There’s no doubt about it: when it comes to connecting with Gen Zers (those born after 1996, according to Pew Research) on social media, brands have their work cut out for them. That’s because, as we discovered with our previous article on this group and their values, they are a generation who’ve grown up hearing the cautionary tale, “just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it true,” and are ready to put brands to the task. If a brand isn’t authentic in its engagement with this inherently skeptical group, they’ll simply turn their attention to the innumerable other ways to amuse and distract themselves online – and take their wallets with them.
So how does a local brand connect with that coveted group of 10 to 25 year-olds and their combined $150 billion spending power? We did some primary research here at FIFTEEN, asking some of the younger team members, as well as the offspring and their friends of some of the older ones, which local brands they follow and why. And more importantly, we asked them what they look for when choosing which brands to follow, and what factors influence their decision whether or not to purchase from them. Read below for some of their responses.
Even though I follow about 600 people on TikTok, the only ones from around here are the Bills, Sabres and Bisons because they’re Buffalo teams and I’m from Buffalo. I like to see random stuff from the players, like interviews. I follow Darien Lake on Instagram and YouTube because they post updates and videos about new rides. We have season passes and I like to go with my friends.
I follow local brands because I like to support local businesses and stay involved in the community. Fairy Cakes Cupcakery on Instagram does a good job at posting content about new items, sales or holiday specials. They had fun designs for the May the Fourth holiday that I purchased for my boyfriend.
To be honest, I don’t follow many local brands on social media, but one company that I respect and follow on Instagram is Chiavetta’s. As a student athlete, I appreciate all of the fundraisers they do for other school sports teams. I check out their page to see where they’ll be, and if they’re sponsoring a bbq dinner that benefits one of my school’s or my friends’ teams, I’ll stop by and pick one up to help them out.
On social media I’m mainly on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, with some Facebook, but that’s mainly for family stuff. I mainly follow national brands, but some local brands I follow on Instagram are Balanced Body Foods, Step Out Buffalo and Ithaca Hummus. I like seeing new products and getting ideas on meal prep and clean eating, as well as the latest on what’s going on in Buffalo.
I follow local brands on social media, mostly Instagram, because I love supporting local companies and my community. One that immediately comes to mind is Step Out Buffalo; they are always updating their content and I get a lot of ideas from them. And while I haven’t bought anything directly from SOB, I have purchased from businesses they’ve featured.
Fattey Beer Co., Oxford Pennant, Research and Design, and Step Out Buffalo are four local brands that come to mind. I love trying local craft beers, and Fattey is dog friendly, offers to-go options, hosts events and classes, and I like how their mug membership brings a sense of community. Oxford Pennant is just cool and fun with what they make and post, including the language they use, the people who represent their brand and their aesthetic. They also take a stand on social justice issues, which I admire. Research and Design’s Instagram presence knows the way to my heart (and wallet) with clothing and shoe try-ons and in-season, on-trend outfit inspiration. Step out Buffalo is a woman-owned business, and like Fattey and Oxford Pennant, are community oriented and socially aware. Plus, Step Out Buffalo is always in the know about trends, posts funny captions and memes, is creative with giveaways and knows how to engage with users on each different platform.
I follow local brands, mostly food and coffee-related, because I like to know when events are happening, if they’re going to release special products, etc. Companies like Steamworks Coffee Roasters, Half Baked Cookies and Step Out Buffalo are always posting updates on Instagram and I like to see what there is to do. I have been known to purchase a coffee or treat after seeing a post on my feed.
I’m mainly on Instagram, and three local brands that stick out to me the most are Butter Block, Oxford Pennant and Southern Junction. They have a lot in common as far as their social media strategy: their pictures are pretty to look at, they regularly post updates to keep me informed about things like hours of operation and specials, and they’ll share real people using their products. For example, I like to know where my food comes from, so I’ll notice when Butter Block tags local farms if they use their products in their baked goods. Southern Junction will post candid captions that make them feel more conversational, as well as behind the scenes shots and the inspiration behind their food.
I mainly follow national brands on social media, and my preferred platforms are Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. I like to keep up with the latest news and will follow a few local restaurants for this reason. However, I will say I buy things featured in ads or recommended by influencers all the time. Social advertising works for me. In fact, it’s the main driver for almost all of my purchases.
On the flip side, however, we talked to a group of Gen Zers who aren’t as enthusiastic about following local brands, again citing that healthy suspicion about the authenticity behind the corporate accounts. Parth, 17, Sydney, 19 and Matthew, 22, were all nearly unanimous in their sentiments: platforms like SnapChat and Instagram were mainly for keeping up with friends, and they’d rely more on a friend’s product or service recc than anything a brand could say about itself on social media. TikTok was for connecting with brands or content creators on a national level, mostly with the intent of being informed and entertained, especially for the younger Gen Zers. Aidan, 12, said Shaq, Bill Nye and YouTuber Mr. Beast are his favorite TikTok accounts, while Ayla, 14, cited CoolMath Games and the Paralympic as her accounts of choice. “Idk who runs it (the Paralympic account), but they have internet humor down to a T,” she said (it should be noted that in keeping with this generation’s preferred method of communication, most of this information-gathering was done via text!).
There’s no doubt that like their forebears, Gen Z is a nuanced group, influenced by its formative years and the available technology. As this group continues to age, it’ll be up to savvy marketers to keep up with their preferences and evolve to meet their expectations.