Gen Z & Social Media: Exploring the Digital Landscape of Generation Z

Appinio Research · 22.06.2023 · 15min read

Gen Z individuals taking selfies to post on social media

Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives, but Generation Z, commonly known as Gen Z, is the generation with the most special relationship with these channels. 

Born between the mid-1990s and early 2010s, Gen Z is the first generation to grow up entirely in the era of social media. This tech-savvy cohort has seamlessly integrated social media platforms into their everyday routines, influencing various aspects of their lives, from communication and identity formation to activism and beyond.

In this blog post, we delve into the intricate relationship between Gen Z and social media, shedding light on the impact and nuances of their digital landscape. To provide a comprehensive understanding, we present data findings from the recent Appinio "Teengeist" study, where we surveyed 1000 Gen Z individuals across the United States, exploring their social media habits and preferences.


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Before we delve into the study's insights, let's take a step back and examine the rise of social media. How did it all start?

The rise of social media

Social media has come a long way since its inception in the late 1990s. What started as basic online networking sites have now evolved into multi-billion dollar industries, influencing various aspects of our lives.


Today, there are numerous social media platforms available, catering to different audiences and purposes. Gen Z, in particular, is known for its fascination with social media, with several platforms catering to their preferences and interests.


History of social media platforms

The first social media platform was Six Degrees, launched in 1997, allowing users to upload profiles and connect with friends. 


But, the first popular social media platform was Friendster, launched in 2002, and it allowed users to share content, connect with friends, and create groups. 


Soon after, MySpace became the leading social media platform in 2005, with over 75.9 million unique visitors per month.


However, the biggest social media platform today is (still) Facebook, which launched in 2004 and boasts over 2.8 billion monthly active users worldwide. 

Alongside Facebook, other social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube have also gained immense popularity.

Gen Z's social media usage

Gen Z's social media preferences are varied, with different platforms catering to their interests and needs. According to the Appinio Teengeist study, the most used social media platforms among American Gen Z are:


  1. YouTube
    The video-sharing platform is a favorite, 47% of surveyed Gen Z use it multiple times a day. YouTube has over 2 billion monthly active users worldwide, catering to Gen Z's love for long-form videos and tutorials.

  2. TikTok
    Launched in 2016, TikTok has skyrocketed in popularity, with over 1 billion monthly active users worldwide. Gained popularity by making viral dances, the platform allows users to create and share short-form videos, using videos and audio from other creators. 41% of American Gen Z use the app multiple times a day.

  3. Instagram
    With 41% using the app daily, Instagram shares the second place with TikTok in Gen Z’s heart.
    The visual-centric platform counts over 1 billion monthly active users, the app allows users to share photos and videos, explore trends, and connect with others.

  4. Snapchat
    Known for its disappearing messages and filters, Snapchat has over 500 million monthly active users worldwide, catering to Gen Z's love for ephemeral content. The app comes in third place in the most used apps by Gen Z at 35%.

Key highlights from our Appinio Teengeist Report on social media

According to our survey, here are some key highlights of social media used by American Gen Z:



  • The most used social media platform is YouTube. 47% of American Gen Z use the app several times a day. 
    • Men are more likely to use YouTube than women, 56% vs. 37%.
  • TikTok & Instagram rank second, both at 41%
    • Women are more likely to use TikTok several times a day than men, 50% vs. 31%
    • Women are more likely to use Instagram several times a day than men, 45% vs. 37%
  • Snapchat comes in third place at 35%.

What type of content does Gen Z prefer?

TIkTok, Instagram, YouTube and many more have profoundly changed the way Gen Z interacts, communicates, and expresses themselves.


Gen Z utilizes social media platforms for a variety of reasons, each serving a unique purpose. Based on the findings from the Teengeist study, here are some key motivations behind Gen Z's usage of social media:


  1. Humorous and entertaining content

    A significant 69% of Gen Z surveyed say they use social media platforms to enjoy humorous and entertaining content.
    Platforms like TikTok and Instagram provide a constant stream of engaging and relatable content, including memes, challenges, and creative videos, offering a source of lighthearted entertainment.

    The success of TikTok star Khaby Lame is a testament to this.
    In 2022, he became the most followed person on TikTok all thanks to his silent comedy.

  2. Keeping up with friends

    Approximately 50% of Gen Z respondents cited staying connected with friends as a primary reason for using social media.

    These platforms enable Gen Z to maintain social relationships, share experiences, and be a part of their friends' lives, even when physically distant. They serve as a digital space for interaction, conversations, and sharing moments with their close circles.

