The Zs, these « digital intuitives »
What are the characteristics of the Z-generation? Its intuitive relationship to new technologies and its total familiarity with the social web.
The easy access to numerical platforms, the intuitive relationship to new technologies and the fascinating familiarity with the social web of the Z-generation redefine the means of communication in their daily life. Besides, it gives them new perspectives of personal expression.
Most experts place their birthdates after 1995, which would make them younger than 22, while others place them after the 9/11 attacks… In any case, they refer to this new generation of consumers who have always known the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), bringing the Americans to nickname them the “digital intuitives” to distinguish them from their Y-generation elders, the “digital natives”. Some also speak of an “alpha generation” because it they embody a new relation between Man and machines; others of “C generation” for Communication, Collaboration, Connection and Creativity; finally, a “hashtag generation” for their addiction to social networks.
A permanent and alienating connectivityThe smartphone is, in 2016, the king of numerical supports among young people. Small, light, portable, with apps supplying all kinds of services, it offers a yet-unequalled useful and convenient dimension which makes it their favorite tool. As for the laptop, it is essentially used to work and watch videos on a larger screen. If the fixed computer seems to be (definitely?) forgotten, the tablet is progressively becoming part of the daily life of teenagers who use it more than their Y-elders according the “Digital Teen Explorer” study conducted by the Refuel Agency in 2015.
Otherwise, the Z-generation knows how to use the broad numeric, that is to say not only internet and social networks but also connected objects. They have an intuitive (hence their name) and laid-back relationship to technological items and will certainly be the biggest consumers of the Internet of Things.
A permanent connectivity which translates into the “FoMo” (Fear of Missing Out) phenomenon, i.e. the fear of missing something if they are not connected at the right time. Moreover, these teens brought up in numerical new technologies are used to “googling” at any occasion – that is what Google calls the “micro moments”. They systematically search the information on the internet and have thus a tendency to simplify the task – at the risk of falling on inaccurate information coming from unfounded sources.
The youth’s social web: participative, creative and funFar from the “passive” web (the 1.0 web), the Z-generation was brought up in the 2.0 or “participative” web: they have accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine. Each has a different function: events, ads and friends for Facebook, creative esthetics and identity expression for Instagram, funny and transient photos for Snapchat, music and videos for YouTube. Internet has thus gone beyond simple connectivity; it is a tool of inspiration, curiosity, multiple knowledge and of unexpected discoveries.
The most popular platform would be YouTube – expressing the sharp rise in the popularity of online video as a numerical medium. Facebook is almost becoming the “old people” social network; they prefer networks like Snapchat or Vine, which favor creation, humor, detachment, lightness. As for the exponential growth of Snapchat (around 70% of its users are under 20, according to the BNP Paribas study – Boson Project: La grande invaZion published in January 2015), it is interesting to note that this service of transient photos exchange corresponds perfectly to this so-called impulsive, impatient and zapping generation.
Blurred yet controlled public/private bordersKnown for their plural identities and their multiple belongings, the members of the Z-generation express their individuality in collectiveness. The notion of collectivity was reinforced by the communitarian dimension of social networks which make them handle hundreds or even thousands of virtual contacts, act within communities, measure their influence capacity among these groups. Numeric tools created a new reference: others’ world – i.e. the world of the people they interact with: friends, friends of friends, people they meet… It is within this reference sociability that young people place a great part of their affect. With all the exchanging and sharing on the web, the difference between physical and virtual contact is more and more blurred, and that impacts the relation to others and to real life. Often, they even trust more these new numerical or recent media than the “traditional” ones which, for them, are easy to manipulate. According to the last annual study conducted by Bain & Company in partnership with the Forum d’Avignon, over 2/3 of the 15-25 years old group (against less than half for the 35 and older) put more trust in social media and the recommendations they find there to choose their media content: videos, music and books.
Ultra-connected indeed, but not anyhow. This generation uses the numeric in a smart way, as they understood the risks and collateral damages which can be caused by an exaggerated consumption of social media or by having all their personal life exposed online. Over half of the people polled claim that they know people who were harassed online or cyber-intimidated, according to the Huffington post, 28th of December 2014. More generally, they select the data they want to communicate and close their account when they no longer want to spread anything: it is a chosen sharing of information. According to the “Digital Teen Explorer” study conducted by the Refuel Agency in 2015, the Zs consider that respect for private lives and security are the most important characteristics of a search engine.
The social web and its heirsThe numerical platforms enable anyone to stage themselves in a few clicks. A godsend for kids who no longer see school as an unavoidable formative institution and who would do anything to bypass it by creating their brand, business, medium… YouTube and Instagram are, to that extent, the royal paths for efficient “personal branding”, image and video allowing them to construct and enhance their image as they desire. Rather than simply consuming media, they create and produce them by themselves – every minute, 72 hours of video are uploaded on YouTube and 216 000 photos are shared on Instagram according to the American study institute Wildness in September 2015.
The incredible success of some YouTubers even moved them from the smartphone screen to the television one or even to the stage: Norman, Cyprien or EnjoyPheonix. In France, only a few of them manage to make a living out of their channel: the platform redistribute 50% of the commercial revenues generated by the videos to their author, with a little less than one euro for a thousand views according to professionals’ estimations.
A proof of this spectacular popularity was the VideoCity festival on the 7th-8th of November which brought together 25 000 people in Paris who came to meet some 160 YouTube French stars. These modern-time celebrities owe their considerable popularity to their “average Joe” status or their “girl next door” image. This great accessibility creates a virtual intimate relationship with their fans and gives them a role of an older brother or sister.
What about the brands?In 2016, the key-words for brands will be sharing, interactivity and surprise. With these young consumers, keener on emotion, facing an avalanche of possible choices and belonging to different groups, brands must replace mass marketing with a marketing targeted at consumers’ circles and communities. They must be capable of interacting with these communities and to create new ones. They must learn to communicate in a direct way while adopting the language and the fun and even off-key tone of this youth.
Also very demanding because over-informed and living in the instant, they are expecting innovative contents and offers, a frequent renewing, creating astonishment and surprise. Beyond the social web, they live in the age of virtual worlds (augmented reality, virtual reality, holography), of contactless technologies and of the machine-to-machine trend (connected items, predictive analyze softwares).
Roxane Baché has been a consultant in consumer intelligence and innovation for four years between Paris, London, New York and Shanghai. She detects and analyses tomorrow’s world. Between society movements, new lifestyles, emerging consumption practices, generational effects, she is passionate about tendencies and prospective.
Initially published on Influencia, February 2016.
Crédits photo : Pluris / DR, DR