Does Gen Z Hate Twitter? Why We Use Twitter Way Less Than Other Platforms
Originally published at https://www.nealsivadas.com on July 30, 2020.
Gen Z are social natives. According to Hubspot, we spend an average of 2 hours and 55 minutes on social media every day, an hour more than Millennials. Most of us don’t even know how to take a social media cleanse because we don’t remember a time in life without it.
We use Snapchat to communicate. Instagram to create our online persona and keep up with everyone we know. YouTube to laugh and learn. TikTok because, well, it just brings us pure joy. And as much as we hate on it, we still use Facebook functionally, for groups, birthdays, events, and memes. But there’s one mainstream platform that we don’t really know what to do with.
You’d think Gen Z would love Twitter. It fits our short 8 second attention span. After all, you only have 280 characters to say something. But sadly (for Twitter), we don’t. While 44% of adult Gen Z (18–24) claims to have a Twitter account, strikingly only 23% check it daily, according to a Business Insider from Summer 2019 (which is why TikTok is low). That ratio of accounts to daily users is the lowest of any social media platform for Gen Z, especially compared to other major apps such as Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat. It’s the type of platform that you have an account on, but only a select few use regularly. We even use Facebook Messenger at the same rate.
Why Gen Z Does Not Use Twitter
Like Facebook, Twitter was a hand-me-down social media platform from Millennials. That should already tell you enough, but more specifically, Twitter is not Gen Z friendly. The platform is dominated by Millennials, celebrities, politicians, and older people.
“Marketing experts” often talk about the fact that Twitter provides “a voice,” but it’s really not that simple. Given the saturation of content, the domination of older people on the platform, and the emphasis in the algorithm on recency (the average lifespan of a Tweet is 18 minutes), Twitter often gives more voice to those who already have established profiles on the platform (a.k.a. Millennials). Twitter simply does not provide the same voice for Gen Z.
Which is why there’s a TikTok trend where people stand in front of screenshots of tweets. Often, the tweets describe funny or relatable moments or experiences and garner a significant amount of likes. The irony is that the tweet itself on Twitter probably has very few likes or retweets but thousands of likes and comments on TikTok. TikTok, with its tribe of Gen Zers and algorithm carefully designed to give a chance at virality for every post, is that voice for Gen Z.
Another reason for limited usage is that Twitter can be toxic or emotional. Every generation went through difficult times, but no recent generation has been exposed to the childhood Gen Z has endured. Our childhood consisted of post 9/11 trauma, War on Terror, a global recession, school shootings, cyberbullying, political turmoil, climate crisis, and a global pandemic + another global recession. Institutions we are supposed to trust such as school and government have never been reliable. Now multiply that trauma by a thousand due to the speed of smartphones, social media, and the internet.
Social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube are often an escape from those realities. We can scroll mindlessly through our phones for hours, search only for content we want, or talk to friends without having to mention world news.
Twitter is the exact opposite. It’s the platform for immediate attention, which often includes sensationalized news, cancel culture, politics, unregulated or inflammatory comments, and stan culture. Even just a few seconds on the platform can expose you to some type of negativity or drama, among the memes, relatable tweets, and good news.
There is a constant barrage of politics on Twitter, whether you like it or not. Since you often see tweets related to “what’s trending”, political and more sensationalized news usually shows up. Regardless of your political affiliation or whether the news is local or worldwide, it can be emotionally draining to learn about those events consistently.
Cancel culture is a controversial practice of calling out and revoking support of celebrities or influencers (or even normal people) for their mistakes and wrongdoing. It goes beyond just stating that they did something wrong; it usually involves publicly organizing and even harassing until the person’s reputation or resources are affected or depleted. It is controversial because there’s no clear line about who needs to be canceled versus who just needs to apologize. Fake accusations and news can also spread quickly due to mob mentality, with no accountability for those who spread rumors.
Twitter is also home to stan culture. This involves fandom that quickly turns into passionate, devoted, and obsessive fans of a certain celebrity or influencers. The word “stan” is a blend of the word “stalker” and “fan” and originated from a 2000 Eminem song of the same name. But sometimes, that passion can quickly turn toxic and relentless, especially if you anger them. And you will feel the wrath.
