Millennials vs. Gen Z: How the Younger Generations Engage with Stories Online

We all know about Millennials. They are that demographic cohort that was born roughly between the early '80s and 2000. But what about the generation that comes after it? How are we going to grossly oversimplify this next generation?

“Generation Z” is probably the default choice for the generation after Millennials, but this new generation that is now coming of age seems to want to be called “The Founder Generation” or simply "The Founders.” If you think about it, "The Founders” is befitting because it obviously appropriates a term thrown around all the time by the generation, especially in the tech industry.

No matter what people settle for as the name for the generation after Millennials, we can all agree that generation is poised to reshape the global economy somewhat. Their unique experiences, much like the Millennials', will change the ways we buy, sell and consume information, forcing individuals and organizations to re-examine how they communicate and do business.


Research on how the young audience is engaging with stories online


Earlier in 2015 the BBC World Service announced findings of an eye-opening study it undertook of younger online audiences in emerging economies. The research looked into how young audiences in emerging economies differ with those in developed economies, and how that influences the way in which they seek, consume and engage with news.  

“We commissioned this research because we know that another billion people will be connected to the Internet by 2020 and they are largely going to be on social or mobile platforms and come from emerging models,” said Dmitry Shishkin, BBC World Service digital development editor, at an editors conference.

The research aimed at establishing what drives people's digital habits and news consumption. “We wanted to understand what different segments of young audiences in different parts of the world think, and crucially how they engage with news in general,” said Shishkin.

The study included quantitative, qualitative and desk research across several countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.

Here are five key insights the study established:



1. Young audiences are invested more on WhatsApp, and less on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


The research found that seventy-seven percent of respondents had used WhatsApp, as opposed to a combined 44 percent of them having used other popular messaging apps.

Moreover, the research found that although more people had used Facebook (91 percent), WhatsApp is the service they would miss the most if it were not there.

Additionally, 16 to 24 year olds were much more likely to check WhatsApp than Twitter and Instagram as soon as they woke up in the morning.

“This finding was a little bit strange for us because we {now} understand that we need to focus on a platform that doesn't want to be a friend to media at all. WhatsApp wants people to talk to each other, but they don't want media to get in the way,” said Shishkin.


2. Young audiences coming from social networks want to be shown stories that are relevant to them in their current state of mind.


“This is about appreciating that your audience is coming to your website in all sorts of different ways, with different frames of mind and needs,” said Shishkin.

He noted that the BBC’s website at the time of his address had the same ‘furniture’ on its site for every visitor, displaying the same onward links and top stories.

However, he said, unlike ‘search audiences’ who are engaged visitors looking for news, viewers coming from social networks will not find this offering particularly relevant to them because they are keen to read a specific story.

“What if at the entry point of a referral, your story looks different? What if you start promoting different things, what if you create your onward journeys in a different manner?” Shishkin asked.

“{For example}, a person coming from social is not interested in your top story, they are interested in a piece of content – what if you surround that story with similar links, stories that are trending on social in a much bigger way?”

Because many of the younger audiences are coming to kill time rather than specifically get news, Shishkin added, publishers like the BBC need to make changes to the way they present their content by reacting appropriately to the different mindsets of the audience.


3. Young audiences want different online platforms to do different things to fit their needs.

From the BBC research, it also emerged that news organizations and online publishers in general need to treat content differently for different platforms in order to appeal to the younger generation.

For example, young audiences want a short 15-second video for Vine, a longer video for Facebook or a different style of delivery for a different audience, such as producing satirical content or interactive online news games.

Moreover, forty-three percent of under 35s agreed that although there is much news around, they still don’t feel they clearly understand most issues.

“Something which we have started thinking about at the BBC a lot is how you explain news to people in way that is not condescending,” said Shishkin.

“What we have learnt so far is that you shouldn’t write for yourself or peers – write for the audience.”

He added that sometimes articles that seem simple or even obvious to journalists can be popular with people who are looking to learn about an issue from scratch or catch up on it.

The research established that audiences are dipping in and out of ongoing events at different times and from different angles, so they may lose context.

“Don't be afraid to deconstruct explainers to the bare minimum,” said Shishkin "the analysis and all the fact boxes which we do are quite important for audiences on the news site.”


4. Young audiences sometimes share stories but they won't read them, and sometimes read stories but then don't share them.


“The fourth {digital finding} is quite counter-intuitive, because what we are saying is that sometimes sharing doesn't mean popularity,” said Shishkin.

He pointed out that their research analyzed the interests of a range of people, and compared them to the type of stories they were most likely to share.

The findings showed that people over the age of 35 are more likely to share stories relating to health, and people under 35 are more likely to share content about pop culture.

However, science stories are roughly even across the different age groups and are shared by all.

“Analyzing your content not only for popularity, but for shareability too, is quite important,” said Shishkin.


5. Young audiences want stories to deliver more than just the news – they want solutions.


This last key finding from the research was quite revealing. It found that 64 percent of under 35s want news stories to provide solutions to problems, not just news that tells them about certain issues.

So, as opposed to writing about how to solve particular problems in the world, you can help your audience by providing them with the knowledge to try and address problems themselves.

Online content publishers and marketers should also consider giving guidance to audiences, rather than solutions by writing stories that move beyond what has happened to looking to where to go next.

“This is what we have been doing at World Service on quite a few occasions, where you take a problem and then you try to explain how the problem is being solved in different parts of the world,” Shishkin said.

He added that these five digital findings are applicable to the global news industry, as well as the BBC.

“The sooner we start reacting to these findings, the better for the whole industry.” 

See Also: 4 Things You Should Know About Web Readers.

David K. William is a web writer, publisher and entrepreneur. Everything he writes is inspired by life experiences and study. David is also founding editor of Follow him on Twitter @DavidKWilliam.


Photo: Alexander Lyubavin/flickr