Question of the Week

Is the race for likes and followers on social media over for the younger generation?

Younger people are looking for more authentic metrics and tighter social media groups

By Dani Gibson

In 2023, the world of social media witnessed remarkable growth. We Are Social and Meltwater unveiled their Digital 2024 report recently, revealing that the number of active social media users has soared past 5 billion, representing over 60 per cent of the global population.

Fast forward to 2024, Facebook has celebrated its 20th anniversary, maintaining a staggering 3 billion active monthly users. Meanwhile, X, at 18 years old, observed a decline of 13 per cent in its daily active users. And are we at all surprised that TikTok ads now reach a global audience of 1.56 billion users each month?

Snapchat, with just over a decade under its belt, is gearing up to set itself apart from the competition with a fresh campaign. This initiative highlights its dedication to private messaging with close friends, moving away from the race for likes and followers. Colleen DeCourcy, the platform's chief marketing officer, recognises a growing dissatisfaction with traditional social media and seeks to offer an alternative centred on connection, happiness, and enjoyment.

DeCourcy stresses the significance of community, striving for a sense of pride among users and clarity for those outside the platform's sphere. While Snapchat's user base predominantly comprises young individuals, the campaign isn't solely targeted at this demographic. DeCourcy affirms the platform's aspiration to engage with people of all ages.

So, does this signal the end of social media for the younger generation?

Oliver Williams, head of digital performance, Total Media

Social media is not over for the younger generation. In terms of time spent, those 16-24 spend the highest amount of time daily on social platforms, with females spending almost three hours a day. This, when you consider the average person spends 16 hours a day awake, is a significant amount.

The younger generation clearly favours Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram, who all see the majority of their daily users come from the 16-24 demographic, with Snapchat seeing the highest at 38 per cent. However, TikTok far eclipses both Snapchat and Instagram by average time spent (50 minutes vs 33 and 30 respectively).

Whilst social media is not over, it is certainly seeing a shift to prioritising more meaningful interactions. Meta have moved away from “likes” as a measure of success, instead surfacing content to people's feeds based on the likelihood of meaningful engagement, such as commenting, which happens more regularly amongst friends rather than between the user and a brand or influencer. The younger generation favours video content with high engagement, such as TikTok and Instagram Reels. This is fuelling the continued growth of UGC as brands strive to produce enough video content to meet demand and remain visible in the algorithms.

Jessica Taylor, executive content director, adam&eveDDB

Social media is far from over for the younger generations, but for them its more about the social and less about the media.

10 years ago, us millennials broadcasted our perfectly poached eggs in the hopes of as many likes as possible. Our successors seek a more intimate and authentic form of connection. Proof of this can be seen in Snapchat’s continued lure as the platform of choice for teenagers seeking peer-2-peer connection, and the regular emergence of platforms like Discord and BeReal.

What we’re seeing feels like a return to social media pre-Facebook. To the days of blogs, forums and MSN Messenger. To social media before the ‘pay-2play’ era of advertising. We’re seeing the younger generations go to where the social is and not where the media is.

The challenge for advertisers is to get the balance right. To respectfully give young people the space they crave to connect. To join the party without being the unwelcome chaperone at the disco.

Joshua Gornell, Partner, Head of Commercial Paid Social and Barter, EssenceMediacom

Is social media over for the younger generation? A resounding “no”.

Social media isn’t over for any generation, and it’s unlikely that it ever will be. It’s changed the world, and it won’t be undone.

Social media is too engrained in our lives, too habitual, too accessible, too…everything. If anything, it’s more embedded in the lives of the younger generation, who don’t know a life without it; so it’s far from over.

Is the social media experience different for the younger generation? A resounding “yes”.

And it’s good, bad, and ugly.

It must be exciting – the ability to access literally anything.

It must be confusing - acceptance amongst likeminded communities and the celebration of individuality alongside unfathomably vile and divisive comments.

It must be scary – the pressure, uncertainty, and vulnerability.

