Marketing to Gen Z: Uncovering a New World of Social Media Influencers


By Taylor Hulyk

As franchise social media marketers, every day is a new world. We’re constantly challenged to stay on top of the latest social media platform developments (the launch of Twitter Moments in October, anyone?); new social advertising options (as of September, Instagram ads are out of beta and ready to take your money!); and even owned algorithm changes that necessitate the pay-to-play model (oh, Facebook…).  

The Generational Divide

But technological innovation is not the only variable here. As time passes, we are introduced to generations of consumers who, too, evolve. Innate to these new buyers are psychological and behavioral tendencies that vary from the generation that precedes them. For the past 15 years or so, we’ve been bombarded with studies that have researched Gen Y, more commonly referred to as the Millennials. According to the Pew Research Center, the “Me Generation,” or people born between 1981 and 1997, is now 81 million strong, harnessing an annual purchasing power of $200 billion. For 15 years, we’ve learned to market to individuals who have been said to prioritize individual growth, have a sense of entitlement and have acclimated themselves into a new world of technology.

But for the first time ever, Gen Z, or people born beginning somewhere around the mid-late 1990s to the early 2000s (think 6-19), are outnumbering their older counterparts. According to Sparks & Honey, Gen Z now comprises 25.9 percent of the population, the largest living generation today. And though they’re young — some even still small — they are said to sit atop $44 billion in individual buying power. This is all before most even leave their parents’ homes. Combine that with Deep Focus’ 2015 Cassandra Report, which found that Gen Z influences 94 percent of household purchases and it’s confirmed: we as franchise marketers need to start taking the next generation of power consumers seriously.

Read any study, article or newscast, and you’ll quickly see there’s a discrepancy in attitudinal and behavioral descriptions of Gen Z versus Gen Y. And let’s just say that, if Gen Z is the future, research and the media maintain that society is trading up. They’ve been described as independent, hard-working, driven, conscientious, socially conscious, socially connected and entrepreneurial. 18-year-old Hannah Payne, a UCLA student and lifestyle blogger, said it best in a recent New York Times article on Gen Z: “We are the first true digital natives.”

Tech-ed Up

The 2012 J Walter Thompson (JWT) Intelligence survey reported that 81 percent of Gen Z uses social media, while the 2015 questionnaire reveals that 70 percent watch more than two hours of YouTube each day alone! That’s in keeping with Deep Focus, which found that YouTube is the most visited site by 85 percent of Gen Z. A Center for Disease Control 2014 survey corroborates, saying that 41 percent of Gen Z spends at least three hours per day on their computers on activities not related to school. And when it comes to purchase behavior, the 2012 JWT study reveals that approximately 50-plus percent of purchasing behavior is done online versus offline for almost all retail categories.

Marketing to Gen Z

So, what are the implications of a generation that has grown up with technology? According to Sparks & Honey, the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the U.S. National Library of Medicine report that these kids are regularly consuming so much information that their brains have started developing differently to process more information, faster. That, in itself, has significance. As franchise marketers, we have to capture their attention…and fast. Really fast, in fact, because the average American’s attention span is down to eight seconds from 12 in 2000. That’s why Gen Z prefers quick communication, largely rooted in images, quick videos and emojis. And not just any multimedia — content that is expected to be in high definition, interactive and shareable.

The good news is that Deep Focus reports that Gen Z is receptive to conversation from brands, even more so than their Millennial predecessors, with 34 percent okaying social media as the medium (versus 29 percent of Millennials). But the appeals of social messaging are also changing with time. In August 2014, Variety did a study of 1,500 teens to determine who ranked higher among a multitude of factors, including approachability, authenticity and overall influence: celebrities or YouTube stars. Of 20 selections, from the likes of actors such as Seth Rogan and Daniel Radcliffe, to YouTube sensations like Smosh and PewDiePie, the top five picks were all YouTube stars. The media marketplace is changing, the study concluded; Gen Z is interested in public figures who are more genuine, relatable and with their best interests in mind. 

To Influence is to Work with Influencers

Gen Z is online. They’re on social media and consuming lots of content. They’re prone to listening to online personalities just like them, and they’re influential in the vast majority of their household’s purchasing decisions. If there was ever a time to test online influencer marketing, now is it, especially since, according to ShopperTrak, consumers who use digital convert 20 percent more often, and those using social media are four times more likely to spend. And versus paid media, the 2015 Influencer Marketing Guide by Simply Measured states that, for every dollar earned from paid media, influencer marketing received $6.85.

