How is Gen Z Responding to COVID-19?
Updated: Apr 22
TikTok proms, Animal Crossing, social bingo... Gen Z is staying busy while social distancing. With schools canceled for the remainder of the school year, Gen Z is falling back on what they know best to remain connected with their friends: social media.
We've rounded up an extensive list of the ways Gen Z's behavior has changed during the COVID-19 crisis - and how some brands are succeeding or failing to engage their audience.
Connecting Any Way They Can
Tiffany Zhong of Zebra IQ told The New York TImes that now, more than ever, Gen Z is resorting to “all sorts of extreme ways of connecting.” This refers to the rise of mass tagging and chain Instagram challenges, as Gen Z explores new ways to create a sense of community above all else.
Jake Bjorseth from Trndsttrs Media says, “The one thing the next few weeks/months is sure to bring: New, awesome social media challenges… You can physically separate — but we will always be connected.”
Here are some examples of how Gen Z's behavior during the COVID-19 crisis has reflected these priorities - and how some brands are succeeding or failing to engage their audience.
Instagram: "Until Tomorrow"
This social media challenge spread confusion and frustration for many audiences while simultaneously revealing a lot about the Gen Z mindset. The challenge involved posting unflattering photos of yourself, leaving only the caption "until tomorrow" -- and deleting the post the next day. Many Gen Zers maintain two Instagram personas: one that's curated for the general public, and a second "finsta" (fake Instagram) account for close friends, only.
Now trapped at home, Gen Z has shifted their standard social media behaviors by reaching out and posting "finsta"-style photos on their public accounts, searching for a broader, more authentic social connection.
Instagram: "Social Bingo"
Circulating in Instagram stories, Gen Zers were creating Bingo boards filled with different criteria, often specific to a certain community such as attending the same school or living in a specific city. Surprisingly, brands seem slow to pick up on this trend, which was an unfortunate missed opportunity.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Making a resurgence from the game's humble 2001 Nintendo 64 beginnings in Japan (and on the Gamecube in the US the same year), this social simulation game is now available for the Nintendo Switch and has become the game to play during the COVID-19 crisis, with early figures estimating 2.8million copies sold in the first 10 days of launch.
The game's light-hearted tone and sense of cooperative fun has proven a welcome escape for socially-starved Gen Zers, especially considering how many young people are getting their proms and graduations postponed, or even cancelled. The game is the No. 1 trending game in the U.S., Japan, Korea, France and Spain.
Brands like Gucci and 100 Thieves, and influencers like like Chrissy Tiegan and Brie Larson, have been quick to jump on the trend. 100 Thieves just launched digital versions of all their designs on the platform with the hashtag #AnimalCrossingDesigns, sparking a media frenzy.
Speaking of missing prom: Danville native, Natalie Reese, decided to host her own virtual prom on TikTok once her school-sanctioned dance was cancelled. Reese was able to bring along her 700k+ followers into the fun, generating over 11 million views.
Bringing her whole family in on the fun, Reese, dressed to the nines, captured some quick videos of the festivities and uploaded it to TikTok, which got an immediate response. Positive comments came in from all over the world.
“This whole thing is sort of insane,” Reese said. “But it’s part of history. It’s what we have now. And everyone is looking for a reason to smile. I’m glad if I could give that to people.”
Many college students are having their commencement ceremonies postponed or outright cancelled. Some students are hosting their own virtual ceremonies, with one class even virtually recreating their school campus in Minecraft for the event.
Anheuser-Busch beer brand Natural Light is hosting their own graduation party via Facebook Live, creating a landing page that will immortalize graduates' names as the "Natty Light Class of 2020."
Quibi, a new mobile-only streaming service launched on April 6th, designed specifically with the Gen Z audience in mind. The platform saw 1.7 million downloads in its first week, but the initial response has not been particularly positive. General consensus has been that the content, which isn't user-curated like TIkTok, leans too far on the side of absurdity. Another aspect frustrating Gen Z is the way the platform prohibits capturing and sharing screenshots of the content.
As the most entrepreneurial generation, it is no surprise that Gen Z likes to put their own spin on things. With teen spending hitting an all-time low in the past decade, several brands are experimenting with DIY campaigns to inspire their audience.
Cooking & Food
40% of Gen Z claim that they are cooking more with the shelter-in-place mandate. Food and restaurant brands are staying top of mind for these young chefs by releasing their recipes on social media.
Following the same thought process, The DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton released the recipe for its famous cookies. With over 10k tags since the release of the recipe, the tactic has kept young travelers aware of the hotel.
With their theme parks closed, Disney has been releasing recipes for their beloved Dole Whip, churros, and grilled cheese sandwiches, generating a lot of positive buzz from the Gen Z community.