Scroll Stoppers: Gen Z Say What?
Zooming in on young people's attention patterns in a hybrid working world
Though the core findings of our Scroll Stoppers report have been shared over the last few weeks, this week we wanted to take a deep dive specifically into Gen Z findings from our research. The brilliant charity Young Minds supported this project, and given their remit of working with young people, they were really interested in this cohort - though of course it is of special interest to a lot of people (including us), particularly those working on youth brands.
If you want a refresher on the main research, you can go back to parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. We’ve also published all 6 findings on our website here, so you can point friends and colleagues to it directly if they are not newsletter people!
Gen Z is a diverse and complex generation to understand, yet their social and cultural views are not that different from previous generations.
They face specific challenges with regard to social media and the incessant pressure of broadcasting their lives, as well as pandemic-related issues that impacted their development in ways that are still unfolding.
Mental health is an important topic for Gen Z and they are more aware than other generations that social media is part of the problem as well as the solution: they say it has positives such as providing them with a space for connections and allowing them to express themselves creatively but they mention the pressure to conform in terms of body image as one of the biggest negatives.
Young people are getting their news more and more from platforms such as TikTok; they are almost always online on TikTok and other platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. Therefore it is unsurprising that these platforms featured heavily in our conversations with them and in wider research on this age group.
Of our 6 key findings, we’ve found that 5 are especially relevant to the ways young people navigate the content world.
Gen Z Say What? should take about 10 minutes to read. If you want to go deep, there’s a useful reading list at the end, as well as some quotes from our interviews.
Say No Faux
Say No Faux could be their motto. During lockdowns, across the board, from affluent influencers and stars to their followers, we witnessed a leveller effect in regards to what we shared on our feeds. Social media was about real life rather than the polished version of it, with a focus on relatable content - a change welcomed especially by young people. A lot has been said about content needing to be authentic, and through our research we saw supporting evidence. In research by EY, 92% indicated that being authentic and true to oneself is extremely or very important for Gen Z. Those reporting it as being extremely important increased 16 percentage points from pre-pandemic levels. Relatable content is an important driver of trust for young people. They are great at discerning what is real for them, and use relatability as a tool to sift through all the content that platforms throw at them. A key takeaway from Say No Faux is how salient it is - being relatable is a must, not a nice to have (or be). As one participant told us: “If people can't relate to you, they won't stay.”
Everything All at Once
Everything All at Once is their modus operandi. Media multitasking is not a new phenomenon, however post-pandemic and especially in work/study-from-home situations it has become normal to have something perpetually going on in the background. Young people use background content (such as podcasts, Spotify playlists and YouTube videos) to cope with loneliness, to focus, connect with the outside world, create a comforting environment, or to convene with their peers over shared experiences such as TikTok commentaries on the last watercooler series that piqued their interest. A key takeaway from Everything All at Once is again in the scale of media multitasking evident in this generation, with a majority of young people (also 92%, according to Squarespace) engaging in it while browsing websites online, for example.
Mullet Media is how they sort out the business from the pleasure. Post-pandemic, the boundaries between work and play, professional and private, continue to be malleable, with choice overload challenging our attention. Mental health was an important topic for young people during the pandemic and continues to be so. They want to make sure the right content is finding them in the right context. Our research showed the development of several key behaviours when it comes to what they consume and how they interact in online spaces, such as filtering out the negative and making room for wholesome content. Another behaviour that Gen Z in particular engages in is a more controlled approach to media consumption–like imposing strict screen time limits, timeline cleansing, and blocking various apps. A key takeaway here is that of all our research participants, young people were significantly more aware of using their online experiences to favour self care and a sense of betterment.
Unscrollable is how they escape the algorithm. A common assumption is that because young people are online almost all of the time, they value digital experiences more and spend a lot of time with algorithms. But our research has found that they find great value in offline experiences and “unscrollable” formats, and rely heavily on personal recommendations. Like most of the behaviours we identified, there’s a desire for personal connection, and curators, tastemakers, and friends’ recommendations trump the algorithm. The key takeaway from Unscrollable is that young people are spearheading changes in the use of traditional platforms to increase connection and show their creativity and honesty; changes that are making digital spaces more closely resemble offline interactions.
Swiss Army Apps
Swiss Army Apps is how they repurpose platforms to make them fit for needs. Traditionally, we use different channels, media, or apps for different reasons. But as we become wary of content overload and mindful of getting sucked into our screens, our research shows we’re repurposing existing platforms to better serve our needs. Young people in particular drive these changes, with platforms offering new ways for people to engage with their content, largely by taking cues from other formats or features that proved popular with young people. One example is how TikTok is used by young people as a search engine, as they look for recommendations ranging from books to home appliances, roommates to podcasts. The key takeaway from Swiss Army Apps as a trend is that young people will prioritise content that elicits two-way conversations and platforms that blur the line between community and creators.