Influence is Power!

Several brands have already tapped into the tremendous potential of influencer marketing, partnering with influencers who maintain presences on social networks built for short-format visual and interactive content:

• Meet California’s Amanda Steele, or MakeupbyMandy24 on YouTube. At just 16 years old, Amanda has 2.6 million subscribers with whom she shares beauty and fashion content. Within her last four videos, she’s announced a new sunglass line by Quay Australia and was invited by Teen Vogue to New York Fashion Week. There, she had a meet and greet with Fashion Designer Lily Aldridge. Not a bad gig for a teenager, not to mention the brands that are renting her equity to promote their products.

• 14-year-old Pittsburgh native Chloe Lukasiak was a regular on the Lifetime reality television show “Dance Moms” before leaving the show due to a conflict of interest with the cast. Since then, she has propelled herself to Internet stardom. On Instagram alone, she has racked up 3.1 million followers. In between posts of her daily life and new dance pursuits, she models for dancewear apparel retailer, Just for Kix, and just announced a new clothing line is in the works.

• Nash Grier is perhaps one of Vine’s biggest success stories. Nash is a 17-year-old North Carolinian, who gained enormous popularity after joining Vine in 2013, where his channel of six-second comedic mash-ups turned became extremely successful. Since then, he’s amassed 12.2 million followers and has been approached by huge brands, like M&Ms above, to feature their products in his videos. A 2014 article by Huffington Post revealed that brands have offered between $25,000 and $100,000 to promote their products in his clips. This year, he will make his acting debut in the film “The Outfield.”

Identifying Influencers

Working with influencers is never just a matter of finding an online personality with a lot of followers or subscribers; it’s a decision filled with strategic considerations, like website or blog traffic; social community size; social community engagement; relevance of influencer content to your franchise brand’s audience; alignment of the influencer’s community to your target(s); etc. This type of research can be done in several ways:

Web Exploration

If you’re in tune with your customers, especially if you have your hands on some media use research, there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to have good intuition about where your Gen Z customers are spending their time online. Monitor what your social communities are talking about, whom they’re talking with and about. Poking around online will often lead to the revelation of a content trend or expert in your space.

Online Tools

If you would like to complement your organic search with data, there are several online tools available to assist with your search:

• Klout Topic Expertise: In May, Klout released a new (and free) feature called Klout Topic Expertise. It identifies the top few subject matter experts from its vast, global database of social media users based on the most engaging content from the past 90 days.

• Buzzsumo: Buzzsumo is a fantastic tool for identifying the most popular content surrounding a subject matter, pinpointing influencers by topic and understanding which content resonates most with influencers. 

• Traackr: With Traackr, you can classify and understand relevant influencers filtered by subject matter, geo-location and language. The system measures influence based on three factors: reach, resonance and relevance to your topic. The platform also allows you to monitor your selected influencer’s conversation stream and engage when the time is right.

• Sysomos Heartbeat: Within your social communities, Sysomos Heartbeat extracts the people that are talking with or about you the most, and which of your community members has the most influence. To do this, it uses its proprietary “authority” score. This score is based off of a ratio of social followers to following, frequency of activity and engagement on content. In its Communities tool, you can uncover the influencers and their networks that are speaking to a specific subject matter.

Media Databases

Media databases like Cision are quick ways to search through a massive library of journalistic contacts to jumpstart outreach efforts. Cision offers its Cision Influencer Lists, put together by media researchers to identify influential people by industry based on their Cision Influence Rating score, topic relevance, editorial role and pitching preference.

Influencer Agencies 

Especially for Gen Z favorites like YouTube, Vine, Instagram and Snapchat, brands are more often turning to influencer talent agencies to be matched with the perfect influencer. Some big players are Niche, Instabrand, theAmplify, Evolve! and Socialyte.

Influencing Influencers

Once you’ve created your list of influencers, it’s your turn to influence them! Some of the agencies listed above will handle coordination and content conceptualization for you, but if you’re going it alone, remember that, a lot of the time, when you’re working with influencers to reach Gen Z, you’re working with Gen Z themselves. In a world of teenagers influencing teenagers, make sure you talk to them while taking into account everything you’ve learned above. Respect, transparency and offering appropriate compensation is crucial when you’re asking people who have worked hard to cultivate large social communities to do something for you. Your pitch and proposed partnership must be relevant to both the influencer and his or her audience. 

Taylor Hulyk is social media director at re:group. Find her at