A more important question is “should we seek to change the social media experience for the younger generation?” For me, a resounding “yes”.

With greater focus on education and guidance of responsible use, as well as the platforms themselves, we could shift the balance towards good and celebrate the exciting, without as much fear and worry about the bad and scary; which is in everyone’s best interest. More could, and should, be done.

Mike Cooper, head of social and content, MullenLowe

No, social media isn’t over for the younger generation. Nearly 93 per cent of Gen Z in the UK continue to use social media. And whilst it’s true that younger people are moving away from platforms like Facebook, which has been over-populated with adverts, brands and groups, 58 per cent of US teens use TikTok daily, with 17 per cent describing their usage as "almost constant". YouTube is their No.1 destination, with Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok all remaining popular.

More important is how they’re using it - watching videos on YouTube instead of Netflix, getting their news through Instagram instead of traditional sources, and searching on TikTok instead of Google.

Gen Z is the generation most influenced by social media in their shopping habits. They’re most likely to purchase through social media and are driving early adoption of generative AI, especially Snapchat’s My AI, which is prompting social platforms to invest heavily in these tools to encourage creative expression.

We’re also seeing a steady increase in older teenagers and young adults moving towards social communities where they can explore and connect with people who share their interests and passions on channels such as Reddit, Discord and Twitch.

Julie Chadwick, managing director, Dentsu Creative

Dentsu Creative is on a mission to build brands for what’s next and for this audience it is about thumb stopping entertainment and connection.

According to a recent US study, Gen Zs are spending an incredible 4 hours a day on platforms, with 68 per cent using it primarily for entertainment and 20 per cent citing messaging and comms as its main activity.

Social media today plays a different role in their lives to the one Facebook envisaged back in 2004. Back then social content was generated by people, not influencers, not brands, just normal people creating a giant curated photo album.

Today, when many young people post, if the platform doesn’t do it for them automatically, they tend to delete even their infeed content shortly after. For them social is a way of capturing and sharing a moment with friends, not cataloguing their lives chronologically.

It is no surprise then that Snap is responding to this with a campaign which leans into its superpower. The stickiness of its messaging and high attention filter formats means their audiences use the platform constantly (on average over 50 times a day). It has an impressive track record in innovation (101 new products features since 2011) with a relentless focus on delivering better ways for its community to build connections with friends. This new campaign is born out of the reality of their users, and I believe delivers them a differentiating social space.

Ella Higgins, Creative Strategist, That Lot, part of The Weber Shandwick Collective

In a word, no. For a generation raised in the era of social, the notion of social media being dead is unfounded. The origins of social platforms - Friendster, MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, Bebo - revolved around connectivity. They evolved into global networks empowering individuals to publish content, effectively transforming users into their own social media outlets.

Rather than becoming obsolete, social media is thriving. A quick look at the new habits of Gen Z help to show us why. They utilise these platforms not only for socialising and for updates, but for staying informed, for self-expression and for activism. Platforms like TikTok Shop are a good example of this evolution; recognising Gen Z's purchasing behaviours, they've tailored a space for direct engagement with this demographic.

Gen Z has reshaped social platforms into dynamic spaces for clubs and for fandoms. This evolution is testament to the younger generation's impact, prompting platforms to adapt or risk extinction. So, far from dying, social media is evolving at the pace of youth, making rigid platforms outdated. As Gen Z and Generation Alpha continue to shape the digital landscape, social remains a vital place for connection, expression and, ultimately, change.

William Chaplin, social strategy director, VML

Whilst the CEO of Snap may have proclaimed “social media is dead, long live Snapchat” in a leaked memo earlier this year, you’d be forgiven to think this is (almost) true, with the sweeping trend of ‘de-influencing’, the rise of BeReal, the near dissolution of X (formally Twitter) and even VML’s Future 100 noting the significance of ‘Luddite Mode’. But we’d be wrong to conclude that social is dead for the younger generations, in fact far from it. It’s not about whether audiences are switching off, but rather how they’re interacting and connecting on platforms.

