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The Great Reconnection: Youth Socialising in 2022

Trends and Insight 120 Add to collection

The Youth Lab at THINKHOUSE, The Youth Marketing Company, explores youth socialising and The Great Reconnection….

The Great Reconnection: Youth Socialising in 2022

“We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life… It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.” Yale Student Marina Keegan aged 22, 2012

It’s been a long time since we explored how young people were ‘quarantine socialising.’ This week’s 52INSIGHTS explores the youth view on, and experience with, socialising and friendships in 2022. What ways are they reconnecting post covid-19? What elements of socialising and connection are they struggling with? How are they finding new ways to connect?   

Reconnecting with Friends and Adventure

“I’m still getting that little bit of FOMO - it’s disjointing seeing everyone having a laugh and going from not seeing people to now being allowed. The past couple of years made me figure out who I want and need in my life and give a sh*t about and see who gave as much sh*t about me. I’m making more considered choices about who I want to be around but I’m seeing friends at the same level as I was before the pandemic, it almost feels back to normal?? That’s been quite nice.” Nav, 30, London

The Great Reconnection is in full swing. And it's rich with a sense of once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Friends who’ve been unable to connect for months or even years are making the plans of a lifetime. Adventure is on the horizon - finances be damned (cost of living is among the top concerns of gen z). We’re seeing this ‘you only live once’ energy play out across the likes of TikTok with people sharing videos of themselves captioned with the line ‘I’ll make my money back, but I’ll never [insert adventure here]’. See example videos here and here.  Those young people who can, are valuing their time together now more than ever before - rebalancing the decline in social connection they had over the pandemic period. 

New Friends and New Ways to Connect

Many of the trends defining reconnection behaviour among younger cohorts are rooted in digital culture: 

Socialisation Optimisation: sees things like ‘Friend-sumés’ becoming popular. What are they? Essentially a CV to find new friends with. “With bright colours, bold graphics and lists of impressive-sounding qualities and interests, friend-sumés are like a 9-to-5-ified version of a Bumble BFF profile, mixed with those creative CVs that go viral on LinkedIn. Mostly circulated on Facebook groups like Truly Twenties (33,000 members) or gals who graduate (56,700 members) friendship CVs show that people, especially young women, are getting creative in an era when new social connections seem increasingly scarce.” - Cosmopolitan. This trend is particularly interesting through the lens of Covid, where many people have reduced/consolidated their friendship circles to prioritise only the closest family and friends. Now as people are opening up to new connections, there is an element of risk-adversity playing out. 

Open Invitations & Internet Communities: digitally-organised meet ups aren’t a new thing, but as younger generations start to explore new cities and countries together they’re embracing social media to meet new people en masse. Pages like The London Lonely Girls Club (20k+ members), London New Girl (30k+ followers) and apps like Geneva app are helping forge community-based connections, especially among young females. These community-based trends are also translating into more niche, likeminded-seeking community groups popping up - whether you're interested in a certain type of dog breed, hiking or LGBTQI+ picnics… They are even being organised through TikTok - check out an example here. Activists like Michaela Loach are also using their own platform to connect activist communities together:  “If you’re keen for some pals who also care about climate and social justice, introduce yourself in the comments and find some new friends!!.. You could use this space to start WhatsApp groups or discord spaces or book clubs or arrange to go to your local climate group’s meeting together. Whatever it is, pop it in the comments and let’s build real relationships so strong that we can really build a new world.” Gen Z are so digitally literate that it’s not deemed as dangerous to engage in this type of socialising - especially when it’s community based. 

Hyper-Authenticity: BeReal is a popular photo sharing app that we wrote about recently which is defining new ways of how Gen Z is connecting more authentically through digital platforms. Being your most authentic self on social media is one way that younger people can navigate their time and sense of real connection in the online environment more positively

Organised Fun: More of a creative effort is being put into planning social occasions with friends too. Perhaps because they are not as frequent occasions as people might like. A great example of this is the emergence of ‘Powerpoint parties’ - 1.8 billion views of this topic on TikTok. Check some out here and here

The Loneliness Epidemic: A Digital Divide

“Where once children spent several hours a day engaged in in-person social interaction, adding up to, in our estimation, 10,000 to 25,000 hours by the time they reached adulthood, for generations growing up in the Internet world that number is likely closer to 5,000 and for some, even as low as 1,500.” Sapien Labs

Telstra’s Talking Loneliness report (2021) found that one in two Gen Z (54%) and Millennials (51%) reported that they regularly feel lonely. This is a much higher  figure than that of other generations. Despite being highly digitally connected, it’s been widely reported in the last number of years that Millennials and Gen Z are the ‘loneliest’ generations. Statistics from UKonwards discovered that around one in five 18-34 year-olds say that they have one or fewer close friends, but older generations typically have far more close friends. This can be attributed in part to the ‘digital divide’: 

“While the digital world is seen as a social space, you usually don’t get the deeper connections that humans need (and get) from real life,” she says. “Ironically, these platforms that are designed to bring people closer together, can in turn, contribute to and heighten feelings of loneliness and fear of personal failure — all of which impact negatively on our mental health.” Psychologist Nancy Sokarno

Being online so much, means that friendships can be further complicated with the ability to easily ‘block’ and move on from relationships that enter tricky patches, without being forced to navigate a difficult conversation. Many young people are also now suffering with low resilience and a sense of social anxiety because they haven’t been exposed to the same social settings and experiences due to covid-19. Reports show that there is a deterioration in the development of the ‘social self’ among younger cohorts today (also attributed to the decline in mental wellbeing), highlighting the importance in how society responds to support the development of future generations. 

Brand Takeouts

Tap Into The ‘Great Reconnection’ Community Energy: As young people look to retrain their socialising muscles, brands can help by alleviating challenges or creating opportunities for more adventurous connection moments. These could be financial incentives or experiential innovations that elevate the experience. The opportunity to tap into online communities is largely untapped by brands. It is possible though - we loved how the Jameson team recently used an Instagram stories feature to celebrate friendship and build community through friendship. The rich International Friendship Day UGC says it all. These are a great potential source for partnerships in niche passion points or localities that make sense for your brand. 

New Connection Moments: gen z have very different emotional and social health needs to older generations right now. Could you help create environments or engagement moments that help young people develop a more resilient ‘social self’? Digital detoxing has been trendy for a while, but it’s still as relevant as ever. If you’re looking to create memorable experiences for youth audiences and/or employees, there’s an opportunity to consider how you can facilitate deeper engagement (take celebrated psychotherapist Esther Perel's new card game ‘Where We Should Begin - A Game of Stories as an example) or phone-free occasions with friends in a fun and undaunting way. 

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THINKHOUSE, Thu, 11 Aug 2022 09:41:41 GMT