From TikTok to Crypto Currency. Where is Generation Z headed?

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horn and mane GenZ

Photo Credit: Priscilla Du Preez

Zoomers want a digital world that’s fun and easy, but not at the expense of trust or integrity.

Danny Green intercepts a Rockets pass and tips the ball to Avery Bradley, Bradley drives up court and passes to LeBron James, who goes into orbit for a massive two-handed slam dunk against the Western Conference foes on Feb 6th, 2020. Not an unusual night for the greatest in the game, but the premium on the James name means that the NBA TopShotTM NFT (a digital token) of this dunk is worth $210,000 USD to the right collector. Fans are welcome to relive the spectacle for free on YouTube but owning a collectible piece of history from the greatest calls for deep pockets.

To be sure, very few Gen Z’s have hundreds of thousands of dollars in disposable income to drop on digital basketball tokens. The ones who made it big were in the know from the beginning, and there are plenty of options for newcomers to start building collections at much lower price points. But for a generation that includes individuals that had our first moments showcased in a Facebook album, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that we Zoomers flock to and often help define trending digital experiences.

Technology was part of our daily lives at birth, and we’re the first generation to be raised in a world that’s brimming with digital experiences. It’s for this reason, that the average Zoomer is less likely to consider the physical world and the collective digital ‘metaverse’ (VR, AR, and the Internet) as mutually exclusive entities. The digital experience is the only experience we know.

When I was asked to provide examples of who I thought was connecting best with my generation on digital channels, I had to give it a lot of thought. Not because it was difficult to come up with examples, but because I’m not sure I would have consciously thought about if I hadn’t been asked.

Here’s what I can up with…

The champion of online experiences for Gen Z right now has to be TikTok. Use of the social video sharing platform boomed at the start of the global pandemic as a consequence of restrictions on in-person communications and has been steadily growing ever since. More so than any other social platform, Zoomers are eager to spend time sharing in the laughter and lessons of people who are comfortable putting their lives on display through TikTok.

TikTok is not necessarily operating under any particularly unique principle and is not the first of its kind. Before the Zoomers made their communities on TikTok, there was Vine — a social video sharing platform for six-second looped videos. Vine’s success was driven by influencers who populated the platform with original creative content and boasted a reasonably low barrier for creators to interact with other users.

But Vine eventually failed. The platform couldn’t figure out how to monetize their application, offered little support for the influencers driving traffic to their platform, and just didn’t offer a unique enough experience. Content was easily reposted from Vine and uploaded onto secondary platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, which minimized the need for passive watchers to go to the trouble of downloading a new app and navigating their system.

The resounding success of TikTok is largely a symptom of modern times, propped up by bored teenagers under house arrest. For the moment, TikTok has eluded the same penniless fate as Vine by upholding demand for paid advertisements on the platform. Whether it be the unique collection of available effects and filters, delightfully simple UI presentation, concerningly effective content algorithm, or the low barrier to receiving content interaction, there is no denying the format is hot right now among Zoomers and shows no sign of slowing.

The truth is, Zoomers aren’t concerned with loyalty to any one platform. Creators will find communities, and communities will find creators. Those who have been creating content for a while understand that it requires a lot of time and effort to maintain the volume and quality of content required to keep a following engaged, which is why TikTok stardom often carries a short shelf-life and therefore is an empty promise for many Zoomers looking to amuse their peers.

This is where Instagram delivers a more balanced experience for Zoomers looking to be active stakeholders in their community. The platform mimics many of the successful photo and video editing features of TikTok, including delivering a similar experience through their newly launched ‘Instagram Reels’. Instagram provides a more diversified experience that also empowers entrepreneurial Zoomers to reach a range of audiences. Zoomers are eager to support their peers’ endeavours and can easily do that through reposts, if they’re unable to do it by buying the service or good. Each share matters when you’re trying to grow an audience.

TikTok and Instagram both enable Zoomers to foster their entrepreneurial spirit and connect with peers, whether they do so by building their own brand or engaging in social marketing for other companies. No matter the platform, being a stakeholder in the community you are a part of is paramount to the online Zoomer experience.

This emphasis on ownership is driving the more mature and financially savvy Zoomers to toy with stocks and cryptocurrencies, too. Some don’t really have the time or patience to listen to the family’s financial advisor and would much rather place their bets on Tesla or Bitcoin. And we’re able to do it through mobile brokerages like Wealthsimple, which boasts a smooth user experience through a clean UI, quick onboarding, and a wealth of investment options. Platforms like Wealthsimple make it a fun experience for Zoomers to place petty (or not) cash on companies and concepts we identify with. We have all the knowledge we could ever need available at our disposal on Investopedia.com, but admittedly, some of these financial decisions are more likely to be based on personal preference over logical analysis.

There are, of course, rare moments where fun and logic intersect to deliver experiences like that recently observed with GameStop/EB Games. The video game retailer was trading at around $4 USD per share in mid-2020 when it was identified by a particular Reddit user, who argued that the stock was a good buy that would be bolstered by a visionary new board of directors, management teams, cost-cutting measures, and most importantly, hedge fund managers betting against the success of the company.

Informed or not, amateur Zoomer investors were stimulated enough by the dream of making fortunes off a piece of their childhood nostalgia that many managed to punch their ticket on the ride up to all-time high prices of $483 USD. GameStop delivered on its promise for the lucky few who got in on time and then invited another round of hungry Zoomers to jump on board the next train to financial freedom.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are still early technologies but draw less momentum from young investors as they gain mainstream attention and fetch outrageous prices. Perceived opportunity is rapidly shifting into NFTs, which are a type of cryptographic token that are essentially certificates of authenticity for digital goods that encompass digital art, bus tickets, game items, and basketball moments. NFTs are largely speculative right now, but they’re getting a lot of attention and that will likely continue in the years ahead.

All of that isn’t to say I believe I’ll be able to put a down payment on a house with my token of a Fred VanVleet 3-pointer anytime soon, but rather that I’m keeping an open mind when it comes to digital currencies. The importance that Zoomers place on our digital identity cannot be understated. We’re willing to bet on it, and it’s time for businesses to start introducing blockchain applications and other solutions that acknowledge a new generation of shoppers that are thinking beyond the dollar.

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