In the latest installment of #Next20, Ziad joined Brea Baker, a racial and gender justice activist, and noted TikTok creators Julia Terpak, Account Director at JUV (@genzconnect), and Roubing Liao (@catdogfatness). Brittany Jones-Cooper, host and producer at BUILD Series, moderated the two-part panel that discussed how Gen Z could sell out a product or spark a global movement with a 15-second video.
Growing up digital.
As the youngest, most ethnically-diverse, and largest generation in American history, comprising 27% of the US population, Gen Z is an economic and social juggernaut. However, their power doesn’t come from their size but rather their upbringing in a connected world. Thanks to their digital fluency, Gen Z has single-handedly transformed technology and social media in ways their founders never envisioned – mostly from the comfort of their bedrooms.
“What’s unique about Gen Z is our access to digital resources that allows us to make our disruption become mainstream instantaneously,” Ziad explained. “We’re living in this moment where this most diverse generation has ever lived and our unique access to digital resources and infrastructure is allowing us to catalyze movements and business ventures, and conversations that matter and are fundamentally changing society forever.”
Think he is exaggerating? Nearly overnight, Gen Z influencers caused CeraVe skincare products to sell out using only TikTok. Seventeen-year-old Simone Jacques organized a protest in San Francisco attended by more than 20,000, leveraging Instagram to mobilize participants.
“The most defining trait is social media, inherently, which it doesn’t feel like a trait because it’s technology, but each generation appropriates new innovation in different ways,” said Brea. “Gen Z took it to the next level with appropriating technology that was not built for activism in any way, shape, or form, and made that the defining feature of all of these platforms. And now in many ways, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and TikTok are influencing our political landscape globally.”
Diversity as a superpower.
Mislabeled as followers given their penchant for participating in the latest viral trend, Ziad and Brea are quick to point out that a signature trait of Gen Z is their celebration of individuality. They embrace their differences like a badge of honor. It’s what motivates them to question and even outright challenge the status quo, chipping away at what’s always been done to give birth to a new order of equity and consciousness.
“Being able to not just say that we are the most diverse generation, but Gen Z is pushing us also to be the most equitable generation. Where we’re not just a seat at the table,” Brea explained. “We’re parting the agenda, we’re creating the menu and we’re able to really build this out in a way that reflects us.”
Where previous generations relied on home-grown connections, Gen Z forms relationships that transcend physical boundaries, making their reach and impact infinitely more global. “Social media has allowed us to feel like if I’m the only weirdo in my school, I can find a weirdo 7,000 miles away and build community and solidarity together. And what a beautiful thing that is.”
Fiercely committed to social good.
Their diversity also plays into their expectations from brands. With $44 billion in spending power, this is not a group to ignore or hope they grow out of their desire for businesses that do well by doing good. Their need for products is very much present, but their moral compass makes them rethink where they should spend their dollars.
“We have to find the people who are trying to do this ethically and who’re trying to do it in alignment with our values,” Brea shared. “We’re tired of being told lies and being gaslighted into believing companies are ethical when everything that they’re putting out in their advertising does not reflect what’s happening in HQ or their full supply chain… we’re not going to spend our money somewhere that is not demonstrating that there’s a commitment to us.”
The downside of access.
However, ubiquitous access to tech and connectivity has its downside. We have seen a sharp rise in cyberbullying and a flood of misinformation shifting global events. Many social media platforms are far from double-digits in age and already need to care for their growing pains.
“We need digital infrastructure and companies and nonprofits and activists and organizers and leaders to work together to model good behavior,” Ziad explained. “When we create a culture that leads with compassion, that leads with community, and then we lean into the good that Gen Z is already doing on these platforms, so much positivity can be inspired.”
The second part of the panel focused on all things TikTok with Julia and Roubing. With 800 million users and over two billion in downloads, there is more to this platform than catchy dance moves and micro-bite content.
“Our attention span is about eight seconds. Short-form content is really easily digestible for our generation. You can fit a lot of information in there.” Julia explained. “A big thing about Generation Z is instant gratification. Doing as much as you can in the shortest amount possible, so I think TikTok really does that for our generation.”
When speaking about Gen Z’s adoption of social media as a whole, Rou believes that creators care equally about the quality of their content and the impact and reach. That balance has made them titans of tech, more masterful than any digital agency with the ability to spark a viral trend in seconds.
“I think the intersection between arts and science is really just social media specifically. The art side of it is creating the content. And like the science part of it is how it’s built on digital technologies and algorithms. And in that territory, I feel like Gen Z is using social media to create changes that will be reflected in the real world.”
Looking to the future, both Rou and Julia see the access afforded to Gen Z as a superpower and a continued catalyst for change. Tik Tok may seem like any other trend, but it’s given them the opportunity to develop content for a global audience. Without needing a passport, they can share their latest videos with followers in Europe or Asia and bond over like-minded interests.
“We grew up embracing different cultures. On the internet, you are meeting people from all around your country, if not all around the world, you’re exposed to everything at your fingertips,” said Julia. “Inclusivity is expected within our generation, and it’s a part of our upbringing.”
“Gen Z is going to push the world to become more digitized and demand more change,” Rou added. “I think Gen Z will, in a sense, push the world to become more inclusive, but also increase the accessibility of resources to everyone.”
Need to catch up on #Next20?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with the latest episodes:
What is #Next20?
Episode 1: Criminal Justice Reform
Episode 2: Making Every Vote Count
Episode 3: American History 101
Episode 4: Reimagining Small Businesses during COVID-19
Episode 5: We Have a Dream
Change starts with honest dialogue and recognizing where and how we need to improve so that equality isn’t selective. Hosted on BUILD by Yahoo, HuffPost, Up To Speed, In the Know and other Verizon channels, #Next20 will feature young visionaries and groundbreakers to explore the inspiration behind their ideas. This is #Next20—the voices of the future.