A Six-Step Guide to Authentic Social Media Marketing
Have we finally reached the apocalyptic demise of social media and what does this mean for marketers?
Admittedly, this conclusion seems somewhat extreme. Social media usage continues to grow and is unlikely to stop in the face of an isolating global pandemic. However, this growth is surprisingly due to greater usage among older generations. Studies by Edison Research suggest social media usage among Gen Z (ages 12-24) has started to retreat. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of Gen Z Facebook users fell from 79% to 62%, with similar depletions on Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Compounded by the social disarray caused by COVID-19, Gen Zers are beginning to evaluate the authenticity of online existence and yearn for real-life connections.
Gen Z has officially commenced a digital detox.
Social media has played a critical role in marketing over the past decade. On average, companies allocate 29% of marketing budget to social media. This is understandable given it facilitates an unprecedented real-time mutual exchange between brands and consumers.
If all is well, why the sudden retreat?
Gen Z are finally coming to terms with the harsh realities of online performative culture and fake filters. Photo and video sharing platforms like Instagram and Facebook are designed to exploit basic human insecurities of social approval and impression management, giving users the tools to carefully curate their profile and ‘edit’ away the ugly.
This has paved a battlefield of intense self-surveillance, unattainable aspirations and unrealistic beauty standards.
This toxic environment disproportionately affects Gen Z users, who have grown up with ubiquitous access to it, and is correlated to increased mental illness and loneliness. Between 2007 and 2017, suicide rate for ages 10-24 increased astronomically by 56%.
Social media is not all doom and gloom. There are certainly benefits, not limited to its role in connecting niche communities from around the world. Therefore, perhaps it is possible to filter out the toxicity without unsubscribing to the system altogether and ignore a generation with over $143 billion dollars of spending power in the US. Marketers need to learn how to tame the beast and regain the trust of Gen Z, starting with six simple steps.
Step 1: Get to the point
Gen Z has seen all the tricks in the book. Wishy-washy promises might have convinced their parents but these kids are motivated by results. According to Statista research, 84% of Gen Z users prefer clear and to-the-point advertisements.
The Ordinary Skincare shook the cosmetics industry with its results-oriented minimalist packaging and brand advertising. Its low marketing budget allowed the company to invest in high quality product formulas at an affordable price for customers.
The brand gained immense traction on social media, seeing sales surge by 426% following customer product reviews on TikTok. The hashtag #theordinary gained over 48 million views, highlighting that a results-driven social media campaign is more likely to engage Gen Z consumers.
Step 2: Embrace diversity
Inclusivity and representation of all races, genders, sexualities and abilities is a central philosophy of Gen Z. All identities are celebrated for their uniqueness and reflection of ‘real’ people. Research from McKinsey revealed that Gen Z value a spectrum of economic and social contexts online, with 71% asserting that they would like to see greater diversity in advertising.
Before simply slap a pride flag on your next Instagram post, take a moment to consider diverse community that relates to your brand. Gen Z are hyper sensitive to inauthenticity of brands that appropriate marginalised communities for commercial gain, just take a look at Pepsi’s infamous Black Lives Matter commercial with Kendall Jenner. Your commitment to inclusivity needs to be consistent and relevant to your brand.
Personal care brand, Dove, is a prime example authentic diversity marketing. The company’s ‘Real Beauty’ Campaign, which started in 2004, displays women of all body sizes and shades using personal care products. In recent years, the brand has translated this commitment to promoting all body types onto its social platforms. Dove’s enduring campaign is testimony to its consistency and relevance of diversity advertising.
Step 3: Have a conscience
Social awareness is becoming a prerequisite for brands. Gen Z is raising the bar for corporate responsibility, with 68% expecting brands to pursue social causes. These typically include racial equality, climate change, marriage equality and mental health. 61% also said they are willing to pay more for products that are ethically and sustainably produced.
How is your brand going to make the world a better place?
