The trademark of Gen Z is how they’ve grown up with social media. I think you can read that a couple of ways: That they’ve always had it, yes, but also that they’ve actually grown up together with these platforms, evolving alongside the changing social media algorithms that lace their digital lives.
Here’s how I see it:
- Youth: From 2003 to around 2010, feeds were pure and simple. They showed what your friends were doing in the moment.
- Teen years: Then, from roughly 2011 to 2014, Facebook and friends started flirting with algorithms and advertisers — they were in a constant state of trial and error, finding their identity and re-prioritizing their interests (photos and videos, for example).
- Young adulthood: Since about 2015, platforms have grown into themselves. Every major platform has a social media algorithm, and the learning curve is mostly over. Now, it’s all about fine-tuning skills and services.
The timeline below gives a closer look at the life stages of major platforms, from their launch to their most recent social media algorithm changes.
So what’s ahead? To make it into their middle-aged years, social media platforms will need to identify the gap that current algorithms can’t adjust for, like allowing for user curiosity and determining true intent.
Regardless of how quickly social media platforms age from here, brands need to realize that these channels aren’t just kids on the playground anymore — they’re full-fledged marketing tools that can’t be neglected.