Millennials are so yesterday. We look at eight things you need to know about reaching Generation Z on social media.

Move over Millennials. Publishers and brands are already trying to pinpoint what catches the attention of a generation that hasn’t even come of age yet.

All 22 and younger, Gen Z is expected to account for 40 percent of all consumers by 2020. There are roughly 60 million teens in the U.S. alone, and they have $44 billion in annual buying power. That’s expected to be $200 billion with their influence on what their parents buy.

They’ve been called “Millennials on steroids”, and the “Anti-Millennials”. So what sets them apart from the generation that has already been fussed over so much?

We turned to the data to find out. Using NewsWhip Analytics, we studied a year’s worth of social engagement data. We took a sample of sites, Facebook Pages, Instagram handles, and Youtube accounts that have a large audience of Gen Z consumers. We studied which stories and content were the most viral, to form an estimation of what energizes Gen Z on social.

Here’s what we discovered.

1. They want to hear about real experiences

Anything is fair game to Gen Z. Social media has broken down traditional boundaries. For Gen Z, who has grown up with social media as the norm, these boundaries have never existed.

In our analysis, we found that both personal confessionals and weird or emotional human interest stories tended to drive strong engagements. In fact, soul-baring secrets and shower thoughts make up the entire purpose of the popular Gen Z app-turned-publisher, Whisper.

The confessionals and human interest stories are often either funny or emotional. Check out this story from Awesomeness TV on a teen taking his senior photos at a Taco Bell:

Other stories are sentimental and lend themselves to common or extraordinary human experiences. This story from BuzzFeed about an LGBT couple recreating a photo from 24 years ago was one of the site’s top stories in 2017.

2. They want relatable memes, and like, same

Instagram in particular, is a growing source of engagements for Gen Z publishers. We took a sample of nine publishers and brands popular with Gen Z on Instagram. All but Teen Vogue saw a measurable increase in average engagements per post.

The most popular posts are often relatable memes that hone in on common experiences or feelings, like the below post from BuzzFeed.

Asking users to tag a friend is an effective trend to encourage discussion and further engagement.

Gen Z also leans into the communal aspect of social media. This comes through in numerous round-ups of Twitter and Tumblr posts of other users’ reactions to experiences or pop culture moments.

User-generated content does well on a multitude of levels. It lets users feel like they’re part of a connected experience, and that their voice is heard by publishers or brands.

3. The “woke” generation

While many names have been coined for Gen Z, one of their defining characteristics is how socially conscious they are. Going beyond their own worldview, they are regularly engaging with content around politics, gender equality, LGBT rights, and abortion rights.

Teen Vogue has been one such publisher. The central theme is telling in Teen Vogue’s biggest stories on social of 2017.

teen vogue top stories

Politics have even permeated more “fun” publishers. Smosh, which has a big Gen Z fanbase, saw its top Facebook post of 2017 come from a video poking fun at Trump’s “covfefe” tweet.

Along with this, topics such as “Joe Biden memes” also went viral in 2017, showing that there are many ways that Gen Z resonates with political content.

4. They have their own issues and they’re here for it

Generation Z is also vocal about the problems affecting them on a personal level. Topics like bullying, anxiety, body shaming, and mental health frequently come up in the most engaging stories.

This video from BuzzFeed was viewed more than 101 million times and has driven more than 1.2 million engagements:

This trend has permeated into entertainment, which can be seen by the Netflix adaptation of “13 Reasons Why” appearing time and time again in the most viral stories for Gen Z.

13 reasons why newswhip

In fact, compared to a few other key Gen Z TV shows, we can see that “13 Reasons Why” has seriously resonated with its target audience. This story from MTV! News drove nearly 60,000 engagements on social.

5. They have generational heroes…

The political and personal challenges are also often championed by their favorite celebrities. Take Selena Gomez and her public struggle with lupus, or Demi Lovato’s challenges with bullying and eating disorders, and various others.

Of course, this isn’t representative of all Gen Z favorite celebs. Not every celebrity has to have a cause to appeal to Gen Z.

Former and current Disney Channel stars, One Direction, the Jenners and Kardashians, the Hadids, Beyonce, Justin Bieber, and the Harry Potter, Stranger Things, and Riverdale cast all got plenty of love in our top stories.

6. …And beloved brands

While Millennials are said to favor experiences over things, Gen Z likes the things.

Product announcements from favorite brands tended to perform well, especially if they had an air of “specialness” or “exclusivity”. For example, this story about Starbucks’ secret tie-dye drinks featured several times in our analysis.

We also can’t overemphasize how much the Gen Z audience seems to love Disney. While we did analyze Disney itself, the sheer amount of Disney mentions from other publishers was incredible.

The variety of topics was endless: there were Disney tattoos, film & TV announcements, fan art, memes, Disneyland employee confessionals, resort news, new products and more. The fanaticism for Disney is almost at a religious level.

This BuzzFeed video drove more than 13 million views, along with more than 557,000 engagements.

7. They’re already nostalgic about being 00’s kids

If you thought the roundups about “90s kids” were ubiquitous, it appears the nostalgia train is full-speed ahead for 00’s nostalgia.

Some of the top stories were about early 00’s trends like Club Penguin, High School Musical, Hannah Montana,  Jersey Shore, and LazyTown.

8. They hone in on the weird and whimsical

Honestly, just fun and weird news tended to do well. Gen Z is receptive to both current events and quirky stories.

Tokyu Otaku Mode is a more niche publisher than some of the others we’ve mentioned, but it has a solid Gen Z following. This out-of-the-ordinary, “how-to” video was one of its top posts of 2017:

Again, consider that Gen Z is swarmed with millions of digital objects every day across their various feeds. Content must be inherently interesting or offer them something of value to stand out.

So what should we know about creating content for Gen Z?

Let’s recap. Here’s what you should know about the best trends for reaching Gen Z on social:

  1. Share personal experiences and human interest stories
  2. Be relatable, speak to commonly shared feelings or experiences
  3. Don’t shy away from politics or issues affecting Gen Z personally
  4. Incorporate their personal heroes into content in genuine ways
  5. Don’t be afraid to give their beloved brands or pop culture faves a shoutout either
  6. Stir up some nostalgia
  7. Be light-hearted but authentic; catch their attention with weird and fun stories