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Cone Communications Gives Companies a Lesson on How to Speak Gen Z

Eighty-one percent of Gen Z believes they can have an impact on social and environmental issues by using social media, according to Cone Communcations' new report, 2017 Cone Gen Z CSR Study: How to Speak Z. The study, surveying U.S. teens ages 13-19, examined Gen Z’s aptitude and attitudes toward company involvement in social and environmental issues – and how willing they are to stand up for causes they care about.

Brought up in an age of recycling and diversity education, Gen Zers are well aware of the social and environmental challenges the world currently faces. Ninety-two percent say they care about these issues and express concern for the future and eighty-nine percent indicate that they’re worried about the health of our planet. Gen Zers also see companies as playing a critical role in addressing these problems.

Much like Millennials, Gen Zers recognize their purchasing power as an important way to support responsible companies. Approximately 98 percent say they would rather buy from a company addressing social or environmental problems than one that is not and 92 percent say they would switch to brands associated with a good cause, given similar price and quality.

However, only two-thirds of Gen Zers say they pay attention to a company’s CSR efforts when deciding what to buy.

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Differing from older cohorts, when asked about what specific issues companies should address, Gen Z was the only generation to prioritize poverty and hunger over economic development. Other important issues included environment, human rights, health and disease and education.

The research identified social media as the preferred method for this generation to engage with companies around CSR initiatives. Eighty-two percent of Gen Zers use social media to talk about issues they care about and 87 percent are likely to share their positive opinion of companies addressing social and environmental issues. Beyond these broader issues, Gen Z also believes companies need to stand up for issues that are taking center stage in the media today, such as climate change, racial equality, women’s rights and immigration.

“Although Gen Z may be glued to their phones — don’t mistake that as a disregard for the pressing issues facing the world today,” said Alison DaSilva, Executive VP of Cone Communications. “This generation is interested and engaged — and they’re looking to companies to help them create a movement of positive change.”

“This always-on generation is consuming news and content at an almost instantaneous rate — so Gen Z is oftentimes the first to know of social injustices happening around the world. This heightened awareness means they’re putting even more pressure on companies to step up and solve for these hot-button issues.”

More than a platform for discussing pressing issues, Gen Z sees social media as a powerful tool to drive change. More than half feel that supporting social or environmental issues online is actually more effective at making a difference than doing something in their own communities. Thirty-eight percent name motivating others to care about an issue as the top motivation to share online content related to CSR efforts.

Top actions for online engagement with companies around CSR efforts include sharing their positive opinion of a company addressing social and environmental issues (87 percent) or learning what they can do to make a difference. Other online actions include voting to pick a charity to receive a donation (86 percent), watching a video about a social or environmental issue (83 percent) or “Liking” or following a nonprofit or company’s CSR program (79 percent). Instagram, Youtube and Snapchat were named as the social networks most used to advocate and learn about important topics.

Offline, this group is less likely to take more hands-on or contentious actions against companies, such as speaking out against a company (68 percent) or researching if a company is helping or hurting society or the environment (69 percent). This is contrast with the Millennial cohort, which is more likely to boycott or engage in frank dialogues with brands.

“This generation has seen the virality of social content and sincerely believes their online voices can be a source of inspiration and encouragement to get others involved,” DaSilva said. “Companies can tap into this sense of empowerment by giving Gen Zers the content and the tools to share CSR messages — whether that’s badges, short videos or sample posts.”

“When the attention span of a Gen Zer can be as short as the loading time on a website, it’s critical companies reach this generation with content that’s going to grab — keep — their interest,” said Whitney Dailey, Director of Marketing/Research & Insights at Cone Communications. “Targeting this generation on just one channel is not going to cut it. Your content must be on multiple platforms and as diverse and engaging as possible.”

The study also sheds light on how Gen Z defines what it means to be a responsible company — and its more multi-faceted and sophisticated than one might expect. Nintey-seven percent believe responsibility is primarily about being a good employer, while also making products that are good for individuals and families (95 percent). Yet more than three-quarters also believe companies should help people and the environment; donate to causes in local communities and around the world; and support important social issues.

Parents and friends were also revealed to be the most likely to influence Gen Zers purchasing decisions as opposed to companies or celebrities. Aligned with the growing importance of social media in the lives of this generation, Gen Zers are also equally swayed by people on social media and the news.

“Gen Z doesn’t want to feel like they’re being marketed to by a company,” Dailey said. “This group is looking to those closest to them for trusted information. And with their phones always by their sides, they consider social media as influential as news. Marketers will have to take a more personal, social-first approach to reach this new generation.”

The 2017 Cone Gen Z CSR Study: How to Speak Z stud presents the findings of an online survey conducted between March 9–15, 2017 by M/A/R/C Research among a random sample of 1,003 U.S. citizens, comprising 500 males and 503 females, ages 13–19.


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