Navigating Gen-Z: Soul App’s 2023 Social Media Keywords

SHANGHAI, June 25, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — In an internet age overflowing with new hot topics, understanding younger generations’ social behaviors, life attitude and aesthetics poses a formidable challenge: many may be “a social butterfly online, but a lone ranger offline”; they “let themselves go” as they see fit. Even despite rapidly changing trends, clues to what makes young people tick can be found by looking into how they express and engage with each other, at a time when sharing on social media has become a new fixture in their lives. Therefore, a good starting point to grasping social trends and lifestyle elements among younger generations is to closely watch their social interactions.

Just So Soul, the research arm of Soul App, recently surveyed 2,214 SOUL users, of whom 80.21% are Generation Z. Combined with survey data, it compiled what users shared on social platforms over the past six months into a report titled 2023 Social Media Keywords, presenting cutting-edge insight into Gen-Z social networking trends.

As a novel social platform beloved by young people, SOUL boasts nearly 30 million active monthly users, of whom 80% are Gen-Zers, serving as a true-to-life ecosystem of diverse Gen-Z social trends. From “buddy search” to “anti-emo”, the keywords discovered by the sticky social media app encapsulate heartfelt experiences shared by many young users with distinct personalities, mirroring a kaleidoscope of broader lifestyles and cultural movements.

Buddy search amidst a friendship recession

“I’ve been with the company for more than a year. I still don’t know all of my colleagues. I often walk around with my head down to avoid any awkward greetings”. This is how many young people joke about their social lives.

Due to increased geographical mobility and the exhausting fast pace of life, individuals are struggling to develop and maintain intimate relationships, especially friendships, as evidenced by fewer friends and reduced time devoted to loved ones. According to Just So Soul, today’s youth only have an average of 2.5 close friends. This phenomenon is known as a “friendship recession”, which was discovered by the research institute as one of the social media keywords and reflects the difficulty of young people to make and maintain new friendships.

Friendship doesn’t come easy, and young people unwilling to succumb to loneliness are trying to turn their social situations around and explore new ways to connect. The Just So Soul report notes that 66.49% of younger generations are widening their social circles using social networking apps.

Today, more and more young users are performing a “buddy search” on social platforms as a way to find and build new connections. They look for stress-free relationships to emotionally bond over a shared hobby or need. With interests trending toward more niche and specialized areas, finding buddies as a new form of networking doesn’t mean a compromise over emotional connection, but marks the beginning of a close relationship based on a shared passion.

Championing interest-based engagement, SOUL is a platform where a variety of subcultures and niche hobbies thrive, and a gathering point for young users to find a buddy for almost anything – whether their aim is to support a charity, study for postgraduate exams, write academic papers, find a job, or learn English. Data shows that buddy-related topics and feeds on SOUL skyrocketed 76% and 136% respectively in May compared to the previous month.

In an era of information overload where most people send numerous messages but usually end up receiving few responses, “Respond right after reading” has become another keyword that captures the essence of a social trend in 2023. For a virtuous social relationship, Gen-Zers expect timely feedback and engagement, which is why “respond right after reading” is considered by them one of the most important social etiquettes. Based on Just So Soul’s in-app survey, over 35% of respondents use this phrase to represent their status or attitude, making it the most popular keyword.

Priority to authenticity and self-pleasing 

Not too long ago, image filtering and retouching were essential tools for many Internet users. To craft the perfect online persona, they were willing to spend much time editing every photo and video to enhance the look of their face and legs. The digital space was infected with body image anxiety.

However, a wind of change is sweeping through social media as the pursuit for authentic personas gains momentum. Overall, Generation Z believes that voicing thoughts and sharing content, without the weight of having to be perfect, presents a truer self.

In fact, more and more Gen-Zers nowadays are joining the “No Filter” movement in an attempt to accept their unembellished appearance and pursue beauty in its natural form. Apparently, these young adults, who are more self-assured and determined to remove body image anxiety, have the courage to embrace their true self as well as the freedom of unfiltered expressions and exchanges.

Self-pleasing is also a trending topic in 2023. Young people care about others, but also greatly value their own needs and emotions along with personal boundaries. In short, they reject mental burnout. SOUL has seen hashtags like #Love myself attract more than 20 million views in June 2023. The data spotlights a self-pleasing movement led by younger generations, who are more inclined to identify with voices that respect their beliefs and make friends with like-minded peers.

Finding happiness in a fast-paced life

Living a hustle and bustle life, young people are constantly under pressure, academically, professionally and romantically. This can explain why they feel a glooming omnipresence of emotional turmoil. Anything from criticism at work or a parents’ unreasonably high expectations to escalating numbers on a bathroom scale can trigger a bout of depression. “I’m emo” has become a catchphrase for young people.

However, youngsters are increasingly fighting against negative feelings. In the survey, 20.6% of young users chose “anti-emo” as their key 2023 social media keyword. To get over the depths of depression and find some space for fun in life, many cope and adjust themselves by hanging out with friends, watching TV shows, listing to music, and exercising.

To confront life’s pressures, Generation Z has also created “Blowing Off-Steam Spaces” to loosen up in a safe environment. Gen-Zers look for outlets to open up the emotional floodgates, whether it is singing in a virtual Karaoke party or expressing thoughts under the #Crazy Diary hashtag on SOUL. In general, the concept of “letting myself go makes me much more mentally healthy” resonates widely.

Both anti-depression movements and emotional unwinding are part of “psychological compensation” techniques employed by young people to escape from negative feelings. Many also adeptly use such compensatory approaches in their social lives. If they are not emotionally gratified in one social scenario, they will seek compensation in another or switch to another form of interaction.

“Some women are in tears one moment and then start to beam with joy the next; others wear frowns at work, only to transitioning into a hip skater with crisp moves in their leisure time”…The Just So Soul report found that women aged 27 to 34 generally have a better understanding of psychological compensation since they tend to have richer experiences and can identify with more than just one side of life. Such knowledge enables them to discover the beauty of living “multiple identities”.

Social interactions are a basic human need and the advancement in digital technology has iterated and enriched the way young people socialize. SOUL deep dives into how and where younger generations connect in order to gain a more thorough understanding, and ultimately build a virtual space for them to find new friendships and connections. Most importantly, SOUL is committed to growing with them.

Social platforms have emerged as a window into the colorful lives of younger generations. Buzzwords such as friendship recessions, buddy search, authentic personas, and anti-emo highlight the confusions and rebellious spirit of young people. Behind these keywords are the authenticity-seeking actions and positive attitudes of young people, which form a collective response to many modern-day changes and challenges, directly shaping new consumer and lifestyle trends.