Snackable Lesson 4 of 7:
Building Communities

Generation Z customers long for real connection.

Though this generation is “connected” more than ever before, they are increasingly disconnected when it comes to face-to-face interaction. Social skills are learned—practiced and honed over time—and Generation Z is not getting this practice.

For marketers, or really anyone in the workforce, this should be a terrifying prospect, especially when you consider how much of today’s business revolves around relationship-building. Given the paucity of social skills among this generation, it will no doubt become an even more critical skill than ever before.

Teens certainly have fun at in-person events—and why wouldn’t they? Humans of all ages need face-to-face social interaction to stay in good mental health. But they are so addicted to their phones that they postpone going, even somewhere lit. They need one more level in that game with the cliffhanger. Or they have to post one more Instagram story because they’ve got tea to spill or they’re firing shots.  Or maybe they are just so exhausted from the constant scrolling—and sleep deprivation from the constant scrolling—that they wind up draking, moping around in an emotional mess, not wanting to go out or do anything (real talk: not something that average teenagers should be feeling).

Zayum! That is a lot of Generation Z slang, all in one paragraph.

Human beings are social creatures, and it is important for the future health of this generation that in-person communities are not replaced entirely by social media.

As a marketer, we often think about building and growing online communities—and that is still a good strategy. Invest in creating communities for your customers who share specific interests related to your brand, or who are interested in learning a particular skill. This will not only build brand engagement, but also help to connect these teens with a tribe, as they are not getting as much social connection elsewhere in their lives.

But what we can do alongside these digital communities is offer in-person events to maximize your impact.

Even knowing that an in-person group is nearby might be enough for a Generation Z youth to know that they are not alone. NaNoWriMo is an example of an organization that does this beautifully. Every November, this non-profit organizes National Novel Writer’s Month where 300,000 writers have 30 days to reach 50,000 words. This group establishes a robust online community, daily motivation by email, and online words of wisdom from famous authors. More than that, it sets up live write-ins at community centers and libraries across the country.

WW (formerly Weight Watchers) represents a business successfully implementing this pairing as a paid model. Even on an in-person (“studio”) plan, subscribers have access to an impressive app that offers communities, feeds, and (of course) food. This example is especially powerful when you understand how they structured their digital communities for learning new skills, combined these online communities with in-person ones, and linked themselves with a top-of-mind social cause: lifestyle health and wellness (not weight loss).

As a part of this rebranding strategy, they offered teens as young as 13 free memberships as a response to the chilling stats on childhood obesity. While that part ended up being controversial, one thing is for sure: WW looked at this new generation of customers and modeled their structure based on all of the core principles we have been talking about here. Imagine what more they could do with increased YouTube videos or accountability partnerships in the form of a Snapchat streak or gamified point counting! The possibilities to build from here are endless.  

One thing that many companies are quickly learning is that they cannot just say they are industry leaders: they have to look the part within the social ecosystem. B2B friends: this applies to you too. What may be most frightening for today’s brands about Generation Z is their inherent understanding of the Internet’s nonverbal language. If your website is not optimized for mobile, or your logo or profile pic or header image looks dated, or if you are not consistently posting all the right junk in all the right places (Meghan Trainor, anyone?) it does not matter what your message is—you look old. You must become a part of the conversation. To organically grow or boost engagement, you have to become a part of this conversation. Find accounts with whom your brand might be a good fit, and start to like posts and add comments. Engage with your followers, follow up on replies, and you will become a part of the conversation.

For WW, this involves quickly replying to and following up on each question on Instagram. After showing a recipe, WW responded to customer questions about its point value:

ww example.PNG

In this example, WW has chosen to post directly. While great for Millennials, this will not be as effective for Generation Z, who develops relationships more with people than with brands. Instead, what about a consistent community manager who responds on behalf of the brand? This adds a human element to your brand, and is more effective for the Generation Z audience. This is especially relevant for B2B companies, which often tend to feel more corporate, less human.

Speaking of B2B, in-person events like networking breakfasts, conferences, and trade shows have always been popular. Yet in this climate of less frequent in-person experiences, they are apt to be even more critical to make your brand stand out. Go to these events with the goal of making genuine connections. So forget the online conference and plan an in-person version. The long-lasting success of your business will be a function of relationship building, in a world that often fails to support this.

For B2C, events are great for you too. This could be anything from a fashion show to social activism based on the goals of your campaigns and the interests of your customers.  

Questions for Marketers to Consider…

  • How can I improve or grow my company’s digital communities?

  • How can we make real, in-person connections?

  • What will we get out of better relationships?  

  • What has stopped us in the past from doing this?

  • What research do I need?

  • What events could I plan? Who would be there? What would they get out of it?

  • What is this dependent on?

  • What can I do today to move this forward?

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