Generation Z? What Happened to the Millennials? Those game-changing Gen Y youth who have been the subject of so much research and speculation have now hit the ripe old age of 30-ish. They have begun to settle into careers and families, and although they are the first true digital natives, they have proven to be a lesser disruptor than initially anticipated. (Case in point: read the Millennials and Print whitepaper.) That torch has been passed along to the next generation—Generation Z.

Who is Generation Z?

Although there are some reported variances in the dates that define Generation Z (also known in some circles as iGen—thank you, Steve Jobs), generally they are the children of Gen Xers—born between the mid-to-late 1990’s (roughly 1995) through the 2000’s (roughly 2010).

The eldest (around 20) are soon to be graduating college and hitting the workforce, while the youngest (around 6) are busy creating Google presentations, blogging and documenting prairie burns via iMovie as part of their first grade curriculum.

They are the largest generation—larger than the Boomers and larger than the Millennials. Today they represent over 25% of the U.S. population. And, in just 5 years, they will represent approximately 20% of the workforce.

They are also the most multi-cultural generation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there has been a 50% increase in the multi-racial youth population since 2000.

They are the product of events and innovations that have completely changed even the world that Millennials knew. This is (potentially) a very different generation.

A Pragmatic, Entrepreneurial, Connected Group Defined by Turmoil and Technology

Generation Z has never known a world without terrorism. They witnessed the fallout from the Great Recession. Unlike the so-called “entitled” Millennials, they understand that success isn’t guaranteed. They are prepared to work for it and to make it their own.

  • They are looking for stability and growth in their careers and actively seek out opportunities to learn, develop and grow.
  • Because their lives were terribly disrupted early on, they aren’t necessarily set on taking a linear path to success.
  • They have a greater entrepreneurial drive than their predecessors, and have grown up in a world where they’ve seen (via social media) even their youngest peers have success with self-derived ventures.
  • They are also more financially conservative than their predecessors.

Beyond Tech Savvy

While Millennials were considered to be the first digital natives, Gen Z are mobile-natives. Technology isn’t just present in their lives, it is fully integrated into everything they do. It has changed the model for how they interact with the world around them, how they learn and, most importantly, how they process information.

  • Where Gen Y is the generation that shares content, Gen Z is the generation that creates it.
  • In the classroom, a Gen Z student uses multiple platforms (including both print and digital) simultaneously to learn and reinforce a single concept and often has the opportunity to choose how they want to learn.
  • Thanks to DVRs, media streaming and 24/7 connectivity anywhere, the concept of appointment-based anything is fading fast.
  • While it appears that their attention spans are getting shorter, early research suggests it may be reflection of the fact that they have developed the ability to process more information at faster speeds.

Social Media Maturity

For Gen Z, social media is no longer a new fad. It’s an established reality. And while it is the basis of a majority of their social connections, Gen Z is much more “mature” in their use of it than Millennials are.

  • Social connections matter even more to Gen Z than to Millennials. They want to be culturally connected and have a tremendous fear of missing out.
  • At the same time, they are more conscientious of social media privacy and tend to be drawn to more private forms of social interaction such as Snapchat, Secret and Whisper.

How Gen Z Might Shape Your Association’s Conference

Today, many associations grapple with how to remain relevant at a time when access to free knowledge is just a click away. But there’s good news. Gen Z will find tremendous value in the growth opportunities that associations provide by increasing knowledge and facilitating connections… as long as you can adapt to their needs and meet them on their terms.

Here are 5 things to consider in your next conference strategy session:

  1. Would it make sense to unbundle your conference or develop a completely unorthodox structure to allow attendees to pick and choose (and pay for) the sessions, content and formats that they feel are most valuable and useful?
  1. Is there an opportunity to develop sessions that allow attendees to co-create content at the conference (rather than having all content pre-developed and pre-packaged ahead of time) as a means to facilitate learning and professional development? Could you use your conference app to help support this?
  1. Is there an opportunity to offer content in more formats including video, interactive platforms, virtual and 4D technology? Could you break it down into shorter segments and allow attendees to perform a self-directed deeper dive into the content as appropriate? With this, should you offer even more control and preference settings for that content?
  1. How can you more effectively tie print and online together in a complementary way, using a printed piece to facilitate deeper interaction with content online? In looking at your printed materials, how might you re-develop and re-design them to provide shorter pieces of content with more visual cues that support the text?
  1. How could your association both acknowledge the importance of connectivity while recognizing the need to purposefully disconnect? Today, session breaks are for networking, but they are also a time when attendees actively “plug back in.” As technology continues to become more tightly integrated with even the most basic daily activities, there could be a creative and innovative opportunity to provide a “digital break”—a chance for attendees to truly unplug, detox from their technology and connect with peers the old fashioned way. Within the next five years, this could very well be a novelty!

Although Millennials are still extremely relevant to associations, and soon will make up a large majority of the workforce, it won’t be long before all eyes are on Generation Z. How accurately can we predict future preferences based on this current profile of a very young generation? It’s too soon to tell for sure. What is certain, however, is that, just as with Millennials, it won’t be long before we’re reevaluating and reconsidering today’s best practices. It’s never too early to start planning ahead.