Digital natives: how Gen Zs navigate the digital landscape

person stood outside laughing at something on her phone

Did you know, most Gen Zs have never known a world without the internet? We uncover how much of this young demographics’ life is influenced by the digital world, and what this means for your marketing strategy.

You might already be familiar with the term ‘digital native’ – a quality mostly attributed to the younger generation -but what does it really mean? As a demographic that has never known a world without the internet, Gen Zs understand their way around technology and use digital platforms as part of their regular routine. Understanding how Gen Zs navigate the digital world is key for brands looking to maximize their student marketing strategy. Let’s explore.

Social media as Gen Zs’ digital home

Over the years, social media platforms have grown immensely, and creating an Instagram account has now become a right of passage for those entering their adolescent years. Our survey revealed that 97% of students use social media, with the most popular platforms being YouTube (84% use this at least once a month), Instagram (regularly used by 73%), and Snapchat (63% use it monthly). Having been introduced to these platforms from a young age, Gen Z’s use of social media extends way beyond photo ‘likes’ and birthday posts on Facebook. For Gen Z, social media is a huge part of their everyday life.

phone screen displaying three digital platforms

In fact, data collated by the GWI reveals that students are spending the bulk of their spare time on social media platforms, totaling three hours a day. But what exactly are they using it for? As well as staying connected, young people use their social media for shopping inspiration. Instagram comes out on top as the platform most used for this purpose (69%), followed by YouTube (55%) and fast-growing competitor TikTok (36%) – showing that visual platforms are a big win for 16-24-year-olds.

Social media is also a hub for influencer activity. Gen Zs have specific preferences when it comes to influencer content – they like to see honest product reviews from someone they feel is authentic and genuine. 21% of students who like what they see will actually go to a brand or retailer’s social media profile to make a purchase, revealing that in-app purchases are on the rise and should be something brands consider going forward.

No doubt there is huge scope for brands to engage with students on social media to promote their campaigns, and even generate sales. However, Gen Zs are quick to lose interest – GWI found that 18% of Gen Zs are more likely to unfollow brands on social media than the average user. Brands, don’t neglect your social media. Ensure you produce creative content to keep your student following – trust us, winning over this consumer demographic is worth your while. 

Online shopping – a popular choice for Gen Z

While online shopping is not such a novelty for Gen Z college students, there are still some things that brands should consider when trying to boost their revenue and student conversion rates.

Gen Zs are spending more of their money online than ever before – 45% say they are now buying things online that they would have bought in-store. Meanwhile, 35% say they are looking for discounts more often, and 33% are taking more time to find the best product and price available. Overall, 97% of college students shop online and we expect this figure to remain prominent as the country continues to take precautions with the pandemic.

two people sat at a table looking at one laptop

In pursuit of the most comprehensive selection, 49% of students prefer to head for a website that sells a variety of brands. However, 48% say they would go directly to the brand’s own website. Meanwhile, a significant 44% would open an app when they’re ready to buy.

But, despite living much of their lives online, there is still a sense of mistrust among Gen Zs when it comes to the digital world, and they still very much value human interaction. Offering real customer reviews and recommendations is likely to gain Gen Z’s trust. Go one step further by linking up with influencers and creating video content like try-on hauls to highlight your authenticity online. Don’t be a robot – Gen Zs are more likely to make a purchase if they believe you are genuine.

Staying connected via digital platforms

As well as using technology to stay connected with loved ones, today’s students are also very culturally aware and use online platforms to keep up to date with the news and get involved in global issues. Indeed, when Black Lives Matter rose to prominence last year, 69% of US students signed a petition, 67% posted on social media, and a further 30% made a donation – signs of a new era of online activism

In more recent years, Gen Zs have also been dipping their toes in the online dating arena. Within the past year, 49% of Gen Zs have signed up to a dating site like Tinder, and 53% say they have used social media to organize a date or hook up, with Instagram and Snapchat being the most popular platforms. This is something to bear in mind when developing a social strategy to target older Gen Zs.

Entertainment in digital form

TV screen displaying Netflix logo

Over the last year, where face-to-face interaction has been restricted, Gen Zs have turned to digital platforms for various forms of entertainment. Gaming, in particular, has thrived more than any other entertainment category during the pandemic; 55% of students have been mobile gaming more than usual, and 50% have been playing console or computer games more often. Interestingly, of those who play games, 83% play on their phone, while 77% play on a console or computer, showing that mobile gaming is an important growth area in this industry.

Music and TV streaming services are also a favorite among students, who are likely to spend around 1.5 hours on music streaming service in one day; with Amazon Prime Music and Apple Music being  popular choices of streaming platform in the US. Spotify and Soundcloud equally make waves among young people and create the perfect platform for brands to advertise their products – especially since students are less likely to pay for an ad-free account.

Gen Zs are digital natives – and now you know exactly where to find them. Contact us today to see how we can help you build your Gen Z marketing strategy and boost your student revenue.

Gen Z and the Future of Ecommerce

Access the interactive report