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Considering that many of the most popular social media platforms — including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — are now nearly 20 years old, it makes sense that the youngest social media users are looking for alternatives. A number of new studies suggest that members of Generation Z (typically defined as anyone born after 1997) are already using social media very differently than Millennials So let’s take a closer look at how Generation Z is redefining social media.
The TikTok effect
If there is any social media platform associated with Generation Z, it is TikTok. In a recent Pew Research Center study, for example, social media usage amongst members of Generation Z was down across every social media platform except TikTok. It would be easy to conclude that short, viral videos are the way that members of Generation Z like to connect with others. But it would be too simplistic to say that Generation Z is shallow and self-absorbed, identifying only with pop culture and silly jokes. It is more nuanced than that.
For example, according to some studies, members of Generation Z have very real online privacy concerns. As a result, they like the idea of ephemeral, disappearing stories that only certain people can see. And they like having default settings in which content is shared only with a small circle of friends. In contrast, social media platforms like Facebook are well-known for harvesting user data and then selling it to third-party advertising companies, all while encouraging people to spread content as widely as possible.
Members of Generation Z also like the fact that TikTok does a much better job of showing them new content that they didn’t know existed out there. In contrast, social media platforms like Facebook can seem like an echo chamber — once Facebook knows what you like, it will only give you what you like. TikTok does a much better job of guessing what users might like and surprising them with this content.
New social media experiences
What’s really interesting is that young social media users appear to be constantly looking for new types of social media experiences. And even better if those social media experiences don’t call themselves “social media.” For example, chat platforms like Discord are growing rapidly, and these look and feel very different from traditional social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. New metaverse worlds are “social” without being “social media.” And new private messaging apps such as Telegram provide plenty of social engagement, without looking like traditional social media platforms.
All of this speaks to the very different way that young members of Generation Z think about their identity online. In the old legacy platforms, users were expected to choose one central hub such as Facebook. This hub then collected every possible bit of data about them, while also relentlessly collecting data about every single one of their friends. This hub also carefully tracked what type of content was shared across the platform, and with whom. In hindsight, this is kinda creepy. So no wonder members of Generation Z are much more willing to use a variety of social media platforms these days, without really giving any platform their full identity.
At the end of the day, it might all come down to the fact that every generation wants to be seen as unique and different. They don’t want to live the same lives as their parents. So it’s perhaps natural to see a wide range of new social media experiences emerging, and new definitions of social media being created. One thing is for sure: This isn’t your father’s social media.