Young People Are Leaving Social Media. What Does This Mean For Marketers?

Nicole Sudjono

Does this mean goodbye to half of your customers?
Photo by Lorenzo Rui on Unsplash

In2020, I indirectly declared my hate of social media by switching off the platform and muting half of the people I know there and not close there.

My only active social media is Instagram. I rarely use Facebook now. In one day, I spent at least 20 minutes or more on Instagram, the longest is an hour. Youtube included, I could at least spend my time there for an or two hours, and that’s it.

And for the rest of the day, I wouldn’t mind living under a rock.

I didn’t delete my accounts because I didn’t want to give up the connections I made with everyone. But at the same time, I really didn’t like half the posts that were made there. Hence, the mute purge.

Then a few months later, I found articles after articles on how people my age are slowly but surely leaving social media. Hardcore ones deleted them for good.

This got me thinking since I’ve been trying to build an online personal brand for myself. If people are leaving social media, what does this mean for me? Will I really be able to grow?

The problem with social media.

A few weeks ago, I posted an article about why I left social media thanks to the obnoxious so-called financial influencers and fake gurus telling you that you can be “successful” like them just by buying their over-priced $2,000 course, and it’s only for people who “work hard”.

The responses I got were positive, and many agreed that these influencers and gurus need to tone down their “business” preachings.
Picture from the author.

David J. Kim, a fellow Medium author who happens to stumble across my article, mentioned how he saw “CEOs” posted their entrepreneurship journey on Youtube and that too didn’t seem right. And I really like the comment he left on my article that shed light about these braggers on social media:

There's also a (ironically funny) YouTube video of the life of a CEO. It has all the bells and whistles (wake up early, cold showers, gym 6x a week, etc.)
It's funny because when you watch that video, you'll realize there's no where throughout the day he does any actual work.

This means, there has been a culture of bragging that is amplified so much in the social media world and it’s actually driving people away instead of attracting them. This was also my reason for taking a huge break from social media.

Platforms such as Instagram amplified the bragging culture a lot. Most of the content would be people showing off their perfect lives, or how “successful” they are, and that alone made us feel bad and we can’t help but compare ourselves to others.

Well, no wonder we felt really bad and anxious.

Social media and mental health deterioration are connected

I think you’ve seen this a lot where there has been news about younger people quitting social media, including Gen Z.

Sure, maybe we don’t see it yet because we still see people posting on social media.

During this lockdown happening, there has been a surge of younger people going to psychiatrists for their mental health. Kids growing up in this state are using social media to cope with their loneliness.

However, the high usage of social media has been connected to depression as of late.
Statistic of younger generations who are depressed.

Jonathan Haidt, an American psychologist, was invited to Joe Rogan’s podcast where they discussed mental health.

One particular topic they discussed was about how younger people’s mental health is slowly falling apart thanks to social media, particularly for girls because words affect us so much more than physical pain.

According to MedCircle, the rate of depression among Gen Z is a lot higher compared to the World War.

“When you look at history, and the challenging times in history: the greater depression, WWII, the Vietnam Era, the tumultuous 60s & 70s, financial crisis, the cold war….the rates of depression were not higher than they are now.”

Many pieces of research and studies have been pointing to this depression crisis now, and most of their conclusion was because of the contents exposed to young people.

First, let’s see the motivation of Gen Zs for taking a break from social media.
Image from PR week.

The first four are a little too vague on why we stayed away from social media. But the last four made a little more sense on why we turned away from these platforms. All of them touched a lot on insecurity and faith towards the contents exposed.

Particularly Instagram, because it’s truly a platform where people boost their egos there and curate them to make it look like they have a perfect life when in reality, it’s the opposite. I turned away from social media myself went the bragging culture there is just so strong.

Let’s say thirty under thirty. Great websites to expose that young people can be entrepreneurs. The only problem is that they praise them too much that made us indirectly compare ourselves to them, thus, making us insecure.

Hence, with younger people slowly realizing that part of their source of bad mental health is social media, the news about how younger people turning away from them comes.

Now, imagine this pandemic where younger people had no choice but to check their social media all the time.

Younger people are slowly turning away from social media

And when I say slow, it’s still very slow.

People like me still have social media but would not often use it. I’d take a break from it for a while (perhaps a week or two, longest is a month) but would come back to it sometimes. Only for Instagram, the rest I rarely opened at all.

And it’s fair to say, even though people are slowly turning away from social media, the popular usage is still quite high. A blog post from Brian Dean found that social media usage is still growing.

  • 2020: 3,960 billion active users
  • 2019: 3,484 billion active users (+9.2%)
  • 2018: 3,196 billion active users (+9.0%)
  • 2017: 2,796 billion active users (+21%)
  • 2016: 2,307 billion active users (+11%)
  • 2015: 2,078 billion active users

However, by looking at this data, there has been a drop in 2018 where there used to be a 21% increase, it fell all the way to 9% and grew only 0.2%.

It’s unclear what happened in this drop, but the best answer I could get from this is: Millennials and Gen Zs are turning away from social media and are taking huge breaks from it.

A survey was conducted by Origin, Hill Holliday’s in-house research arm, and they surveyed more than 1,000 18- to 24-year-olds across America. It is reported that 34% of Gen Z say they’re done with social media for good, and 64% are taking a break. 41% said that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are making them nervous.

