Gen Z Has a Love/Hate Relationship With Social Media–Here’s Why

We’re up all night with it. We look to it to make us feel attractive and valued. We get a hit of dopamine when we look into its eyes. Our relationship with social media has evolved into something akin to a subpar rom-com. Just like any film in that genre, Gen Z’s relationship with social media is hit or miss.     

We know social media can be a tool for positive change and community and a place that breeds insecurity and overwhelm for Gen Z. To explore our relationship with scrolling, we asked The Receipt–our Gen Z research network of 8k+ young people about their experiences on social media.

Key Insights: 

When and Where to Find Gen Z Online: Gen Z is most active on social media in the evening or at night and can most likely be found scrolling on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. Brands should take into consideration when and where Gen Z is most active to optimize their engagement with young people.

Less Screentime, More Me Time: The majority of Gen Z goes on social media daily, but not all the time spent on the app is enjoyable. Social media’s negative impact on their mental health is causing young people to break away from their phones.

Counterculture and the Rise of Anti-Influencers: What do anti-influencers and early 2000s phones have in common? Both encourage young people to be more mindful of how they’re spending their money and time. Brands can separate themselves from the “noise” Gen Z is trying to escape from by making ads that don’t feel like ads. 

Yes, We’re Digital Natives.  

As marketers, we have a functional understanding of what it means to be a digital native, but little research has been done on how growing up with a window to the world impacts us. 

42% of Gen Z lives with a mental health condition and out of this group, 57% take medication for their conditions. Top diagnoses are anxiety (90%), depression (78%), and ADHD (27%). While these conditions can be caused by a number of things, research shows that there are some interesting correlations between social media’s explosive entrance into our lives and mental health. 54% of Gen Z think excessively being on our devices worsens our mental health and well-being. Feelings of isolation,  insecurity, and online bullying stemming from social media are found to have a negative impact on our emotions, increasing our chances of feeling anxious or depressed. 

Understanding Gen Z’s relationship to social media in the context of mental health as marketers is important for brands to  build stronger online consumer-brand connections.

Eat. Sleep. Social Media. 

Most Gen Z respondents (94%) engage on social media daily; 80% of these respondents consume social media more often than they consume food. Their favorite feeds to browse are on Instagram (65%), TikTok (54%), and Twitter (14%). Gen Z seems to be using these apps the most during their downtime, in the evenings and nighttime (75%). 

It’s Complicated.

When asked how they feel while on social media, 80% of respondents say they feel neutral or negative in their experience, with 30% of these respondents referencing social media’s impact on their mental health and well-being. Those respondents in particular use adjectives like “addicting,” “overwhelming”, and “toxic”  to describe social media–feelings often brought on as a result of endless doom-scrolling and comparison traps.

One Gen Z  respondent writes, “The positives to having social media are being able to keep in touch with friends, sharing your creative works, and inspiration from others. However, there are many negatives as well. It is very addicting; people compare themselves to others, causing disorders, fake lives lived online, and less person-to-person interaction.” 

It’s possible that social media is simply mirroring the same issues we experience in the real world, and some are arguing our relationships online have propelled us into the Metaverse, a world meant to escape the problems of the real world by creating new ones.

Detox and De-Influence. 

Gen Z is not afraid to take matters into their own hands–they’re going against the influencer-grain and stepping back from their social accounts when needed. 

As a way to counter influencer culture, young people are posting anti-ads (e.g., posting review videos where they let people know what they don’t need and what they shouldn’t buy). This new wave  of “anti-influencers” was sparked from the desire to cut through the “influencing” noise and lessen the feelings of FOMO associated with buying into the latest trends. This could impact the 16.4 billion dollar influencer marketing industry in the United States, as brands will no longer be able to rely solely on ad reads from popular influencers to do all of the heavy lifting in their marketing budget. 

Social media consumption not only impacts the wallet, but also the mind. Gen Z has been leading the movement in de-stigmatizing mental health and making self-care a priority, which plays a role in their social media usage. 65% of Gen Z respondents say they’ve “detoxed” from social media, with 60% of these respondents choosing to detox to better their mental health. 

“I chose to take a social media break for my own peace of mind. Social media was making a mess of my mental health, and I wanted to break free from it. I think that was the best decision I’ve made in a while.” According to another Gen Z respondent. 

Detoxing isn’t the only way to reduce time on social media–young people are starting to turn to “vintage” phones like Motorola flip-phones when they’re on the go to help themselves be more present. By not carrying a smartphone everywhere, Gen Z feels more connected to their peers while easily being able to capture photos with an early 2000s aesthetic. 

Support From Brands.

Brands can learn from Gen Z’s reduction in social media usage. We want to see messaging and content that is purposeful and isn’t adding to informational or marketing overload. As marketers, the problem isn’t getting Gen Z to increase their time on social media, it’s about positively influencing their experience and helping them engage with your brand more mindfully when they are most digitally active.

Actions like leaning away from corporate, salesy content and instead, honing in on engaging, relatable material can help improve engagement. Keeping in mind which apps are most popular among Gen Z and the times of day young people are most active online can also help brands get in front of Gen Z’s eyes and capture their attention. 

What’s Next? 

Will Gen Z ever detach from their rose-colored relationship with social media? Only time will tell. But the research is already pointing to a generation aware of their flawed relationship to the digital world. Marketers should know: Gen Z is looking to spend less time online (even if they haven’t figured out how to just yet), traditional influencer roles are on the decline among consumers, and the surge of social media in our lives shows the potential to even out in a way that could impact your marketing efforts. 

JUV Data Collection (The Receipt): 

Social Media Usage: Jan. 20th, 2023 – 124 respondents 

Social Media Detox: Feb. 2nd, 2023 – 126 respondents 

App Usage: Sep. 23rd, 2022 – 127 respondents 

Rian Weinstein

Rian Weinstein is the Associate Director of Research and a Consultant at JUV Consulting. 25 and from Manalapan, New Jersey, she will debate you on the existence of Central Jersey and how the popular Jersey breakfast meat is called pork roll (not Taylor ham). When Rian is not engaging in NJ-themed debates, she is scrolling through TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube watching food videos.