Last updated: Digital natives: How to win the trust of Gen Z and Millennials

Digital natives: How to win the trust of Gen Z and Millennials


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For digital natives (and everyone else), “what the world needs now, is…” trust, apparently – and lots of it.

New research from the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer says trust is pretty hard to come by these days.

Various leaders and institutions have us feeling deceived, exploited, confused, and divided. In response, we’re narrowing our eyes and crossing our arms. Our default setting right now when confronted with multiple scenarios is plain and simple: distrust.

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How did we get here?

Fear of fake news played a part these past several years, with social media certainly taking a strong supporting role. And yet social media use is hardly decreasing. In fact, more people are gravitating towards social media than ever before, with 3.6 billion users measured worldwide in 2020. That number ballooned to 4.48 billion in 2021.

Suffice to say the lack of trust we’re all feeling does not make it easier for digital marketers. People may trust businesses more than government or media (…thanks?) but they also want businesses to lead with trustworthy and quality information. How do you do that if people’s first instinct is NOT to trust you?

Another challenge for digital marketers? Digital natives, aka me.

Who are digital natives? Definition and stats you should know

Digital natives are individuals who were born into and have grown up in the era of advanced digital technology, typically identified as born after 1980. This includes generations such as Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996), Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012), Zillennials. and subsequent cohorts. These generational cohorts, from a very young age have been immersed in a world rich in digital experiences, ranging from the internet and social media to mobile computing and interactive digital platforms. As a result, digital natives are typically characterized by their high comfort level, fluency, and intuitive understanding of digital technology and its applications.

Digital native stats all companies should know:

  • Millennials and Gen Zers currently comprise 38% of the overall workforce
  • Within ten years, digital natives are expected to account for over 58%, making us the dominant generation in the workplace
  • Digital natives make up a fast-growing and influential segment of the B2B market: 73 percent of digital natives are involved in product or service purchase decision-making at their companies
  • About one-third of digital natives are the sole decision-makers
  • About half of all product researchers are digital natives

Not to mention, we fully rely on technology to work and run our businesses, which is why we’re willing to spend a lot of money on the best solutions for our needs.

How to win the trust of digital natives: Top strategies for brands

Since digital natives use social media and the internet to inform our buying decisions, it makes sense to run paid campaigns and sponsor posts to reach us with your brands’ messaging. But remember– we’re still dealing with a worldwide lack of trust, to which younger generations are not immune.

Clumsy corporate takes on “authenticity” and “purpose-driven marketing” are called out quickly, and digital natives waste no time taking these brands to task for it. They will zero in on brands’ insincere attempts to link arms with the cause du jour and subsequently drag them for a poorly planned attempt to cash in on people’s empathy.

This very public flogging of a brand will, at the very least, repel buyers, or at worst, result in an ever-dreaded “cancellation.”

When halfhearted attempts to win over digital natives fail to generate a surge in revenue, companies get understandably frustrated. After all, you’re trying to speak our language by targeting us on social media, but it’s just not working.

What can you do to attract digital natives to your brand AND win our trust? Here are four tried-and-true techniques that work:

  1. Get your executives using (and comfortable with) social media
  2. Collect and share user-generated content (UGC) from real people
  3. Embrace authenticity fully: Go live on social media platforms
  4. Work with industry and brand influencers

Real-life examples of digital native marketing strategies that work

Getting your execs using (and comfortable with) social media

The number of corporate executives NOT on social media dropped from 8% in 2020 to 5% in 2021, meaning if you’re in the C-suite, you should really work on polishing your online presence.

And yes, that means using an actual professional headshot for your LinkedIn profile instead of the cropped snapshot from five years ago that you think is flattering, but is no longer accurate of what you actually look like.

Why do digital natives care if your company’s top brass is active on LinkedIn? We want more insight into who’s steering the ship! Revealing who your company’s leadership is and what they’re like with social media is a quick way exhibit transparency, show accountability, and be approachable– all effective methods of building trust!

Even on a buttoned-up platform like LinkedIn, it’s possible for executives to show up in a way that’s genuine and down-to-earth, helping audiences get to know the brains and personalities behind your brand.

Who does it well: LinkedIn is a great place to start, but executives branching out to other platforms get bonus points for putting themselves out there. The founder and CEO of Black Girls CODEKimberly Bryant, posts frequently on Twitter about her professional and personal life, sharing photos of her garden, meditation tips, and inspirational quotes alongside updates about her professional projects. Kimberly is an exemplary example of an executive representing her company in a professional way WHILE embracing her humanity and values.

Collecting and sharing user-generated content (UGC) from real people

As a millennial, I’ve now lived through two economic recessions, one global pandemic, held seven different full-time jobs, and paid taxes for 18 years. I’m not about to spend my hard-earned dollars on a product that leaves me with a case of buyer’s remorse, be that a new refrigerator or electric toothbrush.

