Community Builders: Don't Forget Gen Z

This is your Community, Daily.

Hey yenizens!

Today’s breakdown is of a16z’s most-recent podcast featuring Tiffany Zhong, the 23-year-old CEO of Zebra IQ and Connie Chan, general partner @ a16z. The reason this is important is because this generation is entering the workforce (and community spaces) and we need to be ready and prepared to serve them well as they are a vital part of our growing, community-centric, passion economy.

I also have a 14-year old… so, I try to also read up on everything I can so as to be a better dad to her and her slightly-younger sister (10).


To infinity & community,

— john

The Breakdown: Products, Design, and Gen Z (via a16z)

This ~33 minute podcast is short but packed with good anecdotes, stories, and data that should impact our thinking as we engage with this exciting and young generation in our communities!

Here are some of the highlights of Connie’s and Tiffany’s time together:

If you don’t have the youth using your product or talking about your product or sharing your product, I hate to break it to you: you’re irrelevant.

And so that’s why every single company that is targeting consumers needs to care about Gen Zs, whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or whether you’re a startup.

I think about this all the time, especially when it comes to marketing and building products for not just my community and customers today but also my customer 10-years from now (Gen Z).

Gen Z considers anyone who is not really speaking their language or not understanding their trend, a boomer.

I can personally attest to this fact, because, I’m not a #boomer but my kids call me that anyway.

[What is cool] changes weekly. So you have to keep up if you want to understand what’s cool or not.

This isn’t an understatement; it’s a fact. If I have 30-40 apps installed on my phone, she has 100, neatly coordinated on her iPhone.

29% of youth in America want to become vloggers or YouTubers, vs 23% want to become professional athletes. So more people want to become YouTubers than athletes, which is a massive shift.

This really does make you think. And, if this is going to be an important part of our future, our tooling and platforms aren’t anywhere close to where they fundamentally need to be. The infrastructure for this new type of creative class needs some formidable tools that scale.

People who are really, really good storytellers will be able to do so across different mediums, whether it’s TikTok, whether it’s YouTube, whether it’s Instagram, whether it’s Twitch.

This is probably where many of community leaders can shine — many of us are natural storytellers and creators of (tons) of content for our communities to consume and engage with.

My bet: Storytelling will be an even bigger part of “winning” new customers and fans and audience members for Gen Z and beyond.

Gen Zs prefer video over text for like 99 percent of things.

Got it. Video. Okay. Good. Next?

Every person has dual personalities. You have a personality that you bring to work, you have a personality that you bring to your friends, you have a personality that you bring to your family.

And, and so that’s how Gen Zs have started to establish themselves. They want to be able to be super fluid and switch across these different identities.

This finsta—fake Insta account—which is really just for personal friends, this one’s for this set of friends, or this one’s for this set of interest-based friends. This one’s for this community. That’s how these finstas start being created.

The fluidity of identity online is going to be a major issue (and opportunity) for community leaders and community platforms — Gen Z will need tools and workflows that can accomodate this fast-paced transition between multiple different profiles, tools, and more.

And… yet, they must also communicate cohesively — anything slow is “super-cringe” and will not survive.

Gen Zs are brand strategists from age 10. They learn: okay, my Instagram needs to be like this, my YouTube needs to be like this, my TikTok needs to be like this, my Twitter needs to be like this. It’s so different than how millennials and Gen X perceive content.

So much truth! Both my daughters think about this already, constantly. What was I doing at 14-years old? I was obsessing about how I was going to find a ride to the local GameStop (or Babbages!) to get a recent PC video game.

What is my life? What is my life…

That’s why raw photos, raw videos are actually bridging the connection between influencer, creator, and fans.

A really polished version of yourself doesn’t seem very attainable. When you’re a fan sitting at home, you want to feel like you could be that influencer too, someday.

Aspirational and relatable. Gotta be both.

The inspirational part that attracts Gen Z is something to not take lightly — they want to be inspired by the folks and communities that they are part of and it’s important we create safe, fun, and engaging environments for them.

So much wisdom packed in here:

The people who have had really long shelf lives are people who have adapted with their audience, people who listen to their audience, the people who engage with their audience and make their fans feel like they are being heard.

As your audience grows older, your content adapts, as well. You grow older, your content matures a little, and your fans grow older, as well.

Many of our existing tools do not adapt to different generational needs — this is a massive (and growing) issue that must be thought through!

Word to big brands and advertisers:

I think the biggest mess ups are when brands randomly jump onto bandwagons or trends without fully understanding where the trend has come from, what the trend means.

And how it is relevant to Gen Z. If you don’t speak Gen Z’s language, but you try to without actually spending the time to understand it, you get laughed at and mocked on the internet and turned into a meme, negatively. That is when you become a very cringeworthy brand.

And hey! Brick and mortars still very much matter:

There’s obviously a massive paradigm shift there, when you see these consumer brands that are backed by VC firms spending the capital that they otherwise would have spent on ads to do in-person activations. They realize that having people be able to tangibly see something, touch something, is still just as impactful as being able to order stuff online.

Getting back to in-person events will be a big opportunity, at the right time. How about user experience? Less taps:

For this generation, we’re optimizing for convenience. So if things are bundled together, that saves us time. I think that’s really important for Gen Z.

Parting advice for understanding Gen Z?

Don’t just watch the TikToks… make one.


Have a good one folks.