Understanding Gen Z through the lens of YouTube

Matt Anderson August 2018 Video, Consumer Insights

Move over millennials, there’s a new generation in town: Gen Z. They’re the largest, most diverse generation in history, and they will shape our world for decades to come, which is why marketers are keen to know what makes them tick.

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At YouTube, we feel uniquely positioned to help with that. After all, according to a recent Pew study, 85% of teens use our platform, making it the most popular among teens. So earlier, this year we set out to better understand Gen Z behavior through the lens of YouTube to find out why they head there, what they’re watching, and how it makes them feel. We talked to a lot of Gen Zers and their parents. We then followed up with extensive quantitative research.

Here are three things we learned.

Gen Z turns to YouTube to learn something

You might think young people are only living for the here-and-now, but we were surprised to see that many are turning to YouTube to help them plan out their next steps.

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According to Ipsos, 80% of Gen Z teens say YouTube has helped them become more knowledgeable about something,1 and 68% say YouTube has helped them improve or gain skills that will help them prepare for the future.2

This drive for self-improvement is coming to life in unexpected ways. For example, study with me videos, where people film themselves studying to encourage good study habits, are a growing genre. Think of them as a virtual study buddy. It shows Gen Z innovating with a new video format that brings together a desire to learn with a need for togetherness and human connection.

Gen Z looks to YouTube to deepen real-life connections and bridge generations

We’ve all seen teens (and adults) with their heads in their phones, oblivious to the world around them. But online video can actually be quite a social experience. Of the Gen Zers we spoke to, 7 in 10 said watching videos with others helps them feel more connected.5

Gen Z uses YouTube to take a break from the stresses of being a teenager

Teenagers are stressed. When they’re not doing school work or preparing for exams, they’re busy with extracurriculars or trying to navigate relationships. Of the Gen Zers we spoke to, 84% said they feel overwhelmed by the work and activities they have to do.3

And that’s one reason they’re heading to YouTube — to decompress a little and forget about day-to-day life. In fact, when we asked Gen Zers which platforms they turn to when they want to relax or cheer up, the No. 1 response was YouTube.4 So when you see a teen obsessing over a head-scratchingly silly meme or trend, realize they’re just looking to have fun and take a break from the stresses of growing up.

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And while you might think teens are only sharing the latest viral videos among each other, think again. Our research suggests many of these videos are crossing generational divides. Eight in 10 of the Gen Z teens we spoke to said they proactively share YouTube videos with their parents or other adult family members.6

“I shared a video called “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” with my mom to try to explain what depression is like, and I felt the video really captured it. It made my mom and I feel closer and better understand each other." – Ipsos Gen Zer

What Gen Z behavior means for brands

It can be tempting to think of the next generation as different from those who came before. But what marketers should realize is that Gen Z is confronting the same coming-of-age situations that millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers once went through. They’re just expressing themselves in different ways, thanks to the technologies now at their disposal.

Just like teens before them, Gen Z is looking for ways to escape the stresses of everyday life and prepare for the future, and YouTube plays a big role in both these areas. Brands hoping to connect with this generation should be looking to help them do both.

Trending now on YouTube: #InMyFeelingsChallenge, BooktubeAThon, and study with me