Marketing to Gen Z is unlike marketing to any other generation. They represent a new frontier in brand-consumer relationships—one where authenticity and relevance reign supreme.
Gen Zers, born in the late 1990s to early 2000s, are both highly connected and socially conscious. As the first generation of digital natives, advertising has been an ever-present fact of their lives, making it that much easier to tune out.
That’s what makes the Gen Z buyer persona so difficult to nail down. After all, how do you market to the marketing intolerant?
To find out, we spoke with Aleks Stojanovic, Head of Social Media & Content Strategy at Trndsttrs, an agency that connects brands to Gen Z consumers. Not only does he have a proven track record of building engaging, scalable social strategies—he’s a Zoomer himself.
In this guide, we’re sharing some of Stojanovic’s top tips on Gen Z marketing. We’ll also break down the nuances marketers need to understand when speaking to this unique audience.
How marketing to Gen Z is different
Every generation creates an identity independent from those that came before them. What makes marketing to Gen Z so different is that they’re our first generation of true digital natives. Their earliest memories are tightly linked to internet ephemera, like web games and viral social content. They likely took notes in school on a personal computer or tablet. Today, more than half spend over four hours per day on social media.
While the content they consume is free, they realize that advertising dollars are what makes it all possible.
“My generation is hyper-aware of when we’re being sold to,” says Stojanovic. “We grew up surrounded by lifestyle advertising, celebrity co-branding, event sponsorships—we’ve seen it all. Brands still use these tactics, of course, but it’s harder to make an impression now because we’re so used to it.”
Brands need to be willing to break the mold to effectively connect with Gen Z audiences. Otherwise, they’re spending time and resources on campaigns that have a high likelihood of falling flat.
10 social media tips for marketing to Gen Z
Breaking the mold isn’t easy. If it were, everyone would do it, and there would be no mold in the first place.
We can’t give you a tailored roadmap to connecting with Gen Z audiences. What we can do is provide you with the foundational tips needed to make your next great idea grab their attention. Here’s what you need to know:
- Create like a creator
- Avoid going straight for the sell
- Make use of the comment section
- Iron out your approach to social customer care
- Meet your audience where they hang out
- Amplify your brand’s beliefs and values
- Build meaningful influencer and creator partnerships
- Use customer feedback and reviews as UGC
- Tap into FOMO with time-sensitive posts
- Experiment often
1. Create like a creator
Stojanovic’s biggest piece of advice for brands? “You need to look at your organic social media strategy as a creator.”
Tapping into the content creator mindset calls for platform-specific content that prioritizes entertainment or education above conversions, knowing that the conversions will follow eventually.
“Gen Z needs attention-grabbing content,” explains Stojanovic. “Then they’ll assign credibility to whoever it came from, whether that be a brand or a content creator. Once they’ve assigned that credibility, that business or individual has the space to promote their brand transparently.”
If you want to approach social media less like a brand and more like a creator, here are three tips that will help you make the switch:
- Go lo-fi: Perfectly polished visuals give a “this posts went through several rounds of internal approvals before making it to the feed” type of vibe that does not resonate as authentic. We’re not advocating for ditching your internal review process, but rather leaning into the gritty, DIY nature of creator-driven content.
- Look for your niche: Social media is built of countless communities of all types, sizes and interests. Experiment with creating content with specific communities in mind. Eventually, you’ll find where your content resonates best.
- Aim for authentic engagement: Infuse some personality into your responses to comments and questions. A genuine, human interaction can be even more impactful than the content that it takes place on.
2. Avoid going straight for the sell
If you follow Stojanovic on LinkedIn, this one’s probably familiar.
“The worst thing you can do is sell, sell, sell right off the bat,” says Stojanovic. “If you prioritize sales on social, it will ruin your content. You need to establish yourself as educational and entertaining before you can start making pitches.”
This advice can be difficult for some to hear. However, this approach doesn’t call for sacrificing all bottom-funnel tactics. There are other organic social plays to try that don’t involve clogging your profile with pushy sales content.
For example, prop your organic social strategy with a conversion-optimized influencer marketing strategy that gives sales-focused content another place to live.
If it still feels too risky to deprioritize sales content, Stojanovic believes there’s an even bigger risk in keeping it as a major part of your strategy. “If you want immediate sales on social media, you’re going to end up over-relying on paid ads at the expense of building a community.”
3. Make use of the comment section
Your organic content strategy isn’t limited to your posts on the brand account. It also covers how you engage with content relevant to your target audience.
On Gen Z-preferred platforms like Instagram and TikTok, the comment section can be just as entertaining—if not more—as the post itself. Plus, users can engage with comments by liking and replying, creating a lively hub for jokes and conversation.
Let’s look at this comment from the McDonald’s TikTok account, for example. The original post is a classic example of Gen Z humor—it’s referential, a bit absurd and able to say a lot in a short time. As of April 2023, the video has over 2.4 million likes.
The McDonald’s social media team used the comment section to capitalize on those views by reacting as any average person might. A simple three-word comment racked up more than 304K likes, earning increased brand visibility and reach.
You can also use this strategy as a brand-friendly way to tap into the edgier viral content resonating with your Gen Z audience. That way, you get in on the fun without getting in on the risk.
4. Iron out your approach to social customer care
Gen Z is all about holding brands accountable. They will call you out if you avoid questions or fail to meet customer care expectations.
