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Going for teens’ inboxes: 6 good questions with the Huffington Post’s director of growth and analytics Kiki Von Glinow

The Huffington Post is targeting its youngest audience yet, girls from Generation Z. And HuffPost is going for a place you might not expect — their email inboxes — with a newsletter called The Tea. It’s an exclusive, weekly Q&A with a different celebrity, particularly other teen girls.

From in-house research, editors at HuffPost, like director of growth and analytics Kiki Von Glinow, see a serious branding and business opportunity with this young audience. They’ve found that Gen Z-ers (who were born after 1995) have not made up their minds about the brands they like and don’t like. They also want control over the messages and communication they receive. They don’t necessarily trust Facebook’s algorithm and don’t always want to broadcast their personal lives, like they’ve seen Millennials do. Gen Z-ers want one-on-one communication intended specifically for them. Email satisfies the habits they’ve made so far.

Research from the Knight Foundation supports these theories: Knight found that many young people remove news content from its original platform and share it through text messages or screen-shot stories to send to friends through messaging apps. Knight also found that broadcasting news and opinions on social media can sometimes be seen as having a negative impact on your online reputation.

We talked with Von Glinow about their Gen Z research, where the term “The Tea” comes from, how they expect to grow their audience, and what HuffPost has planned for the future.

Keke Palmer is one of the featured celebrities in the Huffington Post’s new email newsletter targeted at Generation Z girls / From HuffPost’s “The Tea”

It is not too common for many news organizations to have done research on “Gen Z.” How did that get started, and how was it justified at HuffPost?

The initiative took off within our Audience Development department, specifically our Labs team, whose main directive is to experiment with the platforms, strategies and tactics of tomorrow, today.

We all know that Millennials are currently the goal for most publishers and brands, but as we see that demographic get older and enter new life stages, we wanted to start looking forward toward Gen Z. There are more than 70 million of them, and they’re still largely undecided in terms of how they want to interact and identify with brands, so we wanted to introduce them to HuffPost early and on their turf.

Gen Z aligns themselves more closely with activities than with identities.

Gen Z is all about one-to-one messaging. The characteristics we see consistent with a lot of one-to-one messaging platforms are that the user has absolute control over the messages or communication they receive — there’s no algorithm at play; there’s no “blink and you missed it” type of interaction. Within experiences like SMS, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger and others, the message is waiting for the user and is placed in an experience full of messages that are intended for that user. That’s how we came to email, and that’s how we characterize communication with Gen Z on their turf.

Tell us more about the audience research — what are some of the ideas that struck you?

The research has been fascinating, very much because Gen Z is so different from Millennials.

One thing that has been super interesting to me is that Gen Z aligns themselves more closely with activities than with identities. Because they’re the most diverse generation we’ve seen yet, diversity has become, in some ways, a given, so they’re more likely to identify with, say, their soccer team than their race.

Another really interesting thing about them is their cautious approach to sharing, likely because they saw the pitfalls of oversharing on social media from their predecessors. But this insight opens up a slew of opportunities for publishers, specifically thinking around one-to-one messaging rather than huge broadcasts of information.

The way Gen Z-ers are interacting with brands has also changed. While Millennials used brands as a lens through which to define their experience or amplify their personality, Gen Z relies much more heavily on personal filters like parents, teachers, friends, and communities. Brands are tools for Gen Z rather than mirrors, which is something that will have a significant impact on the ways we reach them.

We’re still figuring out what it would mean for HuffPost to be a tool for Gen Z. We know that they are generally interested in issues that affect them personally, and we know that they don’t seek out content or information, but rather absorb what is pushed their way. So when we think about our relationship with Gen Z, we know that utility has to be the priority. They’re not going to go out of their way to interact with us unless we can provide a value that is very specific to them. Millennials on the other hand are much more exploratory in a “if you build it they will come” sort of way.

I noticed a sign-up page for The Tea said, “Get exclusive interviews where your favorite celebs spill the tea.” How did you land on “spill the tea” as the inspiration for your newsletter’s name? Was that something you had to uncover in research?

It was! We knew in the conception of this offering that this was going to be something that reflected this incredibly diverse generation through a really diverse group of young celebrities and influencers. We also wanted it to be fun and “spill the tea” means spilling the gossip — the phrase originated in the queer community and has become pretty ubiquitous among teens now.

While Millennials used brands as a lens through which to define their experience or amplify their personality, Gen Z relies much more heavily on personal filters … Brands are tools for Gen Z rather than mirrors.

This is launching as an “experiment.” How did you decide on a goal of 25,000 subscribers? What’s your plan to get there?

We picked 25,000 subscribers as our initial three-month goal based on the growth trajectory we saw with a similar non-HuffPost branded newsletter product, Trump’s First 100 Days, which chronicles the president’s first three months through a variety of lenses that users can sign up for.

The huge success of that product gave us the confidence to really go all in on The Tea and we also knew that the added draw of the content being exclusive to the newsletter would actually mean we’d probably surpass that initial goal.

The same labs team that is producing The Tea is also writing a ton of Gen Z entertainment and celebrity content, so we’re going to be doing a lot of promotion for the newsletter within those stories. We’re also leveraging Instagram Stories and organic Facebook promotion in addition to newsletter cross-promotion with a few partners who specifically cater to this demo.

What other experiments or initiatives can we expect to see HuffPost launch for younger audiences?

We’re thinking about a lot of different things right now, some that we’ve launched and some that are a bit further away.

We’ve recently re-launched our HuffPost Campus Editor-At-Large program as a group of Gen Z influencers in their communities who want to see their voices reflected in our coverage and who want to grow their personal social media accounts — which we’re going to help them do! This group will really be our ear to the ground to learn about the issues that matter most to them and to amplify the work they’re already doing.

The program is still in its early stages, but we’ll do things like re-post Instagrams, retweet or share our editors-at-large work on our HuffPost social media channels and provide insights on how they can grow their personal brands. Similarly, we launched a Netflix recommendation bot in 2016 that was along the same lines of extreme utility for a Gen Z audience — it also included a subtle introduction of HuffPost as a brand through entertaining dialogue within the bot and fun movie and TV show descriptions.

The power of celebrities and influencers with this demographic is pretty unmistakeable.

What lessons have you learned from The Tea so far, lessons that might help inform your other work?

The power of celebrities and influencers with this demographic is pretty unmistakeable. The engagement we’re seeing not only with the content but with their anticipation for these exclusive and intimate celebrity interviews to arrive in their inboxes has been pretty amazing. And because of their incredible commitment to these celebrities and influencers they admire, word of mouth around the product has spread from email to other platforms, which has been really exciting to see.

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