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Why some Gen Zs are breaking up with social media

by Christina Germano
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    Gen Z is the digital-first generation—but that might soon change. As Zs become privy to the negative effects social media has on their lives, some young people have gradually started to step away. We’re taking a look at why some Gen Zs are ‘breaking up’ with social media and how brands can adapt accordingly.


    If you’ve been following us, you know one thing for sure: Gen Zs are digital natives. Having grown up with the Internet at their fingertips, the days of dial-up and flip phones are practically folklore to this digitally-driven generation. Gen Z is full of surprises, though, (i.e. they prefer in-person banking over online; they trust social influencers more than celebrities), and then there’s this interesting tidbit: They’re beginning to step away from social media.

    It’s true. In a recent survey by Origin, 64% of respondents said they planned to take a break from social media, and 34% wanted to kick the habit altogether. This thinking is a departure from the mindset of Millennials, who didn’t grow up with social media and are perhaps less tuned in to its pitfalls.

    Regardless, 77% of Gen Z still believes the benefits of social (shopping, connecting with friends, travel research, etc.) far outweigh the drawbacks, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see droves of Zers quitting anytime soon. Nonetheless, brands should take note of this attitudinal shift and hone in on what’s driving Gen Z to unfriend social media platforms.

    Why Gen Z is quitting social media

    Let’s talk about FOMO. Anyone with a social media account knows the feeling: You’re sitting in your office on a gloomy Wednesday afternoon and, taking a quick break, you scroll through Instagram. Your coworker is sunbathing in Florida; your cousin is castle-hopping in England; your former roommate is at a concert in New York City. And suddenly, you’re plagued with thoughts like: Wow, my life is so boring. Why can’t I have this much fun? Is something wrong with me?

    Growing up in tandem with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter means social-induced FOMO is nothing new for Gen Z—and they’re tired of it. In the same Origin study, 35% felt social media fueled too much negativity for their liking, and 17% said it made them feel badly about themselves.

    Sara Germano, a freshman at Rutgers University, has recently cut down on her social media use, though she admits it’s a hard habit to kick. She explains: “I deleted my Instagram during my first semester at school because it turned into something that made me feel bad about myself rather than being a fun way to communicate with my friends and family. Now I’m back on Instagram, but I’m careful to limit how often I use it.”

    In a recent Guardian article, students in the U.K. shared this sentiment, lamenting that Instagram became “a brutal barometer of popularity” in schools, thus encouraging people to curate a dishonest version of their lives. So, as they grow “weary of the pressures of sustaining an online persona,” many Zs are simply signing off of social media.

    Germano agrees: “Overall, I’ve significantly cut down on my social media use. When I stick to that, I’m definitely much happier.”

    In addition to its effect on mental health, Zs cite distractions and privacy concerns as motivation for leaving social media. 41% of Gen Z feels they’re simply wasting time on the platforms, and 44% would rather “use time in more valuable ways”. Zs are also hyper-aware of digital privacy, and 22% have already quit in order to live more privately.

    How brands can adapt to Gen Z’s shift in social media use

    For brands looking to connect with Gen Z, here’s the good news: You won’t see a major drop in their social media use (at least, not yet). You will, however, need to adapt to their new attitudes in order to connect with the 65% of Zs who follow brands on social media. Here are some ideas:

    • Show people/scenarios they can relate to: Your brand will speak more effectively to Gen Z if the content you share is realistic. Given that self esteem and mental health concerns have turned Zs away from social, they want your brand’s feed to reflect the diverse people and real-life scenarios in their lives—not make them feel worse. What they don’t want to see are airbrushed models and private jets.

    • Get to the point. This generation faces a constant barrage of advertisements and social posts, so their time and attention is precious. Make your brand’s message concise and quick—because Gen Z doesn’t want to waste any more time scrolling. Include strong calls-to-action and streamlined experiences (i.e. offering payment via Apple Pay).

    • Respect their privacy. Don’t fall victim to the data demons. Zs are acutely aware of their digital privacy, and they won’t respect your brand if you abuse their data. Even if you’re not in the E.U., you might consider using GDPR as a blueprint.

    Whether or not Gen Z might be pulling away from social media remains to be seen, but regardless, not all hope is lost. Brands that understand Z’s motivations for leaving social and adapt their practices accordingly still have a chance to connect with this up-and-coming generation of consumers.

      Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19


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