Gen Z and the rise of social media

A lot of people think they can tell non-branded content from an ad. After all, people’s interests are constantly

changing, and the world along with them. With Gen Z now being the most tech-reliant age group, we leave companies with a uniquely-modern struggle – how do we utilize today’s social platforms to network to younger customers? 

It is easy to laugh away the seemingly feeble attempts made by these corporations; seeing a TikTok made by Taco Bell induces a kind of secondhand embarrassment to those who know the platform well. Sure, it’s annoying, but maybe a bit… funny? And what can we really do about it, anyway?  So eventually, we all scroll past, perhaps after interacting with the post in some way, until one of these blatant products of a huge corporation pops up again. It’s a painfully predictable cycle. However, this kind of thinking and turning a blind eye to the influence of these corporations can turn out to be detrimental. 

The “Internet” began as a programming and data processing tool primarily used by scientists in the late 1950s, quite confined in purpose compared to how we think of it today. It did not have one single inventor; rather multiple, becoming an amalgamation of its worldly and timely thinkers. Perhaps it has not so much ‘strayed’ from its initial purpose, but instead developed severely. Now, it is a distinct space, containing its own subcultures, values, and interactions. It is much like a community we would see in real life; diverse and constantly-evolving. 

The “Internet” today is often seen as a juvenile and almost primitive tool used mainly by teenagers. In reality, it has somewhat of a complex culture. This is frequently misunderstood by older generations in marketing. In their haste, they tend to only scratch the surface of this culture, resulting in shallow attempts to connect with young people. 

Music app Spotify’s “Wrapped” has been an infamous example. Posted near the end of each year, the Wrapped feature is personalized for every Spotify user and sums up their listening habits for that year. 2021’s Wrapped was seen as particularly tasteless among younger listeners, attempting to use ‘trendy’ and ‘relatable’ slang commonly seen on platforms like TikTok and Twitter at the time. Complaints were taken to social media, mocking the company’s caricature-like view of Gen Z.  

But these numerous instances of ‘old people fail to connect with teenagers and it’s funny’ go deeper than that. They contain layers of culture, unable to be merely observed and copied down. Trends, including those on the Internet, have deep sociological connotations and are an essential part of society like any other. This shows, plainly, where corporations think our interests lie, and we are only contributing to this simplistic perception. Although we continue to complain about these profit-motivated posts, we laugh at and interact with them anyway. It is horribly ironic.

The idea that we are solely a content-driven population is one that needs challenging. We are real people, each with our own emotions, thoughts, and autonomy, and we can be agents of change. We need to begin consuming more consciously, and looking at our feeds with a more critical eye. In order for change to occur, our generational mindset about immoral corporations must shift from apathy to active opposition. Let this not serve as advice for big companies, but as a declaration of our own identity outside of corporate interests.