Like most digital natives, before I make any buying decision, I will conduct a lengthy amount of internet research and find out what REAL people have to say about a brand.

Last weekend I saw this play out in real time at Target when a pair of teen girls nabbed the LAST pair of fake eyelashes I’d been looking for – they first Googled reviews for said lashes before walking away with them. Keep in mind, these lashes cost approximately nine dollars. And yet, those girls STILL did their research before settling on them.

In addition to embracing reviews (yes, good and bad), more brands should be curating and sharing user-generated content (UGC) from their fans on social media. I love seeing a clothing brand post photos of real people wearing their merchandise or sharing lighthearted content from its employees.

And I’m not the only one – as many as 84% of my fellow millennials say user-generated content (UGC) influences their purchasing decisions.

Who does it well: Packing and shipping magnate The UPS Store regularly runs campaigns on Instagram asking followers to submit photos the brand can repost. Over the holidays, users sent in photos of bizarre items they had to package and mail with the hashtag #UnexpectedPackandShip. Not only did the campaign highlight UPS Store employees’ careful and resourceful packing expertise, but it gave the brand an immense amount of entertaining content for posting.

Going live on social

Like social media, live video isn’t going away any time soon, as social channels seem to be doubling down on promoting live content. In addition, to live video options on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, a few channels are rolling out live audio, thanks to Clubhouse.

Live content is a great way to win over your audience, by offering a raw and real glimpse into your brand. It’s an exciting opportunity for users to see what the people behind your brand are like. The format offers a chance to breed real connectedness with the audience, answering questions and engaging with listeners or viewers in real-time.

Since social media is still a numbers game, it doesn’t hurt that live video has high visibility, often showing up at the top of users’ feeds depending on the platform. You can invite co-hosts to join you live and double your reach instantly. You can even provide the video as a download option for viewers to watch later if they couldn’t catch the live feed, helping you gather customer data in an ethical and reliable way.

Who Does It Well: While many corporations are shy about posting edited videos, going live is a whole other level of risk. SAP Customer Experience chose to embrace the unexpected nature of live video, leaning into LinkedIn Live as a talk show-like format to feature executives, subject matter experts, and other professionals. Usually hosted by a boisterous and outgoing personality, the show’s episodes go live every few weeks with different guests and themes, all the while taking questions from the audience on LinkedIn and engaging with viewers.

Employing influencers for your brand

American billionaire and co-founder of Intuit, Scott Cook, was quoted years ago saying, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” His words ring true even more so today, as we see that consumers are not giving up control any time soon.

What is an influencer?

An influencer is a person who leverages their credibility, knowledge, or relationship with an audience to shape opinions or encourage actions, often in a specific niche or industry. They typically engage in promoting, recommending, or endorsing products or services, using their online presence and personal brand to sway consumer decisions, sometimes in exchange for compensation.

Consumers are essentially in control of your brand, and if they want more personalized content, responsive customer service, or curated experiences, be prepared to listen to them. Figuring out how to deliver these demands has a lot to do with who is making them. The better you know and understand your customers, the more you’ll understand what they’re looking for. And who better to understand your customers than one of your actual customers?

Essentially that’s what influencers are – consumers who buy from and appreciate your brand enough that if you hand them a microphone (and a salary), they’ll shout their devotion for you from the rooftops.

What differentiates influencers from advertising, though, is trust. Influencers are normal, everyday people willing to candidly share their stories in a creative and authentic way. Not to mention, they already have devoted followers and communities on social media who will listen to them.

And don’t think you need to book the latest TikTok sensation who charges an astronomical fee to give a meager shoutout to his millions of followers. A micro-influencer (10,000 to 50,000 social media followers) or nano influencer (100 to 10,000 social media followers) will charge considerably less, is more connected with their followers, and will turn out high-quality, authentic content for your brand, most likely yielding more leads for your company.

Who’s Doing It Well: In celebration of Black History Month, LinkedIn launched an inspirational social media campaign highlighting successful Black entrepreneurs who are business influencers on the network as well. LinkedIn is sharing creative content from the influencers and creating original content that features them, while simultaneously asking that users follow these influencers and “join the conversations” about Black entrepreneurship.

🎶 It’s always been a matter of trust 🎶

The concept of trust may be in short supply these days, but it’s not as elusive as you may think. If your brand is struggling to gain traction in the world of digital marketing, it may be time to build some of these strategies into the foundation of your marketing program. They’ll go a long way in helping you build credibility and secure buy-in with your audience.

And even if your audience is not yet dominated by us digital natives, just wait a few years and that will change. Invest in winning our trust now, and you’ll see it pay off in dividends down the road.

Every digital moment matters.
Are you making the most of them?

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Editor’s Note: This post was syndicated from LinkedIn with the author's permission: –Jenn VandeZande

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