Deborah Joseph on Speaking to an ‘Activist’ Gen Z

Date:Friday, March 29, 2019
Author:Charlie Gilbert

Glamour’s editor-in-chief, ahead of speaking at Decoded Future 2019, shares her thoughts on memes, Instagram Stories and Gen Zers. Why are they such activists? What engages their short attention spans? And how can you keep them coming back for more?

So Deborah, how does Glamour keep up with the evolution of communication?

“We look at where our audience is going, which is why we’re now so focused on Instagram Stories. For us, they should be almost like mini programmes. A really good example is Lottie Tries, where our beauty editor Lottie Winter tries new beauty trends – whether that’s going vegan, eating dried insects or trying a new facial.”

How do you go about planning your Instagram Stories?

“A lot of content comes from conversations in the office. What are we talking about that our readers might want to know more about? My team is made up of millennials and Gen Zers, so what they’re interested in, our readers are interested in. What’s crucial is that we always have a strong point of view, and that everything we publish fits into one our four pillars: beauty, health, empowerment or feminism.”

What does short-form video tell you about engaging with younger audiences?

“I went to a talk at Instagram and Facebook recently, and a big thing to come out of it was concentration spans. The difference is a Gen Zer might give you three seconds; someone in their 40s much longer, so for them longer-form video may be better. So: be mindful of your audience.

“In a way things aren’t so different to the newsstands. When I was doing print only, you had to come up with a way of standing out – you’ve only got three seconds to catch someone before they move on to the next magazine.”

Does it go deeper than this because online content is so much more interactive?

“Instant interaction with your audience is amazing – someone can comment, send you a direct message or swipe up to read an article. Obviously we can measure if these people are staying with us. We know that if we do 20 Instagram Stories, 80% of viewers will watch from beginning to end. And if something doesn’t work, we can change it the next day. The great thing about this is that we can test and measure.”

Are different audiences responding to different content?

“Gen Zers are real activists. They respond well when you’ve got a cause and a point of view. At Glamour, this is something we’ve always had. We’ve always been about empowerment. Topics like changing beauty for the better, encouraging people to be more sustainable and being cruelty-free mean a lot to our Gen Z and millennial readers.

“This is why we run campaigns like #BlendOutBullying, where we worked with celebrities and bloggers to try to wipe out online hate and trolling. These are the kinds of thing we get the most engagement from. Loyalty, too – if a topic resonates with readers, they want to come back to learn more.”

Where does Gen Z’s activist nature come from?

“The #MeToo movement has definitely opened up conversations for women; now they feel confident enough to be more outspoken. But I think it’s generally part of a trend. Twenty years ago activism was very big, and it’s come back round again.

“I think people are genuinely starting to realise that if we don’t make changes to the environment, for example, then our planet has no future. Things really, deeply need to change – and I think Gen Z is more aware of this than anybody today.

“Social media has helped spread these messages more quickly. And now you can protest much more easily – it’s possible to get 100,000 signatures reasonable quickly if people believe in your cause. There’s no doubt that social media, and digital generally, has opened up conversations in ways that weren’t possible 15 years ago.”

At Decoded Future you’ll be part of a panel on memes. What’s Glamour’s take on them – and your own?

“Memes are powerful. I read somewhere that politicians don’t like going into the House of Lords as often because if they yawn, they’ll become a meme before they know it. People are having to be on guard all the time; nobody wants a meme made about them unless it’s for marketing purposes.

“We’ve reduced the number of memes because our focus is now beauty-first, and underpinning this is female empowerment. We’ve found it difficult to brand and own memes as often the video content is from other people, so they’re not good for brand building.

“In the same vein, activist Gen Zers have persuaded us to move away from humorous memes. When you have a point of view like we do, I think there are other types of content that work better – certainly when there’s a campaign element.”

Deborah will be talking on the It’s a Meme World out There: Keeping up with the Evolution of Communication panel at Decoded Future, alongside Bethan Jinkinson, BBC Ideas’ executive editor. Get your Early Bird ticket here (using STYLUSCODE to save £200 on the standard entry price) before April 5.

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