Unpacking Gen Z’s favorite social media platforms

As digital natives, Gen Z know their way around social media. But they’re also picky. We unpack their favorite social media hangouts – and understand why these platforms top the list.

YouTube is number one for Gen Z

For the 16-24-year-old demographic, YouTube is an unlikely frontrunner. It’s desktop-first, rich with long-form content, and the second oldest platform on this list. Yet 84% of US and 82% of UK students check in with the platform at least monthly.

Gen Z’s love for YouTube actually forces us to confront some of the stereotypes that surround the demographic. No doubt, you’ve heard how they have short attention spans, prefer apps to desktops, and spend most of their screen time scrolling through TikTok. But before they had apps and indeed smartphones, there was YouTube on the family computer – and it’s been keeping Gen Zs entertained ever since.

A Gen Z social media user takes a picture

With a plethora of Gen Z Youtube stars coming of age on the platform – each with an individual network of subscribers – YouTube has redefined how we view fame, paving the way for the influencers that dominate Gen Z platforms today. With tutorials and film trailers alongside music and hot takes, it’s not surprising that this culturally-aware, efficient generation love it. And that factoid about them having a short attention span? It’s a myth – Gen Z are just very good at multitasking.

Instagram and Snapchat battle it out for second place

The Instagram v Snapchat debate feels as old as time itself… but really, the two photo-based apps have only been head-to-head for the past nine years, with the Snapchat ghost bursting onto the scene in 2011, one year after Instagram’s launch. Since then, the jury has been out among social media users about which is better.

An instagram feed

But Gen Z users do have a particular preference. 79% of UK students use Instagram at least once a month, with 73% of US Gen Zs scrolling through the platform at least monthly. Snapchat trains slightly behind – with 69% of UK students and 63% of US students checking in once a month.

The two platforms have evolved down similar tracks; building out video content, stories and chat functions. Instagram has evolved its functionality to be part-marketplace, part social network; 71% of UK students now get shopping inspiration from it. Great news for any brands looking to branch out with social media ads.

A snapchat ghost on a yellow background

 Snapchat has maintained its disappearing image format, but is now a thriving publisher rich with youth-focused content. But given that the top three Gen Z social networks are highly visual, both Snapchat and Instagram owe their success to the first feature they launched with – the photo-sharing capabilities.

Facebook: largely spurned by students?

Facebook is often lauded as the most popular social network of all time. While it’s by no means obsolete among Gen Z, it simply doesn’t have the same resonance for them. Around half of UK-based Gen Zs check their Facebook timelines monthly, and Gen Zs in the US have left it behind, too – just 42% are regular visitors to the world’s biggest social network.

A Facebook search bar

In part, Gen Z have turned their back on Facebook because it doesn’t have the same visual capabilities as other platforms. While Instagram, Snapchat and (more recently) TikTok allow them to express themselves visually, Facebook is less focused on image-rich content. And as a platform with around the same number of 45-54-year-olds as it has 18-24-year-olds, there’s also the very real risk that UK Gen Zs will run into their parents while scrolling.

The big disruptor is TikTok

Since its inception in 2016, TikTok has become inextricably linked to Gen Z. But you’d be mistaken for thinking that every 16-24-year-old communicates exclusively via short-form video. TikTok, rather, is a growing disruptor rather than a dominant force. It’s the seventh-most downloaded app of the 2010s, and with 800 million monthly average users, it’s quickly risen to be a social juggernaut.

As it stands, 50% of UK students and 48% of US students are monthly TikTok users. This might come as a surprise – but in general, it’s worth mentioning that younger Gen Z social media users (such as sixth-formers in the UK) are more likely to be hopping on dance trends than their slightly older university student counterparts. As a new cohort of students heads to university in 2021, we predict that they’ll be taking TikTok with them.

Now you know how much Gen Z are engaging with Instagram – but do you know how much they’re engaging with your brand? The Youth Brand Affinity Tracker has landed – time to find out who is dominating the student sphere in your sector. UK edition / US edition