  3. Informative and inspirational content

    About 39% of Gen Z individuals stated that they use social media for its informative content.

    They rely on these platforms as a source of news, current events, and trends. Whether it's following news accounts, content creators, or influencers, social media offers Gen Z quick and accessible information on a wide range of topics, keeping them updated and knowledgeable about the world around them.


By understanding these motivations, you can gain insights into the diverse ways Gen Z incorporates social media into their lives and how you can leverage the power of social media to reach this interesting and evolving audience.

Who does Gen Z follow on social media?

Gen Z's social media experience involves following a diverse range of individuals and entities. Based on the findings from the Teengeist study, let's explore who Gen Z tends to follow on social media.


  1. Friends
    This should not come as a surprise, 79% of Gen Z follow their friends on social media platforms. This highlights the importance of peer connections and the desire to stay updated with the lives and activities of their social circle.

  2. Influencers
    Approximately 39% of Gen Z respondents indicated that they follow influencers on social media.

  3. Celebrities
    Social media provides Gen Z with a direct connection to celebrities, with 26% of respondents indicating that they follow celebrities on these platforms. Even if experts forecasted a decrease in following for celebrities in the next few years.

  4. Musicians
    Gen Z's love for music extends to social media, with 22% of respondents stating that they follow musicians. Social media platforms offer musicians a direct channel to connect with their fan base, share new releases, and provide an intimate look into their creative processes.

  5. Brands
    Another 22% indicated that they follow brands on these platforms. Brands utilize social media as a means to engage with Gen Z, showcasing their products, offering promotions, and fostering a sense of brand loyalty.


In the next section, we will explore how Gen Z approaches influencers and brands on social media.

Gen Z and Influencers

Influencer culture has become an integral part of the social media experience, and of course Gen Z are also exposed to influencers.

The "Teengeist" study provides valuable insights into how Gen Z engages with influencers and the impact they have on their behaviors and opinions.


Consumption of influencer content


One in two (50%) American Gen Z consume influencer content daily or multiple times a day.

This showcases the widespread influence and appeal that influencers have over Gen Z's online experiences. Influencers offer a unique blend of entertainment, relatability, and aspirational content that resonates with this generation.


What types of influencers does Gen Z follow?


The study revealed interesting preferences when it comes to following influencers among Gen Z:


    • Comedy 
      Almost one in two (48%) Gen Z individuals following influencers on social media choose to follow influencers in the comedy space. This is not surprising as we have uncovered earlier in this post that Gen Z uses social media mainly to enjoy humorous content.

    • Gaming

      Gaming influencers hold a significant presence among Gen Z, with 41% of Gen Z individuals following influencers in the gaming space. These influencers offer gameplay highlights, tips, and reviews, catering to Gen Z's love for gaming and virtual experiences.

      if you're interested in knowing more about the gaming industry and how different target groups approach gaming, download our further report on gaming, the Appinio Hype Tracker Report.

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    • Music

      Gen Z's passion for music translates into their social media preferences, with 34% of them following influencers in the music area. Music influencers and personalities share covers, original compositions, and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the music industry, catering to Gen Z's appreciation for musical talent.


Influence on purchasing behavior

But influencers are called this way first and foremost for their ability to influence purchase behavior of their followers, and Gen Z are not immune.


Influencers seem to be tilting the needle also for the most eco-conscious generation. 


Two thirds (62%) of Gen Z say they have been "influenced" to buy a product promoted by an influencer. 


At the end of the day, everyone can be swayed into purchasing something new if the recommendation comes from someone they trust and value.


However, another trend has been gaining memento lately among Gen Z: deinfluencing.

Driven by the need to tame the over consumerism and the raging cost-of-living crisis, the deinfluencers try to discourage their followers from buying things they don’t need, can’t afford or products that are just overhyped, therefore trying to influence their following to stop buying.


Are these social media personalities trying to promote a more conscious lifestyle or are they just shifting the focus on other sponsored products?


Importance of influencers addressing socially relevant topics

We have already mentioned a few times that Gen Z seems to be the most vocal generation when it comes to raising awareness on specific topics like climate change, mental health and equality. They have even become objects of heated public discussions for their strong stances and they expect influencers to be advocates for important causes.

More than one third (35%) of Gen Z following influencers on social media find it (very) important that influencers use their reach to address socially relevant topics. 


This highlights Gen Z's expectation for influencers to leverage their platforms and reach for social impact and meaningful conversations.