With all these circumstances, it’s pretty obvious why Gen Z would prefer other social media platforms.
How Marketers Can Connect with the 23% of Gen Z on Twitter
Despite Gen Z’s broader distaste for Twitter, there is still 23% that use Twitter daily. And brands can still utilize Twitter to reach and engage with their Gen Z fans.
One common question that comes up with social media platforms, including Twitter, is how Gen Z and Millennials use them differently. And the truth is, there are plenty of overlaps on Twitter. Real-time news and livestreams on Twitter are still the fastest way to see “what’s going on” and we both use Twitter to follow our favorite celebrities and influencers.
However, I believe that there is one larger fundamental difference that sets them apart in the type of tweets that appeal to them.
And to determine that distinction, you should look no further than how the Millennials’ most loved brands such as Glossier, PlayStation, and Target and Gen Z’s most loved brands such as Chipotle, Netflix, and Pizza Hut act on Twitter. Here are some snippets of Tweets from Millennial versus Gen Z brands favorites, which are based on research from AdWeek.
With Millennial brand tweets, you see a greater focus on customer care, featuring/retweeting/responding to tweets from customers, and trying to connect and engage with consumers directly. Gen Z brands are more edgy, with more uses of “ironic humor”, playing on trends and vernacular, and even roasting their own customers. In contrast to Millennial brands who focus on customer connection, Gen Z brands are appealing by creating stories, conversations, and memes. In other words, creating easily sharable CONTENT.
I have a hypothesis about the root of this dichotomy. Millennial-founded platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn were designed to connect people — with their friends, with their favorite celebrities and brands, or with their professional network. Gen Z-founded platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are designed to create. Every snap, post, and video is a piece of content.
Millennials want connection; Gen Z want content. This is not only reflective in the types of social media that they use, but the type of posts they want to see. Millennials want brands to respond to them, feature them, and create a connection with customers through Twitter. Gen Z wants brands to have personality, provide their own twist on trends, and create content to make them laugh, cry, or think.
So whether it’s through organic tweets, polls, ads, or responding to customers, don’t think about trying to connect with them. Think about how you can create content for them. Think about how you can elicit a reaction that builds brand excitement, not brand trust.
It’s not about solving customer problems with Gen Z. It’s about providing customers joy.
The Future of Gen Z and Twitter
Since the beginning of quarantine, Twitter has seen a resurgence in user growth, generating 1 million installs in one day in June for the first time since 2014. A significant portion were in response to the George Floyd protests. Many people were using the platform to share news, petitions, videos of police brutality, and information about protests.
This was expected, as Twitter is the best platform for immediate public attention. However, in many ways, TikTok is beginning to challenge Twitter as a potential “attention” platform. While TikTok does not yet have the shareability and organizational capabilities of Twitter, it was able to replicate Twitter’s ability to share viral videos of police brutality and protests with large amounts of people in a short amount of time.
It remains to be seen if this short-term success can translate into long-term growth and usage, at least for Gen Z on Twitter. Other platforms such as Instagram and TikTok are providing better opportunities for shareability and immediate attention. Even Facebook has carved a functional need for Gen Z to organize school and meme groups, remember birthdays, and plan events.
Like Facebook, I believe Twitter needs that functional value proposition to give a reason for more Gen Zers to come to platform. This could be anything from carving a niche in livestreaming (see Periscope) to building healthier communities of fans to better optimizing features like threads.
But for now, besides the fraction of Gen Z that enjoys Twitter’s vibe or content they follow, most don’t have a strong reason to keep coming back to the platform every day. At least for now.
This is part 9/12 of the “Find Gen Z Series”, a monthly blog where I detail one social or digital media platform and how to best reach Gen Z on the platform. I am no expert. All my knowledge and perspective is based on my own experience as a member of Gen Z and extensive research. My only goal is to help brands who really care about my generation and anyone else willing to listen by giving them the inside scoop on my generation. To learn about other platforms in the series, go to https://www.nealsivadas.com/findgenz and please reach out with any questions or feedback.