Learning From Teen Engagement With The Elections

It seems like every day there’s a new study on Gen Z’s digital habits. Regardless of the source, the numbers make one thing clear: It’s a smartphone world. By 2020, a whopping 92% of teens are expected to own a smartphone, according to eMarketer. It’s also not entirely unfair to say they’re media-addicted. A study cited by the Los Angeles Times noted that the average number of hours spent watching media per day is six for teens and nine for teens. Nine hours. That’s a full-time job!

With all of this data and their reported use of Snapchat, Instagram, YouNow and whatever the next popular platform may be, it’s easy for those of us looking to connect with this valuable-to-marketers audience to assume that they’re so busy engaging with their devices that there’s little interest in things beyond the four-inch journey from eyeball to iPhone. 

As someone in the business of content, I started wondering: Are teens really just spending hours and hours Instagramming their lives away on “smart” devices in between checking social media, watching YouTube and listening to music? Do they care about things that are going on in the world around them? Are they interested in topics beyond gaming and Beyoncé? Are they just out to have fun or do they want to find things that are intellectually stimulating? Do they, for instance, care about the election and who will be the next President of the United States? 



As a former journalist, I decided to find out first hand. And after polling my 15-year-old niece Olivia and her friends, admittedly a very unscientific sample, I assert that they do care. In fact, they care about this election very much. I learned that Facebook and BuzzFeed have taken on a very important role in these teens’ news consumption habits, with short-form videos shared on Facebook being a top source. In addition to the popularity of those two apps, they noted a third that may be unique to this group of teens: The New York Times news app, which they found useful because of its short, text-based synopses that make it easier to quickly catch up on the day’s top stories.

For these young people, this is the very first presidential election they’ve really paid attention to, which makes the current situation all the more riveting. Not just a national election gone awry with “he says, she says” rhetoric, they see it as entertainment, Further, they actually feel connected to the candidates. Perhaps this is a function of growing up with reality TV stars, and they see the President of the United States with the same type of familiarity as they do a Real Housewife or the Kardashian family.

The takeaway from all of this for marketers is that with the constant stream of information Gen Z has at hand, whether it’s a political candidate or a new brand of snack, this group has a savviness (and perhaps a cynicism) that shouldn’t be ignored. In the case of the elections, even though they can’t vote, they are casting their “digital vote” through their online behaviors. And this is where brands are taking note. As a consumer group with spending power of $44 billion, they are casting votes with their dollars every day. Take a page from the candidates’ playbooks - stay connected, keep them informed, keep it simple and be authentic. This generation may just cast a vote for you.

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