PR agency owners and managers can be forgiven if they think that Gen Z, or people born starting in the mid-to-late 1990s through the 2010s, share some of the digital characteristics of millennials, or folks born between the early 1980s and 2000s.
Sure, Gen Z members cherish their hand-held devices, adore their social networks and aspire to doing great things, similar to millennials. However, if a recent panel discussion is any indication, Gen Z is dramatically different than millennials.
The panel was featured at the Arthur W. Page Society spring meeting, which took place last week in New York. It was moderated by Andy Polansky, CEO of Weber Shandwick, and featured a trio of Gen Z members/students from Stuyvesant High School.
From the get-go, the students tried to disabuse the corporate PR executives gathered for the conference about Gen Z stereotypes.
“What is ‘mush’”? asked Danny Poleschuk, when presented with a group of words thought to describe Gen Zs. The term “mush,” ostensibly describing a kind of ennui among Gen Z members, left the panelists a bit puzzled. They also took umbrage with the term “Snapchatters,” when it comes to Gen Z perceptions, but concurred with “connected.”
The panelists provided a window into how they like to communicate, as well. The results may surprise PR pros who like to play long ball when it comes to gauging consumer behavior. (For some pretty cool stats on the Gen Z lifestyle/workplace, click here, with a hat tip to Vision Critical.)
“My pet peeve is everyone is on their smartphones too much and not communicating as much in-person, which is how it should be,” said Hayoung Ahn.
Kristen Chang, added that she frequently takes a break from her smartphone. “It provides a cleanser,” and when she unplugs it “stimulates different conversations” she said.
Having hand-held devices surgically attached to one’s body is “inhibiting,” Chang added. “It doesn’t allow ourselves to feel completely.”
The panel also demonstrated why it’s seldom a good idea for PR pros to be in thrall to the shiny new thing, regardless of the hyperbole from the media.
For instance, asked about the most effective ways that brands and organizations can engage Gen Z, Ahn said she likes receiving information via YouTube branded channels, but sans any requests to subscribe to company newsletters. “Companies are doing a good job to increase their audiences,” via branded YouTube channels, she said.
Poleschuk cautioned against PR pros getting too wedded to emojis, which more and more brands now use in their messaging. (Last summer, for example, Chevy released a press release written entirely in emoji to plug the 2016 Cruze brand.)
“Emojis are offensive,” Polechuk said. “It’s almost as if companies are trying to get with the cool kids” by communicating in emoji, “and it’s not working.”
Corporate social responsibility, which holds strong appeal for millennials, seems to have even a sharper pull among Gen Z members.
“Companies and brands have to not only think what do they do for the world but what is their mission statement?” Ahn said. “What are the company’s benefits that have a positive impact and how do people view the brand?”