What we’re seeing across the board is a shift in user behaviour. On Instagram, younger people check their messages and stories first, then watch Reels and (maybe) scroll the feed. In the case of Snapchat, younger users are typically there to chat with friends, and we can’t ignore that their existing audience is ageing up as the platform enters its own teenage years. These platforms are more of a priority for younger generations as they offer real-world, in the moment content to stay connected, especially in markets like India where TikTok is currently banned.

In a world where trends can last for 20 hours, not 20 years, brands and agencies should consider how their social comms can be more intentional. By showing up for their audience in the way that they truly consume and interact with media, brands will become more real, relevant, and relatable to their community, which will in turn increase their chances of hitting their objectives.

Marina Glavan, strategy director, AMV BBDO

Social media isn’t over, it’s just being redefined. In a weird way, social media as we currently know it will just be becoming less ‘social’ and more entertainment based. We’ve seen this shift with the rise of platforms like TikTok, where you’re creating and consuming content from everyone and anyone on your ‘for you’ page, rather than just from who follow. When it comes to what we’ve been used to as the more typical ‘connection’ aspect of social media, the younger generation is turning more to private forums like messaging apps or BeReal to stay connected with their friends. However, social media apps like TikTok and Instagram will still be used to connect with micro communities and creators around their interests, rather than mainly with friends and family, like it was in the past.

Bianca Brown, ambassador, Edelman’s Gen Z Lab

It is not social MEDIA that is dead but the social NETWORK. As a Gen Zer, I do not use my social apps in the same ways I did when I first ‘got online’. The key difference between then and now is this: the social media that I am consuming now does not require a network at all, but rather is powered by an invisible algorithm. I have no direct connection to those creating the content. That very connection was once the entire basis of social media has all but disappeared.

Edelman’s Power of Gen Z report found that my demographic’s has an intense desire for safety and security – almost more than anything else it dominates our behaviours and considerations. It’s not just external factors, like Covid and climate change that pose threats, but now online factors as well are damaging to our sense of safety. FOMO, and voyeurism as a by-product of mass broadcasting of user-generated content permeate our everyday lives.

With such vicious factors at play, it’s more than understandable that people are seeking retreat into the safety of smaller community groups online. This is how people can take back control of their public visibility, while also controlling how much they need to confront the origin of what they see online.

There is still a social media for Gen Z, but it looks and feels very different than social networks of the past. Different channels have different purposes, and we’re very aware of the work of the algorithm, where we often witness the flattening of the human experience into ‘content’, tailored for consumption over enjoyment. .

Emily Jones, digital planning and strategy director, Gravity Road

It's not over, but things are definitely changing. We’re not living in the same world that bore the Millennial Instagram era, and we can see that in how Gen Z are now defining successful life. They’re saying no to the constant highlight reel and yes to what really matters to them: feeling good, staying healthy, and finding comfort.

How we use social media in a new age needs to change to reflect this, it needs to be a smaller part of our existence to maintain healthy balances and guard against self-comparison and negative effects. We're realising that maybe social media shouldn't be the centre of our universe anymore, better balanced in smaller doses, for specific purposes vs doom scrolling tendencies.

This doesn’t necessarily mean more disconnection, but more fragmented and purposeful use of social spaces. Gen Z doesn't stick to just one platform—they're hopping around, looking for whatever suits their mood and needs.

You need only look at the way Gen Z are using and engaging with TikTok to see this in action - the success of #CottageCore and every day rituals like #SundayReset and #DayInMyLife has normalised a different way to live: simpler, slower, and way more authentic.

Even this week, “Social Media is Fake” trend is seeing people share a brutally honest picture of their lives and anxieties, rejecting the ‘success’ narrative in favour of normalising insecurities, and not having your shit together. So, social media might not be dead for younger generations, but it's definitely evolving—into something a lot more genuine, a lot less polished and more purposefully utilised.


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