We’ve pored through the following as part of our research on young people’s media habits today - we think you’ll find them interesting too:
On young people and the long tail of the pandemic: ‘We’re on permanent catch-up’: how Covid has changed young Britons’ lives
On how young people view social media: Pew Research Center’s report Connection, Creativity and Drama: Teen Life on Social Media in 2022
On social media as part of the problem and the solution: Teens Turn to TikTok in Search of a Mental Health Diagnosis
On in person connections: “Gen Z are not ‘coddled.’ They are highly collaborative, self-reliant and pragmatic, according to new Stanford-affiliated research”: What to know about Gen Z | Stanford News
On platforms trying to keep up with young people: Google Borrows From TikTok to Keep Gen Z Searching | WIRED
On young people and the search for answers to difficult questions: According to Spotify, 80% of Gen Z say audio allows them to explore different sides of their personality, while more than a third said the podcasts they choose to stream are the ones that help them feel a range of emotions, from joy to sadness. Culture Next: 2022
The following are quotes from people aged 18-25 in our focus groups and interviews.
Related to our trend Say No Faux:
People are going to gravitate more towards what they personally feel is relatable.
I feel like nowadays the more authentic you are, the better. The more honest you are to yourself and who you are - that makes people like you more and you feel more comfortable with yourself as well.
Part of the Everything All At Once trend:
I play Friends in the background, since I feel that I know the show and I can just get on with work, read, and do stuff.
I usually live alone and work from home alone so I usually want some sort of background noise going on. And when I have a podcast, a lot of the time I am not even concentrating on what is going on.
As well as:
When I’m at home, I use my TV to play YouTube videos while I go about my day.
On young people actively making a choice to consume media in a way that is good, not bad, for their mental health:
Because now the screen time has gone way up, compared to what it was before the pandemic. So that's also made me become more aware of the kind of content that I consume every day. So I've done this social media cleanse, kind of like just unfollowing the accounts that don't make me feel good and that's like a habit that I'm very, very conscious of and actively doing.
I use app blockers as well, to try to just hone my attention in a certain way.
Some of these lines show young people’s preference for Unscrollable formats and word of mouth:
But again, it's not going to be like the physical connection of in person meetings. For example, if we were all in a room, we would have had a different kind of a connection because we would've been physically there and there would have been these windows, these tiny moments where you just make small conversations and get to know each other. But that doesn't happen anymore.
Someone else said:
When it comes to scrolling, for movies or music, to avoid that, I strictly only watch things out of word of mouth recommendations.
Finally, on how this age group prefers to use platforms: algorithms show you sponsored posts but they’d rather listen in on the comments.
I would rather trust people in the comment section rather than seeing that hashtag ad where people have paid you to talk about something. So I would prefer to go on the comments and speak to actual people. You don't necessarily start the conversation, but when the conversation is already there, you kind of find yourself eavesdropping a little. Like some people commenting and like talking to each other in the comment section and you just, you're involved, it kind of grabs your attention. So I guess any type of story, it’s actually made of both the creator and also the people that watch it, if that makes sense.
Stats and facts to make yourself sound Gen-Z-au-fait at parties:
65% of Gen Z agree that content that’s personally relevant to them is more important than content that lots of other people talk about, according to the YouTube Culture & Trends Report 2022.
According to research conducted by Decision Lab (Yes, the Internet is redefining Gen Z’s TV habits), 71% of Gen Z reported that they either ‘frequently’ or ‘always’ do something else while watching TV.
83% of Gen Z have used YouTube to watch soothing content that helps them relax (Source: YouTube Culture & Trends Report 2022).
18% of young people have temporarily stopped using social media to protect their mental health (Source: Beyond Z, Channel 4).
When asked who their inspiring role models are, Gen Z responded with parents (59%), grandparents (24%), teachers (22%), sports stars (14%) and only 7% mentioned online influencers (Source: Beyond Z, Channel 4).
Gen Z music listeners are 27% more likely to purchase vinyl records compared with the average music listener. (Source: Luminate Data Music Report: The Album Is Once Again A Vinyl LP)
That’s it for now. Please share our ongoing interest in finding and sharing attention pattern changes with colleagues, friends, family or acquaintances - brighten up their days and send them this newsletter! We'd love to hear your thoughts. You might also want to visit:and if they're not on your radar.
We’re back soon with interviews with some creative people who tell us how they spend their time with media. See you next week.