Why Social Is The New Search For Gen Z

Ottavio Nava, EU Regional Lead at We Are Social, explores the new ways Gen Z are using social media search options over other more traditional search engines.

Googling is an essential habit for many people. It has been that way since the term first became a verb back in 2006.

But for the TikTok generation, search is getting social. Many Gen Zers are turning to video and image apps, TikTok and Instagram to find out more about their favorite brands.  

We cited the growing trend for “social search” in our 2023 Digital Report. Data from GWI reveals that 16 to 34 year-olds are now more likely to visit a social network when looking for information about brands than they are to use a search engine. 

The rise of short-form video 

Roughly half of the world’s social media users say that they actively visit social platforms to learn more about brands and to see their content.

The rise of TikTok search has already caught the attention of the media, but the latest data suggests Instagram may be young peoples’ preferred destination when researching things to buy.

This is short-form video’s heyday — and it’s not just here to stay, but is predicted to keep growing — upending the idea of search along the way.

Short video clips can deliver a lot of insight about a topic or a place for Gen Z. They want inspirational ideas in bite-sized videos and to feel reassured by a creator that recommendations come from someone they trust.

TikTok is best-known for serving up entertaining 60-second videos and it is now the most-downloaded app for consumers ages 18 to 24. As the younger Gen Alpha grows up, they will likely follow in GenZ’s footsteps, using these platforms as a place to search and learn as much as watch and be entertained.

You can find anything on TikTok — from advice on what to watch on Netflix to comments on this year’s Spotify Wrapped, honest and accurate descriptions of experiences, preferences, services or products are becoming increasingly popular. TikTokers are turning to the app as a search engine, while the platform’s algorithm personalizes content based on their interactions.

Changing social behaviors

The research found these trends are part of a changing set of social behaviors, as online communities shift. Unique mobile phone users are growing year-on-year (up +3.2% in 2023), while those ages 16 to 64 are using social media more than ever (+2.0% year-on-year). 

While people are turning to apps, including Snapchat’s Snap Maps, Amazon and social platforms for different kinds of search results, it’s worth noting that Google remains the most-used search engine globally.

While Insider Intelligence suggests TikTok’s advertising revenue could overtake YouTube, also owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, by 2024, it is by no means a done deal. YouTube still accounts for a sizable and significant portion of the market, so brand marketers need to be able to share content across both platforms in order to meet their audiences where they are.

The race for adaptation

All platforms are taking note of Gen Z’s habits and are adapting at speed to provide what younger users want and need. Google is rapidly innovating around new features in search and maps, adding more images and videos.

In 2020, YouTube Shorts was released to share snappy vertical videos, while Instagram rolled out reels and Snapchat launched Spotlight.

But the search evolution won’t end there. Enter generative AI, which we predict will take search beyond video and social.

Alongside the capability to create audio, code, images, text, and video, AI tools like ChatGPT, developed by OpenAI in partnership with Microsoft, are now integrating search functions.

Microsoft recently launched Bing, its AI-powered search engine, and Google’s AI service Bard is expected to announce new AI search features soon.

With so many innovations and new features coming all the time, search is constantly evolving.

For now, at least, video is hot. But as younger users adopt AI at scale — a Morning Consult survey found that 63% of adult advocates of generative AI were Gen Z or millennials — it’s the digital-first generations that will drive the next trends in search.

This article originally appeared in MediaPost.