Social Habits of Highly Effective Teens

Why We Should Care About the Media Habits of Gen Z

By Nick Reggars and Kirby Todd


In our most recent trend analysis, the Heat agency team explored the media habits of Generation Z — teens and tweens born between the late 1990s and through the early 2000s. The first generation to grow up in a culture where access to the internet, smart phones, and social media are literally just an arm’s reach away, these young adults’ media habits today give brands and marketers big insights as to the changing landscape, trends, and expectations of tomorrow.

Heat recently shared our insights examining this media-savvy generation’s social media approach. The lines between a Gen Z teen and an employed social media brand manager are blurry, bearing resemblance to each other. You won’t find any predictable shared links, family photos or food porn shots among this young crowd. Teens have taken it upon themselves to curate an elevated, premium sense of their personal brand.

We’ve shared the full results of our study below, and have included some additional observations: exploring themes of Gen Z’s media strategy, multi-screen use, visual platforms, and the embrace of anonymity.

Study Results:

These apps aren’t just sites they visit to take a break; they check and post content hourly. Brands are challenged to find the right balance of frequency and over saturation when it comes to this highly engaged, and keenly aware teen audience.

Dayparting isn’t just for television networks and social media managers. When it comes to managing their own media strategy, teens schedule their posts during intentional parts of the day in an effort to maximize engagement.

Teens are becoming their own eagle-eyed editors, programming content, limiting the volume of posts and paying close attention to quality content.

Similar to networks, real-time performance dictates whether teens cancel their posted content going as extreme as deleting posts that don’t quickly receive likes and comments.

Generation Z approaches their personal brand strategically which includes setting up separate private accounts for friends and family so they can express themselves more freely.

They’re also obsessing about their audiences, making sure that their number of followers far exceeds the number of people they follow. This “FOF,” or fear of following, has them closely monitoring and regulating the people and brands that they track.

Teens are actively searching brands, but may be hesitant to follow them to keep their follower count low. Whether following or searching for brands, Gen Z is looking for highly visual, engaging content.

What This Means for Brands:

We recently explored how teens manage their online presence like social media managers. But beyond media habits, we found a few other interesting take-aways for marketers:

Brands should watch the continued growth of multi-screen and mobile. Cross-platform use is more than just multi-tasking. Teens are using multiple screens at once to consume and share content. Paying close attention to these habits will enrich the kind of engagement brands can create for this growing audience.

Brands should also take note of a teen’s dual embrace of both visual platforms like Instagram, Vine, and Tumblr; and more anonymous sites like Snapchat, Kik, and Yik Yak. Teens are spending some serious time on these visual platforms — 25 percent of teens say they scroll through their Instagram feed and message their friends on Kik hourly — so it’s up to brands to meet them where they are in a way that provides engagement and entertainment and feels native to the platform.

Teens want the ability to speak their minds and share their thoughts without the hindrance of leaving a permanent digital footprint. As teens grow into young adults, they want to express themselves freely while also being able to carefully build their own personal brand. They want to control their image on platforms where their footprint is permanent, like Facebook and Instagram. However, they also want to be able to test alternate personas and say things they normally wouldn’t without the threat of leaving a lasting impression. Platforms such as SnapChat and Kik allow them to do this. This way, they are able to keep their highly controlled and curated image, while retaining the ability to express different ideas elsewhere. Brands and platforms that understand this delicate balance are the ones that will reach this young, media-savvy audience.

Generation Z is digital in their DNA. We believe teens, in their tech-fluency, are natural digital trendsetters. The growth of video, chat and the emergence in particular of private networks has been led by these young people. Though not wholly dependent on one singular generation, this connected contingency can hold key insights that play into longer-term brand strategies. It remains wise to keep a creative and analytical eye on what this influential audience is always doing.