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A big thumbs down surrounded by popular social media platform icons.
A big thumbs down surrounded by popular social media platform icons.

Jordon Choo

Avoid a social media crisis with Gen Z: Tips for sensitivity in writing

It is no surprise that my generation is no stranger to the online world. Having grown up not knowing a world without this type of connectivity, it is safe to say that the average Gen Z teenager or adult is pretty astute at navigating around this vast digital jungle. With that said, this means that brands are always under their watchful eye thanks to our presence on every type of social media platform imaginable, which means now more than ever brands should avoid a social media crisis at any cost.

Any information, regardless of how positive or negative, will travel like wildfire among us – spreading from social circle to social circle without any pause. When that happens, that’s when you know you have a bonafide social media crisis on your hands, soon to spiral out of control.

In the case of negative attention, by the time you craft out your crisis communication strategy and react with a carefully crafted PR post to put this fire out, it will already be too late. Perhaps it will already be reposted a hundred times on Instagram or TikTok, doing damage to the public perception of your brand in more ways than one. 

So why is this the case? Why does this happen more often than not?

Gen Z: So sensitive to sensitivity?

You have probably poured over plenty of articles regarding the best ways to market to Gen Z, but one rule that always seems to persist is that inclusivity is key. With how connected this generation is over social media, it is no surprise that they are overtly exposed to different viewpoints from all over the world at a young age.

Due to this, the want to act against social norms, issues or topics that were set in stone so many years ago becomes very much prevalent. And it is easy these days too! To show your support for a cause, all you need is to post an image on your preferred social media platform. Effectiveness can vary, but it is this ease of acting that makes it more likely for a Gen Z-er to act.

Rather, it is not really ‘sensitivity’ but ’empathy’ that Gen Z has plenty of. If they feel like a brand is doing its part to include the marginalised, they would be more willing to engage them thanks to shared values. And in this day and age, they’re more aware than ever that what they consume also directly affects the world. Better to buy from a brand that’s socially aware than one that isn’t, right?

As for my own experience, I have caught myself second-guessing on purchasing brands that have a negative reputation among my generation, and there are entire brands I’ve sworn off solely because I disagree with their values as a brand. Vice versa, I’ve gone to brands that are more sustainable and responsible because they feel more ethical to me. And how does news of the deeds or misdeeds of brands get to me? Usually through social media!

Why to avoid a social media crisis

Oh no! You’ve sent out something deemed socially irresponsible or controversial in nature out on social media! Your social media crisis communication team should be able to handle it, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just writing an apology post and leaving it as such these days. One immediate effect that will occur almost every time is the loss of followers, and even sales, if the issue is not handled properly. As easy as it is to send out a post, so is the act of unfollowing and boycotting – and it doesn’t take Gen Z much effort to immediately start doing as such.

Even worse, your reputation might be affected in the long run! If your brand is known as one that is not socially progressive, inclusive or diverse, there is a high chance that Gen Z will not associate with you. This is a value that even older generations uphold when making considerations for purchases, and with Gen Z being quick on the draw with spreading the news… it can be easy to see why ensuring you are putting out the right message with your social media posts can be important.

A social media crisis fit for a king

Take for example, that one day on International Women’s Day where Burger King UK decided to put this tweet out:

A Burger King tweet saying 'women belong in the kitchen' caused a massive social media crisis for them.
Using shock can draw some real negative attention.

While the intention to shock was clear, playing on how far women’s rights have progressed in these recent few decades – it seemed pretty tone-deaf on their part to use this as a hook for their campaign. This turned into a massive social media crisis of equally massive proportions.

Despite it turning out to be an empowering message in the end, this first part of the tweet found itself on the screens of hundreds, if not thousands of people, tainting the entire image of the brand and whatever were trying to say in the process. And guess who reacted negatively the most? If the generation you are thinking of ends with the letter ‘Z’, you would be very much right.

So how do you prevent this from happening? What steps can you take to ensure that you avoid the wrath of the ever-watchful, ever-present sentinels of this wild, online jungle?

Tip 1: Say no to stereotypes

Three women looking at a phone together while the one in the middle holds a mug of coffee.

What does Gen Z hate more than really long forms of content? Putting them inside of a box. As a generation big on self-identity and individualism, it is important you refrain from making sweeping statements about your target audience to avoid a social media crisis.

This extends to even strangers and communities they are not a part of, so keep in mind to research on the nuances of whatever target audience you’re trying to reach or represent. Proper representation can go a long way to building goodwill and media relations with specific, smaller audiences – so the investment into research is definitely worth the effort.

Tip 2: Keep it naturally authentic

A sign saying 'We like you, too :)". Being authentic helps you avoid a social media crisis.

Jumping straight to using the latest slang or texting trends that Gen Z are passing around to each other might seem like the right thing to do, given that internet memes and fads seem to die out as quickly as they appear.

But before you jump on that bandwagon for your own branding or product, make sure to learn how to use it properly! There are plenty of instances where misused slang or forced jokes into your content has resulted in brands being mocked for trying to be ‘hip with the kids’. If you don’t want them to roll their eyes as they scroll through onwards to their next ad on TikTok, use them right! Being as authentic as possible is an important point for them, so keep that in mind before you start shoving all the latest memes straight into your caption.

Tip 3: Take note of global issues

A protest sign being held up within a crowd, saying "Fight today for a better tomorrow".

One can’t underestimate the importance of social media monitoring. Gen Z is always in the know of the latest issues happening around the globe, often championing causes on their preferred social media platform. As passions run high, using certain words or phrases during such events might lead to people labelling you as tone deaf or not reading the room enough.

For example, if a social issue regarding weight is going about the rounds, it would make sense not to allude or make fun of that topic in ways that one would deem offensive, such as making weight jokes or creating stereotypes from them. So, keep your eyes on the news to avoid a social media crisis!

Tip 4: Empathy is key

Lapton and mug on a wooden table. The laptop screen says "connecting women on the rise".

Irked by the fact that Gen Z seems to jump on anything they deem offensive, even when it doesn’t relate to them at all in any conceivable way? Maybe you made a post about a specific niche interest and suddenly you have a group of them up in arms against you, correcting how you got certain things right or wrong?

Gen Z believes in making an impact: to create a better world for all through social justice. This is why they expect those with a bigger platform, that is – your brand, to have responsibility in pushing inclusivity and diversity to audiences whenever possible.

To ensure that you are displaying enough empathy, make sure that you display an appropriate understanding of the wants, interests and needs of certain groups through careful media monitoring. Create personalised content that really resonates with them with targeted jokes and references!

Ready to cut through this Gen Z dominated digital jungle?

Brimming with ideas now that you are more well-equipped to deal with these internet sentinels? Give it a spin! Crafting social media posts for Gen Z can be a fun endeavour, especially with how open they are to experimentation. As digital natives, they’ve seen it all – so constant brand and campaign play can really help to boost engagement with them as a whole!

With enough sensitivity and inclusion, you’ll also appeal to a much wider audience, especially for a generation so big on diversity within their media. Who knows, you might become the next dearly beloved brand on the internet!