Google’s UK Head of Social reveals how to reach Generation Z - and how the giant was going wrong


Stephen Rosenthal, UK Head of Social at Google, spoke at the International Content Marketing Summit in London today, giving an honest and fascinating insight into where the company’s social media strategy was going wrong – and how they’re putting it right. Carat blog editor Jenny Cornish went along to find out…

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Stephen Rosenthal is only 32, but he feels 132 compared to the young audience he – along with many others – is desperate to engage.

Brought over from Google’s PR side to social media earlier this year, he set about examining how the company could start taking social more seriously.

“Our goal with Google UK social is to deal with this young, cool demographic. This audience is like nothing we’ve seen before,” he said.

This audience has been variously described as Generation K, NormCore, The Cutesters, and perhaps most well-known, Generation Z – and it’s notoriously hard to reach.

“For the first time, they know more about the platform than the people who are trying to tell them how to use it. Social media has changed fundamentally,” said Stephen.

He spoke about platforms like Yik Yak and Twitch, which very few people over the age of 30 will have heard of. “There’s this community going on without any of us,” he warned.

Then he terrified the audience at the International Content Marketing Summit with a viewing of Dodie’s infamous video, in which she tells marketers exactly where they’re going wrong. If you haven’t seen it, and you can stand being shouted at, take a look here.


Stephen admitted that Google’s social media was simply not reaching this audience. “We weren’t crossing through at all,” he said. “They just didn’t care and they live on all these social channels.

“The new currency is experience. We used to share opinions – now it’s about shared experiences. People don’t want to be broadcast to any more. Great social is about shifting from storytelling to story making. Rather than telling your story, let Generation Z make it out of their own content.”

So how do you know whether a campaign is working? One quick way is through Google Trends; Stephen demonstrated how the Movember campaign didn’t uplift prostate cancer searches, while the Ice Bucket Challenge saw a huge increase in searches for ALS.  “You’ve got unimpeachable evidence that it worked,” he said.

What Google has learned since April 2015

  • They ditched the ‘can I get a tweet’ culture which was leading to random messages from different parts of the company being pushed out through social with no consistent voice.
  • They asked the key question “Do we have the right to speak?” Stephen gave the example of ‘The Dress’ – which brands attempted to jump all over, some with no relevance whatsoever. “It’s better to say nothing than to say something that means nothing to the audience,” he said.
  • They spotted how much UK audiences hate US-based tweets and cut back on amplification of global campaigns.
  • They ditched long-term forward tweet schedules. “I’m not going to say it, but it’s something about turds and glitter…” said Stephen.
  • They created ‘Shareable Product Magic’ – “It takes brave people on the social side to say, trust us on this. They don’t want your latest corporate statement,” he said.
  • Examples of successful Google tweets include “Happy 49th birthday @StarTrek” which used the Google Now response to the voice command “Beam me up, Scotty”; the scientific calculator which plotted a heart to celebrate World Maths Day; and the Leap Second Day message “What’s better than @5SOS? Oh I don’t know… what about 6SOS! Today only. Happy #leapsecond day 5SOS Family.”
  • They created an ‘ownable contribution to the conversation’ – for example, research on the top three most popular Georges, following the birth of Prince George, and a ‘weekly pie’ for the Great British Bake Off.
  • They did ‘the right thing in the right way’ – tapping into relevant campaigns and supporting them, such as Gay Pride and Wear it Pink.
  • They seized on product influencers – “We did a thing with 1D – because we could…” said Stephen.

In summary:


  • Tell Gen Z something on Social
  • Weigh in on the hot trending hashtag
  • Ignore the views of social influencers
  • Forget that the entire world has changed
  • Rely on too many social listening metrics


  • Ask Gen Z something on social
  • Add your own brand magic to a trend
  • Seek out and embrace them
  • Follow the lead of Gen Z on social
  • Refer to Google Trends Explore






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