Avoid getting roasted in your comment section by creating strong working relationships with your teammates in customer service. Establishing connections between social and service teams benefits both parties, not to mention the entire company.
Start by integrating your social media management solution with your business’s preferred helpdesk tool. Connected systems increase visibility between the two teams, so everyone has the context they need when responding to issues across channels.
On bad days, this context prevents manageable issues from escalating into a full-blown crisis. On good days, it creates a competitive differentiator that boosts your company’s bottom line. According to the 2021 Sprout Social Digital Natives Report, 41% of Gen Z audiences would choose a brand that delivers timely, responsive customer care over a competitor.
5. Meet your audience where they hang out
Network fragmentation is changing the social media landscape. In the old days, brands had around four to five networks to track. Today, young consumers are flocking to various niche, community-driven social media spaces.
A lot of these up-and-comers aren’t aiming for broad appeal. Many, like BeReal, are attempting to shift focus back to the “social” element of social media.
- Closed communities, like Discord or Fizz, create members-only spaces that encourage open dialogue and connection.
- Vertical networks—like Strava for runners or Letterboxd for film enthusiasts—cater to the interests of hyper-specific, interest-based communities.
Starting a new social media account isn’t something to take lightly. A lot of work goes into establishing and maintaining an online presence. As you vet social media newcomers for a potential brand fit, investigate how well it aligns with your target audience and goals.
6. Amplify your brand’s beliefs and values
According to The Sprout Social Index™ 2022, 73% of Gen Z consumers think it’s important for brands to raise awareness and take a stand on sensitive issues. It’s not enough to share a basic message of solidarity. If you want your content to resonate, it needs to be timely, inclusive and sincere.
The San Jose Sharks did this masterfully in March 2023, in honor of the team’s annual Pride Night. Instead of their usual gametime content, they opted to share important information and facts about LGBTQIA+ topics.
By using their platform as a tool for education and conversation, the San Jose Sharks were able to showcase what solidarity looks like in action.
7. Build meaningful influencer and creator partnerships
Gen Z audiences value influencer marketing more than any other generation. That said, you can’t just pick a buzzy creator at random and assume it will be an easy path to success.
“It’s so common to see big influencer partnerships that make zero sense,” says Stojanovic. “Sometimes brands grab a big name for the sake of grabbing a big name, even though they aren’t relevant to the audience they’re targeting.”
Make sure your message is on point—no matter who it comes from—by defining the goals of your influencer marketing strategy before conducting any outreach. This will help you identify the specific characteristics and qualities of an ideal partner.
An influencer marketing software with social listening capabilities will help you track and analyze conversations, brand mentions and industry trends so you can spot advocates that align with your brand with ease.
8. Use customer feedback and reviews as UGC
Establishing credibility with Gen Z audience requires authenticity and transparency. To build trust with this highly skeptical audience, you need to leverage user-generated content.
User-generated content (or UGC, for short) provides a genuine, unfiltered perspective by taking a community-driven approach to social content. When brands incorporate UGC into their strategy, they further align with Gen Z’s preference for real, relatable content.
If fans aren’t actively creating content around your brand, that’s okay. You can still repurpose reviews to earn some major street cred. Skincare brand Cocokind pulled this off by repurposing feedback from their community of product testers to support social promotion of a recent launch.
You don’t have to wait until you have an army of advocates to start using UGC. Use existing reviews and create content that builds your brand reputation in a genuine way.
9. Tap into FOMO with time-sensitive posts
When marketing to Gen Z, consider how you might tap into your audience’s fear of missing out (FOMO).
Instagram and TikTok Stories, for example, allow brands to drive time-sensitive engagement and become a constant fixture in their followers’ feeds via notifications. These features are great venues for behind-the-scenes content, promo codes and other exclusive content that may not warrant a spot on the feed.
10. Experiment often
Social media is moving faster than ever. New networks, features and trends emerge daily, yet Gen Z remains forever digitally savvy.
To keep up, you must balance strategic, long-term thinking with a heavy dose of agility. Gone are the days when you could create an entire month’s content in one sitting. Leaving room for constant experimentation is now the hallmark of a successful social media strategy.
That doesn’t mean you should throw your plans to the wayside. Instead, you should stay firm on the company goals and KPIs that inform your strategy and be flexible on the tactics that get you to those outcomes.
For example, a tool like Sprout’s Publishing Calendar could support the macro- and micro-elements of your social strategy. For example, drag-and-drop rescheduling supports last-minute shifts without sacrificing any existing work. You can even use the Calendar Notes feature to create placeholders for experimental content.
How are you marketing to Gen Z?
Gen Z may be hard to impress, but if you use what you just learned about their traits and preferences you will create content that grabs their attention, builds loyalty and makes lifelong fans.
Ready to take your Gen Z marketing strategy to the next level? Download the Digital Natives Report today to learn more about the needs, interests and values of this young, social media savvy audience.
Marketing to Gen Z FAQs
How is marketing to Gen Z different from marketing to other generations?
As the first generation of digital natives, Gen Z audiences grew up fully immersed in a world of digital advertising. They find common marketing tactics easy to spot and easier to ignore. They’re much harder to impress compared to Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, who embrace brands on social media with less resistance than their younger counterparts.
What do Gen Z consumers want from brands?
Gen Z is looking for authentic, engaging content that prioritizes entertainment over conversions. They’re looking for posts that break the mold and challenge what’s expected from brands and creators.