This week in social media news, Google’s top search engineer admits the company can’t convince nearly half of Gen Z that it is good at its main value prop—search.

Why it matters:

Gen Z, famed for its trust issues with everything from the media to government to big business, has a keen awareness of who is behind the data that they find when they type in a search term. For nearly 40% of Gen Z, according to Google’s SVP, Prabhakar Raghavan – SVP, Search, Assistant & Ads, Google’s powerful algorithms offer them results that they believe are anything but organic. As an alternative, Gen Z is going old school—turning to user-generated content on TikTok to find everything from advice on restaurants to answers to life’s big questions.

The details: 

Rabhakan, a world-renown computer scientist, who literally wrote a textbook on optimizing search algorithms, is apparently really good at his job – so good Google paid him $55 million in salary and stock last year to share his insights and help them remain a nation-state-sized actor in the digital ecosystem. So Gen Z’s disdain for all of that engineering genius and fine-tuned search results is not likely because Google did not actually work for them when they need to find something, but because they don’t care if it works or not. 

Gen Z consumers are searching – but not necessarily the way other groups do. They tend to use more long-tail search terms than any other generation, according to a recent report by HubSpot, and that means they have specific ideas about the results that they want – they don’t want cluttered results or generalized information.

Big Picture:

To wit, Gen Z is actually very interested in good quality search results – and tends to be open to new things to buy or experience.

According to recent research from Salesforce, Gen Z is the most likely to want to hear about new products and services (56%), and the most interested in sponsored digital experiences from brands (76%). 

Gen Z consumers are values and belief-driven—some 70% will always fact-check what brands say in ads and will unfollow them if they spot a lie, according to recent research from Edelman. Unsurprisingly, Gen Z is the least likely to trust brands (only 42% do, according to Salesforce). That’s a missed opportunity for brands, media companies, and Google. What makes Gen Z trust search results – and by extension – ads? A recent survey showed that 65% of Gen Z consumers trusted recommendations from friends and family more than any other influence – groups that are often found on social media. 

Bottom line:

Gen Z consumers prefer hearing from peers, even strangers on YouTube and TikTok, to trusting a faceless algorithm to deliver insights that are peppered with sponsored content and results when it comes to how they should spend their money or time. Part of the issue may be trust: Gen Z’s issues may be rooted in their need to trust what they’re seeing – and how likely an entity is to fudge the results.

While Gen Z is more than twice as likely to engage with a brand that is recommended by an influencer than other groups, information (including ads) that answers a specific question or need in a way that is clear and truthful – just like a friend or family member would – sees the highest level of engagement from Gen Z consumers.