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Generation Y
Generation X

Are you ready for the Snapchat generation?

Snapchat's parent company, Snap, has made headlines for the better part of the past two weeks since its IPO on March 2. Snap's market value increased by nearly $9 billion on its first day of trading; it's first day pop being bigger than even Facebook's or Google's. Perhaps you're still not sure what all the fuss is about. Here's the skinny:

Snapchat's parent company, Snap, has made headlines for the better part of the past two weeks since its IPO on March 2. Snap's market value increased by nearly $9 billion on its first day of trading; it's first day pop being bigger than even Facebook's or Google's. 

Perhaps you're still not sure what all the fuss is about. Here's the skinny: Snapchat launched in 2011 as a platform to quickly send selfies. Its key advantage was that the 'snaps' disappeared after they were sent. Snap has added more features since then, including lenses that superimpose over the user's snap, and geofilters that overlay brand advertising or the user's location.  So Snapchat is making billions from people posting selfies, but the IPO has drawn attention for several reasons. For example:

  • It's only been in existence for five years. Evan Spiegel, a 26-year-old Stanford University dropout, co-founded the app in 2011.
  • One of Snapchat's trademarks is its confusing design. There's swiping and tapping and no explicit directions on how to do things. The company knows that (and is rumored to have done it on purpose). The user interface is listed as a risk factor in the prospectus.
  • Snap has never turned a profit. As of December 31, it had an accumulated deficit of $1.2 billion. 
  • 98% of Snapchat's revenue comes from advertising. However, there's not a single advertiser that accounts for more than 10% of Snap's revenue.

Today, 158 million people use Snapchat, posting over 2.5 billion snaps (short videos or images) every day. The majority of users are 18-to-34 years old. Users younger than 25 are most active, averaging 20 visits a day and more than 30 minutes a day. Still don't get it? That might be because Snapchat wasn't designed with you in mind. As a 15-year-old stated in a Business Insider interview: "Snapchat is built for digital natives; not for the mobile-first, but the mobile-only generation." In other words, young Millennials might get it, but it's hard core fans are from Gen Z (1996-2009).The bottom line: Snapchat's IPO is a sign of change-changing generations and changing business models. What can your organization learn from the world of snaps? Here are a few tips: 

  • Think fast. Snapchat delivers content in 10 seconds or less.
  • Be yourself. It's not about looking picture perfect or being overly witty, it's about sharing raw content with your friends. And by providing users with different lenses of animal faces or brand-themed filters, they are able to customize their snaps. Younger generations want the same authenticity and customization from the brands they follow.
  • Tell a story. Instead of posting one highlight from your day, Snapchat encourages users to post several, with many users posting from the minute they wake up until the minute they fall asleep. Take for instance Subaru's campaign, #MeetAnOwner, which asked owners to send in short videos of why they love their Subaru and created an entire marketing campaign from these videos. Each owner tells their Subaru story and has their own profile on, where consumers can follow along with their stories. 
  • See and be seen. Zs aren't into Facebook and Instagram is slowly losing their favor, too. Snapchat is their social media of choice because they like being content creators and they like that Snapchat lets them know who's viewing their snaps.

Think about how your organization manages its employees and markets to clients and consumers--is it ready for the Snapchat generation? Ready or not, here they come.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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