It’s no secret that COVID has changed nearly everything about the way we live our lives. What people talk less about is the fact that COVID hit in the middle of an already extremely progressive era. Technological innovation was expanding rapidly prior to our lives turning virtual. All the virus did was accelerate that movement by necessity.
I recently read this article by Faisal Kalim on how appealing to Gen Z is still presenting a problem to publishing companies, who need to tailor content more towards the consumption behavior driving young people towards social media. It got me thinking about what needs to change for digital publishing to fully engage younger audiences.
Some aspects of news and media are beyond obvious at this point, like the fact that newspapers feel nostalgic at best and wasteful of paper resources at worst (something that Gen Z is all too cognizant of).
But for publishing companies, it’s no longer just an issue of content being virtual. It’s about appealing to a generation that has created infinite worlds out of technology, specifically social media.
41% of US adults, including both young millennials and Gen Zers (18-29 years), say they primarily get their political news from social media, according to a Pew research study of more than 12,000 individuals. A 2019 Reuters Institute study had 57% of Gen Zers reporting that their first interaction with news in the morning is on social media platforms and messaging apps.
Platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are no longer just ways for people to share their own thoughts and feelings online. Virtually every major news outlet has a social media account on each platform. This allows young people to not only find news more accessible, but also engage with others about news issues in a manner that is quick, easy and often beneficial (though undoubtedly not, at other times).
Kalim points out that “The attention and support of younger readers is critical for the survival and sustained growth of publishers.” If a younger audience sees that a company is more tech and social savvy, they’re more likely to take them seriously.
They’re also more likely to trust a company that is obviously tailoring to their generation as an audience, especially as media coverage continues to prioritize important progressive issues of race, class, climate and more.
The article quotes Clair Bergam, Associate Media director of Media Kitchen who says that “Inherently a publisher that talks to Gen Z is going to have positive things to say about climate change, and pushing innovation and progression. Brands generally are realizing that they have to get behind these larger social issues or they will quickly become irrelevant.”
Of course, for young people, these two components—social platforms and urgent, progressive issues—go hand in hand.
Brie D’Elia, 20, a fashion student who is building her personal brand on TikTok, tells Barber that Twitter is her go-to platform for news. ‘When I want a specific trending piece of information, I always go there because you can see the hashtags and what’s going viral. I just want that [information] fast,’ she says.
I personally believe part of the issue companies currently need to overcome is that social media is still viewed as a supplement to publishing, when it should be more centered in the delivery strategy. Instead of publishing a story and linking it in the social media post, articles ought to be immediately available on social media, and news sites should be structured around social media presentation.
This sort of necessity of adapting to the progressive, social media era will cause a ripple effect, automatically putting pressure on companies to get rid of paywalls. I’ve written here about the structural economic steps that could take place in order to allow for such a change.