A leading example of corporate responsibility is TOMS. The US shoes company attracted hype over its ‘One Day Without Shoes’ social media campaign, which encouraged consumers to donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. The campaign helped grow the company’s social media presence, culminating to 2 million Twitter followers.
Step 4: Being part of ‘fam’
The US is currently experiencing a loneliness epidemic, with 50% of Americans feeling lonely. It’s impacting the younger generations the most, with Gen Z reporting the highest loneliness rating of 48.3 on a scale of 20 to 80, with 43 being officially lonely, according to a Cigna survey.
These figures suggest that despite growing up in the most interconnected world, Gen Z are yearning more than any generation for social connections. There is an opportunity for brands to adapt the social media strategies in order to mimic a sense of real-life connection with customers.
Ways to build an online community or ‘fam’ as Gen Z would say, include engaging consumers in real time public forums. Instagram and Facebook allow users to share live content with followers, which can feel more like in-person exchange. Travel and Leisure is a travel magazine that hosted a live videos series of professional chefs, including Silvia Grossi, aimed at creating novel and personalised brand experiences for followers.
Note. FromTakeovers: Examples and a How-To Guide, Travel Mindset, (https://www.travelmindset.com/takeovers-examples-and-a-how-to-guide/).
Message-based social platforms such as ‘Community’, allow companies, celebrities and influencers to chat directly to fans via text, bypassing online algorithms and noisy social feeds. The platform hosts a range of celebrities, including Kerry Washington and Amy Schumer, whose Instagram bios contain links to their Community phone numbers. A 2019 survey from ZAK reveals that nearly two-thirds of social media users under 30 prefer private message threads to open forums, which allow them to share thoughts more openly.
User-generated content can also make consumers feel more included in a brand’s community by giving them tangible reach over online content. In 2009 LEGO launched ‘Lego Ideas’, a forum where fans could submit creative designs for Lego sets. Over 26,000 product ideas have been submitted since and 28 sets produced. Lego’s co-creation initiative illustrates the engagement potential for brands that provide consumers access to more intimate online communities.
Step 5: Engage in the chase
The chase is dating 101 and social marketing is like any romantic relationship.
Despite their tendency to overshare online, Gen Z are actually quite protective of their privacy and selective of the content. Less than one-third feel comfortable sharing personal details other than contact information and purchase history according to IMB report, ‘Uniquely Gen Z’. Nobody likes someone who comes off to keen. That’s not to say don’t try at all but rather, to approach consumers like any romantic partner. Use social media to open the dialogue and entice them through organic content that sparks an interest. Sharing interesting third-party content is an inbound tactic that can appear less promotional, while still generating engagement at a low-cost. Birchbox is a beauty company that practices quality inbound content creation, with its Instagram feed regularly featuring colourful images, inspirational messages, beauty tips and competitions.
Aligning product promotions with creative content gives your brand a personality, which is conducive to generating brand interest.
Research by Statista reports that 57% of Gen Zers prefer ad that match their interests but that only 13% of ads do this. This unmet demand suggests vast opportunity for inbound content creation on social media.
Step 6: Nobody likes a preacher
Influencer fatigue is real and its hurting brands’ chances at connecting with Gen Z. These teens and young adults are far more receptive to content from genuine and trusted sources. While Kim Kardashian may have millions of followers, she lacks the niche expertise of a Nano or Micro Influencer. She might as well have Pinocchio’s growing nose. According to Statista, Micro Influencers (10,000-100,000 followers) are the highest requested influencer category by Gen Z, with 25% reporting that they want to see more on social platforms. These are influencers that often specialise in a particular area, such as fitness or fashion. Due to their genuine interest in the product area, Micro Influencers generally appear more credible and less commercially incentivised. They are also significantly cheaper than Macro or Mega Influencers, meaning you can achieve targeted social marketing at a low-cost.
Marketing and economics undergraduate. Social idealist / Social media realist.