Posted by Fabrick on 16 July 2018

I was chatting recently to a young intern at a prestigious contracting firm about the use of social media in the built environment. Her insights into how she uses social media were eye-opening, to say the least. While I chatted with her about the marketing we do and the construction industry in general, I realised how unprepared we are for communicating to the next generation of people to lead the built environment sector.

The impact of social media on the way we communicate has, up until now, been fairly obvious. We can reach a wider audience, we can connect with a more diverse group, and we have access to numerous platforms affording a huge range of marketing opportunities. However, could Generation Z soon be turning all that we know on its head and is that good for us marketers?

In a recent study by Origin, research found that 91% of 18-24 year olds were on social media and 51% of those users were on social media almost constantly. However, the impact of all that social media use seems to be taking its toll. The study found that more than half of Generation Z is looking for a break from social media temporarily, while over a third (34%) have left or deleted an account for good.

Those figures are particularly interesting from a marketing perspective because if the next generation is happy to switch off from social media, and are more receptive to breaks, then where does that leave the construction industry that are only just getting to grips with communicating through social media channels?

The built environment has a huge opportunity to learn and listen to the next generation. Whether those opportunities are through technological advances, caring more deeply about affecting global megatrends such as climate change, urbanisation, or diversifying its workforces, we are seeing exactly what interests Generation Z is responding too.

With 91% of Generation Z on social media, it is not a medium we can afford to ignore or put at the bottom of our priorities as marketers. However, the way we communicate on these channels really needs to change. There seems to be three real shifts in how Generation Z is responding and reacting on these platforms:

1) The importance of diversity

Generation Z is one of the most politically active and engaged generations online. The impact of key political movements highlighting topics such as ethnicity and gender are growing in importance. As a group, they are much more inclusive and seek a more fluid attitude to the cultural norms. From a marketing perspective, being seen to include a token female in communications is just not authentic or genuine enough; Generation Z is a much more active generation for real change.

2) Being genuine

For years now social media marketing has claimed to be “genuine” in its approach. I can tell you now, that is not the case. Some brands have achieved a genuine approach to social media, but many are failing at the basics. For Generation Z, there’s a more active side to their participation on social media. It’s not about the way they look or the Starbucks cup they hold, it’s deeper. It’s looking at what they believe in and how they are living that belief. The explosion in veganism is a good example of this. There’s a real desire to make a difference in the world and ensure that they are leaving a better world than the one their parents grew up in. For brands, this authenticity and desire to “do good” needs to be visible. It’s CSR 2.0. Buying into the values of a brand and knowing that they are truly evident is something that we need to be increasingly aware of in our communications. With a propensity to switch off from brands that are not fulfilling their promise of authenticity, Generation Z can quickly see through who is really living the values and who is paying them lip service.

3) Substance and value

Brand values are a real key to future communications, from a business culture through to the end product, brands are being held accountable for the story they tell. This also levels the playing field for smaller companies and highlights just how important a solid, genuine vision for a company is. There is a real opportunity for businesses that are solving real-world problems, tackling megatrends, and positively impacting on the built environment for future generations. The current issues around climate change, wellness and rebuilding inclusive communities are all areas that the built environment plays a key part in. Offering true change is something Generation Z is able to support wholeheartedly. Using social media platforms to communicate real change and work together with the public to effect that change will become increasingly important. We have moved from content being king to action being king.

Understanding the way our future generations are connecting with businesses can help to ensure an open conversation in the coming years. By ignoring the way that social media is being utilised and the expectations our young people have of businesses in general, we will be missing out on that conversation. Embracing the knowledge and energy of the next generation is important to stay relevant in an ever-changing online forum. If you want to keep the conversation flowing with the next generation, we need to adapt and listen to what they are responding to.

Laura Curtis, Fabrick

Leave a comment