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Social media has become a platform for ‘digital creators’: entrepreneurs, influencers, artists and activists who express their passions in digital form. And, given their age and familiarity with technology, Gen Z is poised to become the most innovative group of digital creators yet.
Gen Zers are natural creators. As the first digital native generation, Gen Z has grown up with technology. They’re empowered to create and share with digital tools that generations before them only dreamt about. Gen Z won’t remember a time when the options for creativity were limited and quaint (‘Let’s type everything in Comic Sans!’) or truly manual (like waiting for your photos to develop in a darkroom).
As a result, rather than playing around with typefaces and getting bogged down by dial-up, Gen Z has been busy creating—whether that’s making movies; launching fashion lines; recording, distributing, and even monetizing their music—since, well, forever. And why not? They’ve always been able to.
It’s not a stretch to say that being creative is simply part of who Gen Z is. Zs don’t think twice about melding media, tools and platforms to express themselves and share with others. What were once labeled singular creative outputs (‘this is my painting, my song, my poem,’ etc.,) by an exclusive group of people known as “artists,” is much more blurred today. For Zers, anyone and everyone can be an artist, and anyone can build a following. Memes belong to everyone, photo and video editing apps cost $10 or less—artistry is no longer about exclusivity, and creativity is no longer limited to a select few. It’s the language all of Gen Z speaks.
When it comes to creativity, Gen Z embraces both self-expression and authenticity, whether it’s filming a benign TikTok in the car, starring in a self-made video series, or just posting a silly Story on snapchat.
This authenticity might change from one day to the next. ‘Living your truth’—a maxim many Gen Zers subscribe to—can manifest itself one way on Tuesday and quite another come Wednesday. But that’s the beauty of Gen Z’s creative license: They bend reality to their will, simply because they can.
Evan, a Gen Zer and second-year design major who recently started rapping, explained the drive that fuels his creativity: “I create mainly because I feel unheard a lot in life, so if I put something on a t-shirt and it's in someone's face, it's hard to ignore it. Things hit harder when they mean something.”
We also spoke to Ethan, an 18-year-old musician who uses Instagram to share his songs and show dates. When asked about his Instagram use, Ethan explained, “I don’t love the idea of social media, but I do love to use it to my advantage. And I don’t put much care into crafting an ideal persona or image of who I want to be, and that’s when social media can be fun!”
When asked if his social presence is an accurate offline representation of himself, Ethan said, “My social media presence is accurate to me. I don't try to front or flex on my Instagram, I just share what I'm doing and what I think is cool. Considering myself a brand is weird because I'm the only one involved in my brand, so my brand is me, but I am not a brand.”
Become a medium by which the voices of Gen Z are heard and their creativity is seen. Take Nasty Gal, for example, who recently hosted a student t-shirt design competition. In doing so, Nasty Gal gave Gen Z contestants a platform for expressing their ideas and creativity — while engaging a key group of consumers.
Be authentic. Gen Z will see right through you if you’re not, so always stay true to your brand’s voice and values. Take Aerie, for example, who hosted a user-generated content campaign on Instagram. Staying true to their #AerieREAL promise to show only unretouched photos, they asked customers to submit authentic, untouched photos of themselves in Aerie bathing suits. Not only was this an authentic expression of their brand, but it was also an effective way to engage their Gen Z following.
So, above all, what should brands remember about this generation of digital creators? Encourage and provide ways for Zs to express and be themselves, and don’t control or choreograph any certain experience for them. By giving them the space and tools to create the reality they want, you just might find your brand included in their world.
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