Writing for Gen Z

UC Davis students at Student Welcome event

Members of Gen Z—born between 1996 and 2010—are going to make up the majority of the student population on campus for a long time to come. Communicating with these “digital natives” is best approached with a solid understanding of the traits and values that influence how they engage with the world around them.

Generation Z

When writing or putting together any kind of communication for your Gen Z student audience, we suggest that these four questions be your guiding stars.

Is your content:

1. Values (and value)-based?

Growing up against the backdrop of the Great Recession made Gen Z pragmatic and somewhat risk-averse. What this means is that to get their attention, you have to be able to explain the value of what you are offering them—why it’s worth their time and what is the payoff for them down the line?

On the other hand, Gen Z are very socially conscious—more than any preceding generation, they’re guided by their values. When it comes to your messaging, use inclusive language and avoid ableism and tokenism. 

Be mindful of how you use resources, especially print. And in the events and programs you create, as well as the language you use to promote them, appeal to their desire to do good in the world. Co-creation and getting student input are key.

2. Transparent?

Gen Z wants to know an organization’s story, its purpose and how it’s run to see if its values line up with their own. Be sure to be as transparent as possible in communicating where student fees are going, what boards administrators serve on how big decisions are made.

3. Authentic?

The only way to gain the trust of this group is by demonstrating authenticity. Transparency is a part of this, but it’s also key that what you write matches what you do—Gen Z have a sixth sense for inauthenticity and it’s the easiest way to lose their attention.

Including student-produced content as much as feasible is a good way to infuse your communications with an authentic student voice, as is running your content by student interns or micro-focus groups.

4. Channel-appropriate?

Gen Z is post-digital; they’re mobile-native and social-native. You have eight seconds to convince Gen Z students that your content, and by extension your event or program, has value.

Your content strategy should be social- and mobile-first with all other channels delivering a consistent, seamless experience. If you have the same content on each channel, what’s the point of going to all the channels? Content needs to be exclusive on different channels.

  • Twitter: Immediacy and character limits … this is where they get their news.
  • Facebook: You can go longer form but still keep it informational.
  • Instagram: Photos reign supreme … remember, Instagram is all about aspirations. 
  • Website: They’ll find you here via Google. Make sure it’s a cinch to navigate and locate important info.

Read about communicating with Gen Z in more depth in SAMC’s Gen Z Debrief.