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“Facebook is still the best channel”: Publisher survey on engaging Gen Z springs a few surprises

Arc XP and Digiday’s recently released joint report, the State of Publisher Audiences, shows that whilst Facebook is down, it is far from out when it comes to engaging younger audiences. YouTube also scores highly, especially with short form video formats.

In a newly released survey of 116 publishers as well as Gen Z (16–25) and Young Millennials (26–32), a key finding is that Facebook still holds considerable sway in engaging young audiences.

The report, jointly produced by Digiday and Washington Post’s Arc XP CMS platform, shows that publishers still prefer Facebook, with 75% still using the platform to reach young audiences. Twitter and YouTube came next at 65% and 63% respectively, accounting for the top three channels identified.

Facebook is also the most successful in driving young audiences to publishers’ websites, with survey respondents seeing positive results from Facebook (66%) followed by a three-way tie between Twitter (48%), YouTube (47%) and TikTok (47%).

The findings are contrary to popular opinion that regards Facebook as a legacy dinosaur when it comes to attracting younger audiences. Indeed, a report last year by Pew Research Centre on young audience habits showed the percentage of 13 to 17-year-olds using Facebook plummeted from 71% in 2015 to 32% in 2022.

However, buried in the same Pew Research Centre report was the admission that, “Although today’s teens do not use Facebook as extensively as teens in previous years, the platform still enjoys widespread usage among adults, as seen in other recent Center studies.” Digiday and ARC XP’s latest report corroborates Pew’s statement.

The surprising conclusions about Facebook come with a caveat, not least that the results could be due in part to publishers not catching up with young audience trends and habits.

I largely think that the numbers you’re seeing from publishers might be because the data analysis they have has not caught up to where the consumer audience is right now.

Miki King, President, Arc XP

YouTube crucial for publishers, especially news publishers

When it comes to consuming news specifically, YouTube remains the top channel (42%) for younger audiences. Indeed, for news content, Facebook and Twitter sank to fifth and seventh place in the survey’s younger generations’ list of preferred channels.

YouTube also scored highly when it comes to Gen Z discovering new publishers and new content – the platform came top at 41%, while Facebook (25%) and Twitter (24%) remained lower, coming in at fifth and sixth on the list.

The top two content formats play to YouTube’s strengths and echo the wider trends seen among Gen Z with short-form video the most preferred format (61%), followed by short-form text (40%), and long-form text (32%) in third place. The latter finding provides reassurance to publishers that Gen Z will still read text when the content is of sufficient quality.

Learning about Gen Z habits

When it comes to publishers learning more about their Gen Z and Younger Millennial audiences, the survey found that publishers are gleaning insights by monitoring comment feeds on websites and across social media (31%). They are also hiring from the younger demographics they wish to engage (31%) by adding Gen Z and Younger Millennials to their staff.

Arc XP’s President, Miki King, concludes, “I think it’s necessary to understand Gen Z and the span of millennial audiences, and the needs of each stage of each generation — not every segment of the millennial population is homogeneous. Having a diversity of voices and generations at the table as
you’re making these decisions is really critical.”

As if on cue, The Washington Post – owner of Arc XP – this week announced “Post Grad“, an inaugural program launched in collaboration with Next Gen, The Post’s initiative aimed at cultivating younger and more diverse audiences. The selected intern will produce work highlighting the ups and downs of post-college life, as well as cultivating community on social media platforms and producing work in a variety of storytelling formats, including audio and video.

The State of Publisher Audiences is free to download and can be accessed here