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Next-generation news media: How to adapt to meet Gen-Z

By Emma Dibben, Head of Publishing and Partner Engagement

With the emergence of platforms like Instagram and TikTok, social media is becoming the primary source of news consumption for 18-24-year-olds. 39% are now more likely to use social media as their main source of news, compared to 34% turning to more established news sites or apps.

This behavioural change presents both an opportunity and a challenge for news publishers. It requires a clear understanding of how this digital cohort consumes news to ensure they can adapt their activity accordingly.

Getting personal

Diverse news agendas, perspectives, and voices appeal to younger audiences. Gen-Z expects media organisations to take a stand on issues and believes journalists should be allowed to speak freely.

Moreover, Gen-Z’s interests are more diverse in terms of what they consider news. For example, research indicates that under-35s are more likely to engage with ‘soft’ news topics. Topics of interest include science and technology (40% interested), entertainment and celebrity news (33%) and lifestyle news (36%).

Of course, these themes are actually the perfect territory for brands and publishers to play in. But the content – and how relevant or interesting it is – is only half the battle. The way it is written and presented matters. As such, social media should be taken very seriously as a news platform.

Social natives have Uber expectations.

Building loyalty and trust with these groups will require frictionless access, relevant and useful recommendations, and the right tone of voice. The same is true of this generation’s shopping habits.

Consuming news should be like using Netflix, Uber, or Airbnb. The same aforementioned research states that news users under 35 are more motivated by how entertaining, consumable, and shareable the news is –  22% of those under 35s said that they like to keep up with the news because it is “often entertaining and fun” (this is vs 17% of those over 35s).

As a result, platforms like TikTok are gaining traction as news platforms. According to Ofcom, 7% of adults (aged 16+) use TikTok for news, up from 1% in 2020. That is a huge uptick. It’s described by the regulator, unsurprisingly, as the UK’s “fastest-growing source of news”.

This might seem challenging to news brands, not least because there is a cost implication in producing fit-for-platform content. But it’s also a huge opportunity. According to PAMCo, UK news brand platforms reach 80% of 18-24s monthly. Even when the journey starts in social, established news providers are a key destination for news content – for the facts and full story and there is a chance to increase the frequency of these visits.

This means being present in social media – and piggybacking on the social journey with publishers – can unlock optimum growth for brands across multiple platforms and support verified sources of journalism. It’s also critically important for news suppliers to drive brand loyalty to ensure future success.

Moving forward, we can expect news media outlets to create much more editorial and co-branded content, which is specifically tailored for social platforms to reach Gen Z.

Authenticity. It just isn’t there yet.

However, even with the enduring prominence of traditional news brands, for Gen-Z, the news doesn’t always feel in sync with its social media environment.

There is a perception among audiences that news content on third-party platforms is not designed for how they use the platform, is trying to get them off and onto another platform, or is inauthentic to the news brand and is trying to mimic native content.

It must be said that news outlets have already recognised the importance of emerging platforms and are creating original content specifically tailored by the platform. For example, Daily Mail has recently launched its @shopdailymail TikTok channel, promoting standout branded content and deals from the fashion pages of MailOnline.

However, the presence of these brands is still nascent. Top UK news providers on TikTok include the BBC, Sky, ITV, Daily Mail, The Sun, Guardian, Daily Star, and Channel 4, but the footprint is relatively small. Just 24% of TikTok’s news comes from news organisations, and much of the remainder is user-generated content.

Moving forward, we can expect news media outlets to create much more editorial and co-branded content, which is specifically tailored for social platforms to reach Gen Z. This is necessary because 18-24’s are still difficult to reach, even in social. Standout is challenging, and news providers are not an automatic consideration to cut through to young audiences.

From a brand perspective, this presents a pivotal opportunity to co-create content specific to social media via trusted news providers in ‘soft’ news environments. This is a strong move as long as they remember that platforms like TikTok were created with the consumer in mind, not as a space for brands to build.

In this younger generation, media organisations have a wide diversity of tastes and preferences to cater for. However, by creating platform-specific content and aligning it with the format, news brands will find themselves far more relevant to Gen-Z now and in the future. The most important thing to remember is that it is proven this cohort wants news brands. How they present in each media environment, though, at least right now, needs some adapting and a cash injection from brands who recognise the opportunity available to be able to adapt in the first place.

Article originally published in What’s New in Publishing.

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