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Last week an article written and published by the BBC called attention to the changing face of activism. Titled ‘Gen Z: How young people are changing activism’, the article explores the socio-political factors which have given rise to a new generation of activists and a development of activism more broadly.

Whilst the article acknowledges that activism is an activity which has historically been aligned with ‘youth’,  it is centered upon the premise that Gen Z is a generation defined by activism like no other seen before. This is matched by our own findings that 69% of our Imagen Insights community told us that they think Gen Z are more active than previous generations when it comes to social issues. The relationship between Gen Z and activism is clearly one acknowledged and celebrated by Gen Z themselves.
Citing social media, firstly as a contributing factor to Gen Z’s early exposure to social issues, the article also draws attention to the role of social media platforms as the most significant new tool in the activism tool kit. Quoting a 2020 study from the UK Safer Internet Centre, the article states that 34% of 8-to-17-year-olds say the internet has inspired them to take action about a cause whilst 43% of Gen Z say the internet makes them feel their voices matter. These are stats which are echoed by our own research as 75% of our community said that social media has caused them to take action whilst an additional 75% of our community said that social media is an effective way to spread info and take action on a social cause or political issue.

These stats not only confirm that Gen Z’s chosen form of communication is social media, primarily receiving and sharing their news through social media, but it reinforces the effectiveness of online platforms as tools for generating active engagement.

This is therefore a tool which cannot be overlooked by brands and activist causes who are seeking to develop active relationships with a Gen Z audience. We only need to cast our minds back to the COVID 19 pandemic lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 to see that social platforms became the public space in which protests occurred. For example, whilst the Black Lives Matter protests evolved to take place on the streets, they were fueled and supported by a public protest taking place through video shares, hashtags, information links on stories and people talking to their phones to share their own experiences. Social media has, in many ways, taken over taking the streets as the public space in which we protest.

An additional role of social media in the changing face of protest is highlighted by the article as its ability to inform and expose young people to social causes at a younger age. Whilst previous generations may have been shielded from social issues either by protective parents who have control and knowledge over what content their children were consuming, this is a generation who has access to information, quite literally, in the palm of their hand via smartphones. This is a claim supported by our insights from our own community too, as 41% of our community reported that they became politically active at 13-16 compared to 33% who said they became politically active and concerned about social causes between the ages of 16-19 and the 16% who said they were over the age of 19.

‘…whilst we would encourage brands to take note of their ability to communicate with Gen Z at the click of a button via social media, the most significant takeaway should be that Gen Z are looking for brands to take action.’

Additionally, as social media and the internet also allows us to access global news rather than just local issues, social media has also been fundamental in contributing to a generation of people who are more aware and informed of a world beyond their own social circle than ever before. This has led to a generation who, armed with all the knowledge they have consumed, are seeking change, and seeking brands who will partner with them, to create change.

Hence, whilst we would encourage brands to take note of their ability to communicate with Gen Z at the click of a button via social media, the most significant takeaway should be that Gen Z are looking for brands to take action. For Gen Z, the most effective ‘marketing strategy’ is not to create slick social media campaigns that ultimately lack substance, but to authentically show that you are a brand which is taking active steps to bring about changes that align with your brand’s ethos.

Authored by Helena French, Operations Assistant at Imagen Insights, Gen Z insights within 72 hours.

If you found this article topic interesting keep an eye and ear out for the next episode of our Imagen Insights Imagen This podcast, coming soon.