Gen Z Online: A Critical Look at the Numbers

Stephen Ernst
Jan 6 · 5 min read

You’ve probably heard the common refrain,“there are lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Anyone who deals with numbers on a daily basis knows that an uncritical look at aggregate data can lead to ineffective (or counter-productive) strategies and tactics.

The details matter. In fact, when it comes to marketing analytics informing overall strategy and tactics, details are pretty much all that matters.

To maximize the impact of your marketing strategy, you need to drill down beyond the surface numbers.

You’re probably aware that Gen Z is the most digital generation yet. But where are they really spending most of their time, what attracts them to this platform, and how can you use this information to increase your social following?

Let’s find out.

Where Are Gen Z on Social Media?

A recent Pew poll claimed that over 50 percent of Gen Z use Facebook. This data has been trumpeted around as to say: “See! Facebook is still relevant with Gen Z!”

Unfortunately, the overall stats are meaningless, and in this case, incredibly misleading.

Gen Zers Who Have an Account (percent)

While >60 percent do have a Facebook account, only 36 percent actually use Facebook at least once a week, compared to 89 percent using YouTube at least weekly.

On top of that, Gen Z mostly use Facebook for events and connecting with family members, so that may also further decrease the importance of the platform for achieving your organizational goals.

While Gen Z engage far less with Facebook than even the top stats would claim, the exact opposite is true for YouTube. The vast majority (95 percent) of Gen Zers visit YouTube every month, with half of them spending around three hours daily on YT.

Looking at this data, it becomes very clear how deceptive the surface numbers can be for marketers.

When a poll claims that Gen Z use Facebook, the word use takes on an entirely different meaning than when saying they use YouTube–both in how they utilize the platform and the amount of time spent using it. Gen Z aren’t just ~20 percent more on YouTube–they’re on YouTube far more.

Why Do Gen Zers Go to YouTube?

One reason Gen Z go to YouTube is to get a break from the stress of daily life and the pressures of marketing their personal brand on social media. When marketing to Gen Z on YouTube, keep in mind that many come to the platform to escape, not to promote their online personas through content sharing.

The benefit of this to marketers is huge. Hidden away from the spotlight, Gen Z browsers aren’t “on”–they’re their most authentic selves on YouTube, and most open to being influenced by your organization’s narrative.

When not “on”, people are more relaxed. And because they’re less guarded, they are, by extension, more emotionally vulnerable.

Use this as an opportunity to connect with your audience, through video, in an emotional way. Build a connection based on person, not persona — a connection based on your authentic self, not an image of yourself that you wish to convey. Gen Z expect a basic level of production values. But they don’t go to YouTube for your After Effects skills. They go there to unwind emotionally. Open up to them, and they will listen.

And more good news: Gen Z also go to YouTube to learn something new. If you run an organization that is dedicated to educating young people, then YouTube should be the primary channel you employ to reach your audience. After all, 85 percent of Gen Zers go to YouTube at least once a week for this specific purpose, and 59 percent say that YouTube is their preferred learning method — that’s more than in-person group activities, learning apps, and far more than books.

How Do Gen Zers Learn on YouTube?

We’ve already established that Gen Zers are on YouTube far more than other social platforms — especially when seeking to learn something new. And we know why they visit YouTube. But how exactly do they learn?

While we may think of Gen Z as a generation of autodidacts, in reality 78 percent prefer that teachers help them learn. Having someone guide them through complicated learning processes in a sequential manner could help attract more Gen Z to your organization.

You also may have heard that Gen Z prefer personalized learning, with a large number of Gen Zers not willing to return to a brand that doesn’t meet their tailored preferences.

Your organization may create a variety of different kinds of content. Publishing everything to one YouTube channel is easy, but may discourage subscriptions. We at FEE have found this to be true.

People who love our Out of Frame series exploring political/economic topics through the lens of Marvel and other movies may not be interested in our How we Thrive women’s empowerment series. Fans of our inspiring entrepreneurship series, Revolution of One, may not enjoy the funny educational cartoons we produce for Common Sense Soapbox.

Segmenting audiences takes some work, but the reward is worth it.

You may also have heard that Gen Z have very limited attention spans, or the opposite. The answer is actually a bit more nuanced than this.

While the ability to focus may actually be increasing overall, Gen Zers are much more selective with which content they choose. Gen Z are the popup generation. If the story can quickly capture their attention, then they will devote a large chunk of time to engaging with it.

If your organization seeks to educate Gen Z on YouTube, factor in that while they may have long attention spans to devote to watching video, catching their attention quickly is a must. You don’t need to resort to flashy graphics or puerile, base tactics. But you do need to offer value more quickly for Gen Z than for other generations.

Get Serious About Marketing to Gen Z

Overall numbers are mostly useless when it comes to marketing decisions. In fact, they might lead you in the wrong direction! Taking a critical eye to statistics is the first step to moving from being a novice to an expert marketing analyst.

Often, I find that there are two major deterrents to generating solid marketing insights: laziness and impatience. Either one of those leads to simply grabbing the surface data and running with it. The good news is that you don’t need to be a genius to develop solid marketing insights that boost your ROI. You don’t need to think incredibly fast…you actually need to slow down. And most people, with the right amount of discipline or external helpers, can accomplish this!

I hope that these insights will help you create a more effective content marketing strategy for Gen Z, and that you can foster a culture of critical thinking at your organization. I look forward to providing you with a more nuanced look at other areas of marketing in the future.

FEE Messaging Insights

Marketing to Millennials and Gen Z

Stephen Ernst

Written by

Stephen is a marketing manager for the team at FEE, where he focuses on marketing analytics, data science, email segmentation and marketing strategy.

FEE Messaging Insights

Marketing to Millennials and Gen Z

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