As of this year, Facebook and Snapchat declined a lot on their users this year.
Image from Convince & Convert 2021.

As for the rest of the platforms, they are still able to maintain steady growth, especially Tik Tok.

What does this mean for marketers?

The short answer is, you can relax.

Social media isn’t going away any time soon as young people would still come back for it, even I did. It’s still popular.

Plus, it’s not exactly our fault as well that this happened.

However, perhaps the contents of the ad could be improvised so that younger people would like to stick around to check on your business.

Lesley Bielby, chief strategy officer at Hill Holliday suggests marketers and advertisers today may want to rethink another strategy to make these Gen Z feel safe rather than anxious or to boost one’s ego.

This might be a good idea as well because it’s reported that electronic payment has dropped by 12% ever since the ease of pandemic protocol restrictions. This may mean, most of us are getting sick of virtual shopping and would be hoarding for physical shops soon enough. So it’s no longer just rubbing more content to the audience, the content must mean something.

It is recommended by Bielby that brands should be more personalized and relevant in order to stand out amongst them. If the brands don’t show any strong ethics or honesty, Gen Z would also turn away from them. It’s why the number of influencers has been increasing as of late, except that some got a little too much.

“Brands need to invest in using social sites responsibly, to focus on amplifying brand messages that are relevant, and that do good.” — Bielby, 2018.

This will mean that brands are going to need to be very honest and truthful when they are going to sell their products.

Honest marketing

From my observation, honest marketing gets viral a lot more as of late.

I posted in my previous article about how honest marketing may be the future of marketing and how much it could work if done carefully. Although it may not work for day-to-day products and there’s a slim chance of it, it still may be a good idea to give it a try.

That is if companies are willing to be really honest to the public. There are two examples of honest marketing from what I observe: 1) Ethical honest marketing and 2) Genuine honesty marketing

Let’s start with ethical marketing.

As the name speaks for itself, they show their share of social corporate responsibility to society. I find that they are also genuine honest marketing, but the ethical part stands out the most.

An example is the Burger King ad we saw back in 2020, where the company really stepped out of its professionalism and “begged” everyone to buy from the competitors for the sake to save the unemployed. The tweet went pretty viral all over the world.

Another example was when Louis Vuitton switched their perfume factory to hand sanitizers at the beginning of the pandemic back in 2020.

Dior, owned by LVMH, did the same thing in the aftermath Johnny Depp was fired from Warner Bros and lost his court trial, gaining a title from the magazine a “wife-beater”. This enraged the fans all over the world and the Twitter trend was #justiceforjohnnydepp.

Apparently, Dior indirectly supported him by keeping him as their brand ambassador. They indirectly announced this when they released a perfume ad with his face on it in the aftermath. A new hashtag emerged to #BeLikeDior.

As a result of their action, fans of Johnny Depp flocked to Dior to buy the Sauvage perfume that has his face on it and praising the company for not firing him the way Warner Bros and Disney did. Dior’s sales for that perfume immediately skyrocketed after that.

As for genuine honest marketing, I find that brands who do this are basically the people themselves. This is where brands tend to let the child inside them come out and market instead.

The best example is pretty much Elon Musk and Ryan Reynold. They were able to do this, not because they are the most influential people in the world, even though they are, but the way they present was being very real, not sugar-coated and they look genuinely honest….. in a funny way.

Their way of marketing is actually very self-deprecating that there seems to be no room for BS.

Here is an example from Elon’s Cybertruck on the Tesla Youtube channel. Look at the description and tell me that can’t be Elon who wrote that.
Cybertruck on Tesla channel.

And when Jay Leno asked why he wanted to make the car bulletproof, he said it’s to prevent an apocalypse and it looks badass.

He pretty much did the same thing for his flamethrower, and after that tweet without marketing it anywhere else but his Twitter account, it sold out.
Source: Elon Musk’s Twitter.

Ryan Reynold did the same thing with his video ad.
Understanding 5G, 2020.
“It seems we may never know what 5G is, so we’re just going to give it away with every plan until we can figure that out” — Ryan Reynolds, 2020.

This 30-second ad got 4 million views and still counting. He was being truthful when he said he didn’t understand the technicality of it, and as compensation for not understanding his own product, he claimed that he is willing to give it all away for free.

Now before you tell me

“Nicole, they’re the most influential people in the world, they can do whatever they want.”

Let me just say that there are many other influential and powerful people aside from Elon Musk and Ryan Reynolds. People like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are equally as strong as them, however, they didn’t get the same responses as Elon and Ryan did because the way they presented themselves wasn’t as transparent, flexible, and honest as theirs.

Thus, this is the power of genuine honesty. It’s so honest that there is no room for BS and becomes very memorable.


Marketers shouldn’t worry much with younger people leaving social media, as we’d come and go. Social media isn’t going anywhere for the next few decades.

But it’s clear that the strategy may need to change if we hope to stand out for younger people.

From the information I gathered, what I find is that the best way to stand out is to personalize the product, ensure that it really has meaning to it, and really, if possible, be honest about it.

“I think it’s about picking the right product, for the right platform, for the right message, for the right audience at the right time.
It’s not about spreading your brand too thin in an effort to extend reach, so that you have all social sites ‘covered.’ Pick the right platforms and then dig deep, in a meaningful way, that is true to your brand.” — Bielby, 2018.

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