engage, respond, and take action when they can micro-focus on a specific issue, event, or injustice to an individual. For example, the issue of hunger. It will hit a little closer to home for Gen Z to show how hunger is affecting smaller communities, and personalizing the issue by interviewing individuals and posting videos of people telling their story.

This advice can work for corporations, too. Emma Himes, Director of Development at JÜV Consulting adds, “We as a generation are more focused on having companies interact with their communities, so, as long as they’re going out of their way to help their communities and doing social good, that’s a good way to appeal to Gen Z.”

Q: How do we engage Gen Z in CSR, fundraising, and cause efforts?

  • Use Venmo! Fruchter comments, “If you’re not using Venmo to get donations, you’re not going to get as much attention from us. We don’t enjoy having to go to a website to make a donation, it takes too much time. Kids are willing to donate money towards a cause they support if it is easy, but the second they have to press more than three buttons, they won’t do it.”
    This generation also prefers Venmo to text/SMS message donations. They see SMS marketing as an invasion of privacy and do not like getting messages from corporations in their personal space where they interact with their closest friends and family. They also prefer the freedom to choose how much to donate, which you can do with Venmo, rather than being told a certain amount as is usually the case with text message donations.
  • Don’t just use statistics. “Use specific examples, we want to both be tugged at our heartstrings, appealed to emotionally, but also spoken to rationally,” says Fruchter.
  • Give grassroots campaigns a try. These can be more difficult for some brands, but you cannot underestimate the power of going onto school campuses and engaging with structures that already exist. There are many clubs and organizations out there that you can partner with to help you expand your reach. Find the right people and show that you care about what they’re doing, and they will care about what you’re doing in return.
  • Get Gen Z’s friends and family involved. They may not have a lot of money to donate themselves, but their parents, friends, and siblings do. But it’s not just about money – their younger siblings are also on social media and online, seeing advertisements, and they have influence over their parents’ purchasing power.
  • Accept the 8-second attention span. Communicate more frequently with short bursts: images, emojis, symbols, picture, and videos. Skolada says, “We live on social media, we’re constantly seeing ads, and have accepted that ads are part of life. But, with that comes a very strong BS filter – when we see something that looks at all spammy, we can quickly detect that and will just scroll right past it, and write you off immediately.” 

Q: How do we better bring Gen Z into our conversations?

  • Use separate social media strategies for each platform. JUV Consulting makes these recommendations that brands should live by: Twitter is where you voice your thoughts, Instagram is where you show your aesthetic, Facebook is for expanding your network.
  • Explore Meme Groups: Our panelists all agreed they’re on some sort of meme group at least twice a day, while some Gen Zers spend hours a day strolling through memes. So how can corporations enter the world of memes? It can be intimidating, but JUV Consulting recommends watching current memes for trends, and creating original, unique memes that aren’t just a photo of what you or your company is doing, which is a huge turn off. Another great place to start is to simply ask your kids! Any Gen Zer will be able to point you to the right meme group depending on who you’re trying to reach. Skolada suggest trying the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” strategy: Try creating a personal account to browse memes and get a better understanding of youth culture, current events, or things to poke fun at, without revealing that you’re actually undercover as your company or brand.
  • Be authentic. Companies can show authenticity by posting and engaging on social media as an individual, rather than a corporation. They like to see the people behind the company, as opposed to just a corporate face. If you’ve never seen fast food chain Wendy’s Twitter account, we highly recommend you check it out for a prime example of how this is done.
  • Giveaways work: Give teens an incentive to engage, and they will engage.

Q: How can we use influencer marketing to reach Gen Z?

Influencers build trust and credibility for your brand. They are usually part of your brand’s target audience, and are masters at generating publicity. Influencers can interact and engage with your audience in ways that other forms of paid advertising will never be able to do. “When you’re able to get them on board, curating content for your brand, there are a lot of amazing things that can happen,” says Skolada.

“With influencers, you want to look at quality over quantity. Just because someone has 2 million followers, doesn’t mean they will automatically be the best option for you to partner with. If they don’t have a genuine connection with their audience, that will be far less effective than someone who has 200,000 followers, but has an open communication and mutual trust with their followers,” Millennial Ad Network’s Co-Founder John Maher adds.

Q: What’s the best advice for hiring (and retaining) Gen Zers?

  • Truly be a purpose driven company. Know that they expect more from you than any previous generation. They care a lot about how companies interact with their communities. Gen Z is counting on corporations for positive change: 50% say it is important for a company to have social change initiatives that consumers (and employees) can be part of; 25% always/often buy product or service solely based on brand’s values; and 67% at least some of the time, according to the DoSomething 2018 Survey of Young People and Social Change.
    Salesforce.org, the philanthropic arm of Salesforce, recently announced that they will donate $1.5 million to Hamilton Families’ Heading Home Initiative to end long-term family homelessness in San Francisco, where the company is headquartered. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff set a lofty goal, “We need to get every homeless individual off the streets,” but it’s this type of dedication to its community that will get the attention of Gen Z.
  • Pay well and offer health insurance. Perks like an office fridge stocked with beer and food truck Fridays may have worked for Millennials, but it won’t impress Gen Z. Having a larger pay check is more important to them than having cold brew coffee on tap.
  • Tap into their entrepreneurialism. Most would rather be entrepreneurs than work for you when they graduate. However, offering positions with varying responsibilities is intriguing to them. With their shorter attention spans, they’re not likely to want to do the same thing all day long, or even for more than a couple hours at a time. They prefer to see the bigger picture and how their work is impacting the company as whole. For internships, they would rather work together as a team on multiple projects, than work alone on one single project. For example, rather than hiring a social media intern to only do social media, give them the opportunity to get experience in different areas such as copy writing, business development, or financial analysis.

Q: How is today’s political climate impacting Gen Z—for better or worse?

“The biggest thing about the current political climate is that it’s exacerbating the inherent cynicism that we have as a generation. We have very little faith in the government, which makes us turn to each other to try to create change,” says Himes.

Gen Zers are not afraid to express their political views on social media and among their peers. However, most young people identify themselves as having relatively moderate political views and identify as social liberals. They’re straying away from partisan politics; they don’t necessarily feel strong affinities to a particular party, but rather take sides on a case-by-case, issue-by-issue basis.

Brendan Maher, Co-Founder, Millennial Ad Network describes another, more positive way today’s political climate is impacting this generation: “We truly believe that with enough backing on social media, they can directly influence legislation and make a difference, especially when they unify together, their voice is powerful enough to sway leaders to vote on way or another.”

Final Note: Know COPPA

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) from the FTC applies to children under 13. Websites and online services appealing to or targeting children must comply to protect children’s privacy and safety. Here are our recommended guidelines for ensuring you are compliant:

  • DON’T collect personal information: name, address, phone, email address, IM or video chat identifier, or any persistent identifier that can be used to recognize a user over time and across different sites.
  • Post a Privacy Policy that complies with COPPA.
  • Get VERIFIABLE parent consent before collecting information.
  • Implement reasonable procedures to protect the security of kids’ personal information.

We want to give one last special thanks to Millennial Ad Network and JÜV Consulting for providing all these great insights on Gen Z!

Do you have questions about reaching Gen Z through the school channel? Let us know by commenting below, or emailing us, and we’ll get you the answers!