Many brands are eager to show their support for the LGBTQIA+ community this June during Pride month. A new study from Horowitz Research suggests that it will be critical for brands to be present for the LGBTQIA+ community year-round, especially if they want to connect with the elusive Gen Z audience.
Gen Z, the approximately 67 million teens and young adults born after 1996, is growing in social, political, technological and cultural clout as they become eligible to vote, become heads of household and primary decision makers, and realize the influence they can wield through digital tools, particularly social media platforms. Beyond being the most racially and ethnically diverse American generation ever, over 1 in 4 (28%) Gen Zers self-identify as LGBTQIA+, according to the study.
Regardless of their own personal sexual orientation, Gen Zers are overwhelmingly LGBTQIA+ allies, only 18% believe that homosexuality is “wrong,” and more Gen Zers agree that “gender can exist on a spectrum” (37%) than believe that “gender is binary” (31%).
Given the sexual and gender fluidity and openness of this generation, brands will have to take risks and possibly break corporate norms to demonstrate that they can authentically connect with LGBTQIA+ Gen Zers and their allies. For example, Horowitz found that 23% of Gen Zers want to be asked their preferred pronouns instead of having their gender assumed. This means brands will need to rethink how they communicate about gender and identity in their messaging and creative offerings, including social media.
Straight and LGBTQIA+ Gen Zers alike grew up as digital natives, and almost all (78% of Gen Z) turn to social media on a daily/almost daily basis. In fact, they are more regularly engaged in social media than any other form of entertainment beyond video games, which 76% of Gen Zers play every day or almost every day. In contrast, 2 in 3 (62%) stream video content and 39% watch live TV every day or almost every day.
In general, LGBTQIA+ and straight Gen Zers use most social media platforms (such as Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, WhatsApp and YouTube) similarly. However, the Horowitz study found that seventy-one percent (71%) of LGBTQIA+ youth use TikTok— one of the most influential social media platforms—at least daily, compared to 63% of straight Gen Zers.
No longer just an entertainment tool, social media has largely democratized content creation to become a platform for users to express themselves, champion causes and share their socio-political beliefs. This is a generation that intends do good: Over 4 in 10 (43%) Gen Zers agree that “they can make change in the world.” The emptiness of Tulsa’s 19,000-seat arena for the former president’s rally underscores how successfully Gen Z has harnessed the power of social media—TikTok specifically in that case— for the kind of social change they believe in.
A desire to drive social change
The Horowitz study found that the desire to be in the know about social change is a major driver of social media usage, with 67% of Gen Zers following organizations focused on socio-political issues. LGBTQIA+ Gen Zers are more likely than their straight counterparts to follow these types of organizations, especially through Instagram and TikTok.
Over half (56%) of Gen Zers also follow news organizations through social media. Straight Gen Zers are more likely to do so than Gen Z who are LGBTQIA+, with Facebook and Twitter being their main sources.
Social media is also where Gen Zers are building relationships with brands, and these young people pay attention to what brands say. One in three (34%) Gen Zers believe that brands should take a stand on socio-political issues. About half of have not yet formed an opinion about this, but far fewer believe that brands should not get involved in those conversations.
For brands, meeting Gen Z where they are means more than just being on social media, it means engaging with this complex audience in dialogue about the issues they care the most about.
Nuanced messaging required
In considering the kind of messaging that might resonate to LGBTQIA+ and/or straight Gen Zers, the study reveals different focuses depending on the demographic. Both straight and LGBTQIA+ Gen Zers are closely monitoring what is happening regarding racial equality/social justice, the environment, technology and national politics, with more than 7 in 10 Gen Zers following each of these topics in social media. However, LGBTQIA+ Gen Zers are much more likely to be following what is happening with women’s and LGBTQIA+ rights than are their straight counterparts, while straight Gen Zers are more likely to be following the economy and local news.
It is, of course, important for brands to show up during Pride Month, but being present isn’t enough when thinking about how to be relevant to Gen Z. There are very real social, political and cultural issues that LGBTQIA+ youth are concerned about and that impact their lives and all of our lives in meaningful ways. Brands that are willing to flex their economic, political and social influence year-round to help drive meaningful change, will be viewed as true LGBTQIA+ allies and their messaging will resonate more authentically with Gen Z as a whole.
State of Gen Z provides a comprehensive look at Gen Z’s relationship and behaviors around video content (long form, user generated, eSports, etc.), entertainment, relationship with brands, and what brands needs to consider when looking to engage. The study was conducted online in November and December 2020 among 800 13- to 24-year-olds, with oversamples of Hispanic, Black and Asian 13- to 24-year-olds. The report includes analysis by total 13- to 24-year-olds, by age, gender and ethnicity/race. Additional data runs available upon request.
Adriana Waterston is a senior vice president for insights & strategy at Horowitz Research.
Get communications and HR strategies to tackle your workplace’s No. 1 challenge at Ragan’s June 15 Mental Health & Employee Engagement webinar.