Emailing and Generation Z: can we still use email to communicate with young people?

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Twitch... Are social networks the only relevant channels for reaching young people? ? While the email channel remains a cornerstone of digital marketing strategies for cultural and sporting organizations, it is worth considering whether it is effective for reaching younger generations.


Opinions differ. In a recent conversation with a festival, while discussing email strategy, one of our interviewees had a very clear opinion : "You know, we don't do email, we're mainly targeting a young audience, so we prefer to be on social media. "

And yet, at the same time, the cultural structures we support daily, which are implementing multi-channel digital strategies, both via email and social networks, manage to reach a young audience that seems to be interested - with opening rates and responsiveness to back it up - in the emailings and newsletters they send out.

So what can we expect ? Can cultural organizations still use email to reach reach Generation Z,  people born between the mid-90s and 2010? Or should they bet everything on social networks, at the risk of having to bend to the constraints of algorithms?

Having recently read Badsender's article on the subject we wanted to explore within the cultural and sports sector. So we asked a few questions to students at Sciences Po Lille's Master's program in Management of Cultural Institutions.

And their feedback isn't a clear-cut. It may surprise you to learn that these representatives of Generation Z do read their emails, but don't waste their time with long, unedited emails!

Nota bene : The following quotes are from a discussion with 25 students. These students are all in their final year of study and have signed an apprenticeship contract with a cultural organization. Their perspectives represent young people already active in the workforce and particularly interested in cultural activities.
They are not necessarily representative of their entire generation.


Do you subscribe to newsletters from cultural organizations?

This is where we were most surprised. Most students subscribe to and read communications from cultural institutions. Among my sample of 25 young people, only two female students admit to being absolutely impervious to email as a communication channel. Among their arguments, two ideas stand out.

The first is "overflow" and the anxiety of an overloaded mailbox. " We get too many emails, it's oppressive "and "I can't stand all those notifications and unread emails ". The second argument is lack of need: " I don't need to subscribe to newsletters. When I want information, I search for it myself, by going to the website or social networks. " Social networks are thus cited by these two people as an alternative channel, with the impression "of being better able to follow whoever you want, rather than receiving emails all over the place ".


Among subscribers, a hierarchy of needs

With the exception of a few holdouts email seems to be accepted and used by the majority of the student group. But it's out of the question to receive too much unsorted email.


Interesting fact : when asked how many email adress they have, many students spontaneously reply "Oulah! too many ". As work-study students, they all have at least their student adress, their personal adress and their professional adress.
All these tools divide their attention span. Even more interesting : the practice of
"junk mail" is widespread among 50% of them.

By their own admission, the junk mailbox is the mailbox "they give when they have no choice but to leave an email to access a service" - mobile app, website - but don't want to be spammed. When asked if it is this mailbox that is communicated to cultural structures, they tend to answer no : "No, if it's an arts organizations I like and want to follow, I give them my real address. The junk address is more for grocery delivery apps, meal delivery or online gaming services. ". When asked what ends up in their "real mailbox", they reply "...what's really important, like administrative stuff or invoices for example ".


Subscribe to signify a strong attachment or deepen a passion

Among the reasons for subscribing to a newsletter, several students cite a sense of attachment. For example, one student says she subscribes to her hometown's media library, even though she no longer lives there, "because she's interested in what they have to offer ". Or another says she follows "all the newsletters sent out by a particular venue, because she was an intern there before and wants to stay updated on what's happening. "


Another reason to subscribe to a newsletter : the desire to discover a specific theme. For example, many students assiduously follow the newsletters of platforms such as UniversCiné or Mubi to stay informed about new film releases and explore new aesthetics.


Subscribe to receive information about events

Keeping up to date with the latest events at a venue is another good reason to subscribe to a newsletter, provided that the cultural institution editorializes to highlight certain information rather than others. One student mentions his interest in the newsletter from "Le 104", pointing out that "their programming is dense, but you can pre-select interests to receive only what interests you".

The question of qualifying preferences and interest was thus approved by most of the group, although one student cautioned that "I don't want to select interests, I'd rather continue to receive everything and not confine myself to one or two themes".


A consensus for short, editorialized, targeted emails

A majority of students mention their preference for short, readable newsletters in which there is already the idea of a pre-selection of events. Conversely, newsletters that "mix everything" are singled out for criticism, such as that of a major French modern art museum "which sends out too many and makes its newsletters too long, with the whole program each time". A student who appreciates classical music points to the Philharmonie's weekly newsletter format, which she likes to receive because "their site is dense and there are a lot of events, whereas the newsletter provides a focus on current events".


When it comes to personalization and targeting one student was surprised that she didn't receive more content related to her specific status (young person/student): "Why don't venues send out specific newsletters for young people more often?
If I received newsletters more often highlighting a specific event or an offer with an accessible student rate, I'd be more interested!


Mixed views on service mails

For purchase confirmations which often come from ticket offices, one student mentions a practical aspect: "If I buy in advance and I want to find the e-mail with the e-ticket before the show, it's systematic : I never find it easily in my mailbox. As they use specific e-mail addresses like, if I just type the name of the venue in the search bar of my mailbox, I can't find them."


Concerning the pre-show mail it's a must. A student recalls a recent experience: "I bought a friend a ticket to a concert at the Zenith for Christmas. Luckily I received a reminder e-mail 3 days before, because we'd both forgotten the date."


As far as post-event emails are concerned featuring satisfaction surveys, students are fairly representative of usage across all generations : a third of them respond systematically, "out of altruism" or "out of professional distortion"(after all, they too are destined to work in the cultural sector!), a third do so from time to time, and a third never reply, generally "because it takes time and they don't have any".


The newsletter: a tool for choice

To bring this subject full circle, we discussed it with the Arenametrix team, where generations Y and Z rub shoulders. The first, the Ys, didn't see it come into being (Outlook was launched in 1992, and the first HTML emails in the late 90s), but witnessed its explosion. The second, the Zs, have never really known a world without email.

Maxence, a support manager at Arenametrix, is 25 years old. He provides an interesting summary of the subject:


"The newsletter format is developing a lot so that information comes to us. I have the feeling that with the development of social networks, we started to follow more and more structures/content so that the information would also come to us. However, the phenomenon of algorithms and the over-centralization of content on a single news feed has made the information less readable. As a result, we're turning more to newsletters, where we have a greater control (unsubscribing, tracking by interests, fewer or even no ads). Today, I make this distinction: social networks are full of information in all directions, with rather light content, whereas in newsletters it's the "serious" and relevant information that I want to follow. But in a newsletter, the content must be concise and clear, as it usually is on social networks (it's the same news feed logic). I scroll on a newsletter like I do on Instagram or Facebook. Finally, I also have many mailboxes, but I have dedicated exclusively to newsletters".