“Instagram is not about the photos. It’s a utility.”

Tech and culture reporter at The Atlantic Taylor Lorenz speaking at the OMR Conference in Hamburg, Germany.

With over 80,000 followers on Twitter, she really should be considered an influencer. Officially, however, she is a journalist for The Atlantic, where her writing focusses on technology and the social media industry. Taylor Lorenz is a global voice when it comes to observing, dissecting and reporting on internet trends. At the OMR Festival 2019, Lorenz took the huge OMR Conference stage, discussing how Generation Z really uses platforms like Instagram, the current dynamics of the influencer marketing industry and why it is essential that brands and advertisers pay creators fairly.

Her about the author page at The Atlantic gives you a quick indication of the issues Taylor Lorenz focusses on day in and day out: “The Instagram Aesthetic Is Over,” “The Groups Bringing Forum Culture to Facebook” and “The Hottest Chat App for Teens is…Google Docs.” Those are just a few of the many articles where Lorenz tackles social media and digital trends in incredible detail and earlier than most. Lorenz previously wrote for The Daily Beast, Business Insider and Mic.com, enjoys an excellent reputation internationally and her thousands of followers on social give further credence to her status as an expert.

The Secret Digital Lives Of Gen Z

On the #OMR19 Conference Stage, Lorenz presented her most important findings and building upon those insights explained how Generation Z (people born between 1998 and 2012) really use social media, platforms and apps, and how they reinterpret and readapt them to their own needs and use them in a way that is different from the original intention. For example, Google Docs transformed into one of the hottest chat apps in the US. Google Docs is in widespread use in American classrooms, so students simply repurposed the comments function to communicate in a way similar to passing notes.

On Instagram, too—which Lorenz by the way sees as the most important and most relevant social network for Generation Z—young users use the platform in a very creative manner, completely different than the original intention of the app. Even though dedicated functions and features are available on other platforms, to create an event Gen Z users won’t go to Facebook, but rather they create an Instagram account and share the date and details of the party with their friends via the account. What really underscores the platform’s relevance is the fact that young users are more inclined to give their name and Insta handle when exchanging contacts instead of their phone number.

Instagram is no longer just an image platform

And yet according to Lorenz, an inaccurate image of the platform continues to prevail. Instead of sharing pics of avocado toasts, perfectly staged lattés or colorful backdrops in hip locations (these “trends” are of course still present), more and more teenagers and young adults use the app differently. Lorenz says that images themselves do not play a major role for such users, there is no fiddling about on camera filters for hours on end; they are more interested in publishing images as soon as possible. Instead, Generation Z places more importance on very long image captions, a frenzy of activity in the comments section, the use of memes and maxing out the features Instagram offers.

In the wake of this shift in user behavior, accounts have been recently popping up with absurd content, but a massive number of followers, as well as niche accounts that leverage lesser known memes into huge communities. Lorenz’ key piece advice on the subject is to take the content types and forms of Generation Z seriously, to listen and to engage in dialogue with them. She also urged everyone in attendance at the OMR Conference to realize that it is these people, these influencers and creators who are creating and defining the culture of an entire generation. And she was not only advising brands to take note, but also platform operators. What happens when platforms provide content creators with no way of monetizing their content? Just look at Vine, she says, as a warning. When it refused to accommodate the requests and suggestions made by the 20 largest Vine accounts to be paid, its fate was sealed: creators moved to Youtube & co.; Vine ceased operations in 2016.

Lorenz discussed why it’s a terrible idea for brands to help themselves to content from creators without paying them fairly, explained what the “Instagram Meme Union” is and why accounts that post the exact same picture every day (the most prominent example: world_record_egg), are so successful.

Check out our Youtube playlist from the OMR19 Conference Stage! We’ll be adding to it in the coming weeks with all the Conference keynotes and interviews. Playlists for the Expo Big Picture Stage and Expo Deep Dive Stage will also be coming soon.

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