Furthermore, the Teengeist study found that, on average, women find this aspect more important than men, with 41% of women considering it important compared to 30% of men.

Gen Z brand relationship - 22% follow brands on social media


The Appinio Teengeist report has also revealed that one in five (22%) Gen Z follow brands on social media.


Gen Z's engagement with brands on social media is influenced by various factors, including the type of content they share. The "Teengeist" study sheds light on what drives Gen Z to follow and engage with brands on social media platforms.


What is Gen Z looking for in brands on social media?


When it comes to deciding which brands to follow on social media, Gen Z considers the type of content shared by the brands. The Appinio Teengeist study reveals the following preferences:


  • Funny content
    Almost one in two (47%) American Gen Z decides to follow certain brands primarily based on whether they post funny content. Humorous and entertaining content seem to be the leit-motif of Gen Z’s social media life.

  • Informational content
    Approximately 32% of Gen Z are inclined to follow brands that provide informational content. Gen Z are asking for brands to offer valuable and educational content, such as tips, guides, or informative posts that align with their interests and needs.

  • Casual, spontaneous content
    Casual and spontaneous content holds appeal for 23% of Gen Z individuals when deciding to follow brands on social media. This type of content showcases authenticity, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and everyday moments, creating a more relatable and personal connection with the brand.

    It is worth noting that women show a higher preference for casual, spontaneous content compared to men. Around 28% of women prioritize this type of content, while it stands at 18% for men.

By aligning their content strategies with these preferences, brands can effectively capture Gen Z's attention and foster a meaningful connection.


How does Gen Z feel about the future of social media?

As Gen Z continues to navigate the digital landscape, it's essential to explore how their relationship with social media might evolve and the potential impact it can have on society and future generations.


Predictions and Speculations


The rapid pace of technological advancements and the ever-changing social media landscape make it challenging to predict the exact course Gen Z's relationship with social media will take. However, several trends and speculations can be considered:


  • Shift in platform preferences
    Gen Z's social media preferences might evolve as new platforms emerge and existing platforms adapt. While popular platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat dominate Gen Z's attention currently, future platforms might offer unique features, content formats, or privacy measures that resonate more with Gen Z's evolving needs.


  • Emphasis on Authenticity
    As Gen Z becomes more discerning consumers of content, there might be an increased emphasis on authenticity and transparency. Gen Z's desire for genuine connections and relatable experiences could shape the content produced by influencers, brands, and even social media platforms themselves.


  • Enhanced privacy measures
    With growing concerns about data privacy and online security (lately focusing especially on TikTok), Gen Z might demand stricter privacy measures from social media platforms. Future platforms might prioritize user control over personal data, implement stronger security protocols, and provide enhanced privacy settings to address Gen Z's concerns.

What is the impact on society and future generations?

Gen Z's relationship with social media has the potential to shape society and future generations in various ways:


  • Social Activism
    Gen Z's inclination towards using social media for activism and advocating social causes is likely to continue. Their ability to mobilize and amplify voices through social media platforms can lead to significant social change and influence future generations to actively participate in social issues.


  • Digital Well-being
    As the conversation around mental health and digital well-being gains prominence, Gen Z's relationship with social media might undergo changes. Platforms may introduce features to promote healthier usage, provide mental health resources, and encourage digital mindfulness to prioritize the well-being of users.


  • Media Consumption Habits
    Gen Z's exposure to social media from an early age may impact their media consumption habits in the future. The instant access to information, entertainment, and diverse perspectives might shape their preferences for news, entertainment, and digital content consumption, influencing the media landscape as a whole.

Final Thoughts

Gen Z and social media have formed an inseparable bond, this tech-savvy cohort, born and raised in the era of social media, has seamlessly integrated these platforms into their daily lives. From communication and identity formation to activism and beyond, social media has influenced various aspects of Gen Z's lives.


Looking ahead, the future of Gen Z and social media holds both excitement and uncertainty. As new platforms emerge and existing ones adapt, Gen Z's preferences may shift, creating new opportunities and challenges for marketers and content creators. Authenticity and transparency will likely become even more vital as Gen Z becomes discerning consumers of content. Moreover, enhanced privacy measures will be crucial in addressing their concerns about data privacy and online security.


In conclusion, Gen Z's journey in the digital landscape is still unfolding, and its impact on society and future generations is yet to be fully realized. By understanding their preferences, motivations, and aspirations, we can better navigate this evolving relationship between Gen Z and social media, harnessing its potential while addressing the challenges it presents.



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