Youth marketing

How to engage Gen Z by harnessing the power of community

Written by
Izzy Hall
Published on
March 25, 2024
Last updated
April 10, 2024

What this article covers

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In 60 seconds… 

  • A community is a group of unofficial brand ambassadors - they spread the word about your brand, product, or service online amongst their friends and peers
  • Communities are about connection, and to practice authenticity, this needs to be kept as a focus
  • The online world empowers people to form and join a community, the connections from which are then deepened IRL

It’s 2024, and Gen Z wants to feel a sense of belonging. They want a group of people they can bond with over mutual interests. They want a community. And they’re willing and ready to engage with brands who prioritize this. 

Communities are homes to fans who will stay loyal to the brands they value. Take, for example, the huge power of the Swifties or SoulCycle - these  communities live and breathe these brands, and would do anything for them (and yes, we’re calling Taylor Swift a brand). 

Understanding the dynamics of Gen Z’s engagement with communities is crucial for businesses and marketers who want to build brand awareness and seek to connect authentically with this demographic.  In this blog, we’ll be discussing the importance of fostering meaningful connections with Gen Z, as well as sharing best practice guidance from our experts, Tyy Anton (CEO of CareerPathPro), Grace Miller (Head of Failure & Experimentation for Steven Bartlett and The Diary of a CEO), and Roxanne Nejad (VP Marketing at Cleo).

Why are communities important for brands? 

When it comes to communities, it’s about the long-term, not the short-term wins. They’re something that need to be at the top of every brand’s social impact and marketing strategy.

Why? Because there’s power in unison. 

Communities aren’t just for the individuals, but they’re a “good business strategy as well”, Tyy says. Essentially a group of unofficial brand ambassadors, your communities spread the word about your brand, product, or service online amongst their friends and peers, encouraging them to join in on the fun. And, as we already know, peer-to-peer marketing is amongst the most effective when young people: “88% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know more than other forms of marketing”, says Grace. 

Used smartly, these brand advocates can become a part of your business strategy.

Community best practices: Authenticity 

But it’s no good just building a community and hoping for the best: much like everything Gen Z stands for, authenticity needs to underpin your community. It’s a space that needs to stand for something - something that gives you purpose and leads your entire operations. 

But in a red mist of targets and sales, how can brands prioritize authenticity within their communities?

  1. Communities are about connection, and to practice authenticity, this needs to be kept as a focus, Roxanne advises. “The reason why people want to be in a brand community is to build a social connection”, she says, “so brands should sit in a place where they facilitate those connections being made.” 
  1. Tyy sees authenticity and humanity going hand in hand. “The secret to building community authentically is by being a bit vulnerable”, he says. “You don’t want to buy from a brand that comes across as a brand, you want to connect with people… that’s the best way to get an authentic connection.”
  1. As we discussed earlier, the beauty of a community is its two-way relationship. This can be used to drive authenticity. Take the time to listen to your community and learn what they like and dislike: create a community for them, by them. 

A great example of community authenticity comes in the form of Cleo’s (an AI money assistant) Roast Mode feature. The idea of Roast Mode (an AI chat tool in which users can get ‘roasted’ by Cleo for their spending habits) began on a Cleo Facebook group which consisted of people who used and loved the product. The feature’s conception can be traced back to one user who screenshot a bug and shared it with the group, in which the app was advising the user that they only had £0 to spend. The Cleo team then watched other community members joking with the user, accusing them of getting ‘roasted’ by Cleo. 

The team took this concept and ran with it, asking the community how they would roast one another about finances and developing these in the ideation process. 

And so Roast Mode was born.

@meetcleo Her hands look like this 🫵 so mine can look like this 💅🏻 #cleoai #keepingyouincheck #igotyou #ai #fyp ♬ original sound - Jamie Lee Curtis

Offline versus online communities for digital natives 

To the Boomers out there, the IRL world will always hold a lot more substance than that of the online world. Even Millennials may not consider a social network-driven connection to be a ‘real’ one. But Gen Z doesn’t agree. 

“The online world counts as a real interaction”, says Tyy. “[Gen Z and Zalpha] have grown up with access to social media, so it’s a part of their norm. Having those online interactions does hold the same weight… and it equates to human interaction. I might not be seeing my friends IRL every day, but I’ll be Facetiming them every day and sending them memes.” 

The beauty of online communities is their power to foster connections in ways that are simply not possible in the real world, whether that be due to geography or stereotypes. These connections and communities can then be furthered in the real world. 

Take, for example, The Diary of a CEO: Grace recounts a story in which an 80-year-old (not your typical or expected listener of the podcast) turned up at one of their events. “The best part about being able to see people at [IRL] events is that you see… there’s a common denominator: people wanting to better themselves/their lives. There’s nothing common about their looks - it’s all about their emotions and passions”, she says. 

The important takeaway here is that the online world empowers people to form and join a community, the connections from which are then advanced via IRL opportunities. 

The future of communities for Gen Zalpha

So, we’ve established how important communities are to Gen Z, but where does this leave us in the future? 

Pion research revealed that 66% of Zalphas say spending time with friends in person is one of their main interests, whilst 85% have access to smartphones at home. Will these young people, who have grown up with a smartphone in their hands, value communities? And if so, where will they go to connect? 

“Community will be an integral part of [Alpha’s] lives”, predicts Tyy. “As Gen Z grow up and Alpha come into the ranks, the need for community is only going to be more intense.”  But brands will need to harness the power of both the offline and online worlds if they want to form a safe, engaged, and thriving community. Luckily for you, both the online and offline worlds have a multitude of opportunities… it’s just about taking advantage of both (we never said it was going to be easy!). 

With Zalphas growing up surrounded by rising inflation, political uncertainty, and climate change,  it’s no surprise that they’ll be heading to communities for solace. “As Zalphas turn into adults and get into work and consumerism”, Tyy says, “they’ll be very receptive to brands that already have a community because it gives them a point of affinity.” 

So, to summarise: connection, authenticity, and community - themes that are increasingly important for Gen Z - are the key to capturing their spend… and loyalty. 

Like what you’ve read? You can hear more from Tyy, Roxanne, and Grace in the full webinar, ‘Why Community is the Holy Grail for Marketers’, available on-demand now.

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