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Gen Z knows instinctively when brands aren’t being authentic on TikTok and other favorite platforms. That’s why it’s essential that brands get it right, especially when it comes to inclusivity. The Social Element’s Ashley Cooksley offers some practical advice and offers three solutions for brands looking to improve in the social space.

If you haven’t checked out TikTok recently you really should. There is so much fun content springing forth right now — I mean, who knew a dance set to a Billy Joel deep cut from 1978 called Zanzibar, or a song based on the 2007 Pixar film Ratatouille, would dominate the platform. But in between the silly, there’s more serious things happening, particularly as it pertains to Gen Z’s expectations for brands not just on social media but IRL (in real life) as well.

This audience wants to see diversity not just reflected in their marketing, but as something that’s truly ingrained in a brand’s mission statement – not just a box they tick for public relations. This demographic can quickly sniff out the brands that are less than authentic.

Gen Zer’s aren’t waiting around

A December 2020 study by insights platform quantilope found 76% of Gen Zers feel diversity and inclusion are important topics for brands to address, compared with 72% of millennials, 63% of Gen Xers and 46% of Boomers. More than half (51%) of Gen Zers said they would like to see brands include more diverse casting and imagery in their advertising and branding. Another 53% said they would like to see more diversity in senior leadership.

“Consumers don't want to see brands making an effort to be inclusive just for means of publicity,” said Jenna Stearns, researcher at quantilope and lead on the report. “They want to see something that's authentic and consistent.”

You can see this in the content posted by skinfluencers and fashion influencers, to name a few. This generation isn't waiting around for social platforms to make themselves more accessible for all audiences – they’re busy showing them how it’s done by making their content accessible as default. You can see this in the many content creators on TikTok who have taken to captioning their videos so they can be experienced by those who are hearing impaired, a service that TikTok itself doesn’t actually offer yet.

Why is this important to brands? Because the ones that do more than pay lip service to these values, the ones that have sincerely actualized them as part of their own corporate belief system are the ones that will find soulmates with this demographic who are only now beginning to align brand choices with what they actually believe. Consider MICHI, the activewear brand designed by women for women, which fills their Instagram feed with motivational content showing real bodies, as well as workout tips and quotes that support empowerment and personal development. They also see user-generated content as an invaluable addition to their social media presence.

Start thinking inclusive first

The takeaway for brands is that you must do something that most reflexively avoid — take a stand. Gen Z thinks about brands differently, they want the brands they support to be living their values. The net result of thinking inclusivity-first is the way it humanizes your brand and, when done authentically and communicated effectively on social media, reflects back to the consumer the values that are most important to them. This creates a bond between consumer and brand that can’t be bought even with a Super Bowl ad budget.

Here are three steps brands can take for upping their inclusive content.

1. Adopting inclusion and accessibility into your company, processes and content is not an option, it’s crucial. Consumers expect it, and in 2021 it’s essential for brands to go from a provider to a connector.

2. Take time to look at the content Gen Z produces, especially on TikTok. Think about what your brand can learn from these savvy content creators. When it comes to Gen Z, inclusivity is a default.

3. Inclusive content will bring your diversity and inclusion brand values to life. You can’t say you value diversity and then exclude groups of people from your content. Anticipate stumbling blocks as you bring this way of thinking to your brand. Own up to your faults quickly and publicly.

Ashley Cooksley is managing director North America at The Social Element