This series, “Engaging with a Gen-Z Audience,” is written by Cody Kleinsmith, Incoming Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (R.A.R.E) Member. Stay tuned for more articles in this series!
One of the largest challenges in public sector initiatives is ensuring that all voices are represented in the decision-making process. Different groups have different attitudes, and one that is notoriously difficult to engage with are young adults, today members of Generation Z. While the general consensus that young people aren’t interested in local politics can be true in certain cases, it’s far from true for the entire generation.
Through this article and several in the future, we’ll dive into some of the best practices and strategies to use when engaging with this largely untapped generation.
One of our points to discuss before any others is the importance of recognizing the diversity of attitudes and opinions present in Gen-Z. While Gen-Z has certain unifying characteristics, such as growing up in a post 9-11 world and being constantly surrounded by technology, the list of characteristics is a short one. To put it into perspective, Gen-Z ranges from roughly 1997 to 2015.
The oldest members of the generation are 24 and the youngest are 6. Some of the generation grew up with VHS tapes, while others (that could even be born the same year) may have only used DVDs and Blu-Rays, and some of the younger generations might not even know what a VHS tape is. The reason this is so important for interacting with Gen-Z is due to one of the things I mentioned earlier: technology.
With the rate of changes coming to our world members of Gen-Z can have vastly different experiences from one another even though they are, when defined by a generation, supposed to be very similar. Now I’m sure this idea isn’t too out there, but it is an important mindset to frame our conversation in.
Since so often in the public sector, where staff and decision-makers are often removed by several years or even multiple generations from Gen-Z, this fact is often overlooked or ignored. So, as we continue to talk about engaging with Gen-Z this framing mindset can help us remember that no strategy is going to work for every member of the generation and that we still want to adapt our message and interactions based on characteristics other than solely being a member of Gen-Z.
Now with our mindset ready, let’s talk about the first best practice to start experimenting with which is the method of communication you use. It’s well known how technologically dominates Gen-Z’s interactions, so it’s a great place to start! With the variety of tools available via different social media websites, features, and ways to get in touch reaching out through technology also allows you to reach a wide variety of Gen-Z perspectives.
Instagram will have a different impact than Facebook which will have a different impact than email lists and so on, so choosing a medium for your engagement is very important. It’s also important to note that engagement not based online also has its advantages, especially when you’re trying to foster more in-depth understanding and longer-term relationships. When selecting your strategy, whether it’s online or in person, ask yourself what segments of Gen-Z you are trying to appeal to and then choose accordingly!
Alongside choosing your method, the other best practice we’ll cover in this article is the overall tone of your engagement. Your tone is very important and can really make or break your interaction with Gen-Z community members, so it’s important to identify the correct one based on your intentions.
When defining your tone, it’s always important to tailor it to your target audience, but the main reason I bring this topic up is to warn of an issue that I have seen arise frequently. When targeting Gen-Z audiences it is common for public agencies, companies, etc. to try and place their message within Gen-Z contexts. Think of when you’ve seen (or maybe even used yourself) things like memes, internet lingo, or other similar methods of communication to get a message to a Gen-Z audience. At its core, I love this idea!
Adapting your messaging to make it more friendly to Gen-Z community members is a great way to change your tone and increase your engagement, however, it must be done very carefully. I have seen countless examples of this kind of messaging falling flat or even receiving negative reactions from Gen-Z community members because it can often come off fake, tacky, or is used in contexts in which the original idea of the meme/lingo/reference does not match up with.
When this happens, interactions and engagement can decrease with Gen-Z community members compared to when you use a typical engagement tone. So, when trying to establish your tone, it’s very important to balance appealing to Gen-Z’s existing attitudes and remaining rooted within what is appropriate for your agency.
With our framing mindset, method, and tone in mind we’re already well on our way to engaging more positively and consistently with Gen-Z! In the coming articles, we’ll discuss more specific tips and methods for doing so, but it’s important to keep these three big-picture things in mind throughout our future conversations.