Ephemeral content characterizes the social media landscape.

Derived from the Greek word ephḗmeros, it means “lasting one day” and refers to the fast-moving, short-lived nature of content and media we see today.

As a concept, it ties in with shorter attention spans, faster news cycles, and how social algorithms push viral content to the surface and then bury it in the depths of our feeds. Some internet users are frustrated by it, but we also a see large subset of consumers who are closely attuned to this type of content, eagerly seeking out the new and fresh.

Although there are platforms, like Twitter, that were built around the idea of short bursts of user and brand content, it was Snapchat that first managed to make a feature out of ephemerality.

Built to capture momentary conversations in real life, Snapchat fast became the go-to platform for teenagers everywhere. Fast forward a few years, and a plethora of platforms have copied this format of fleeting content, including Instagram, Facebook and – gone but never forgotten – Vine.

Ephemeral content has become central to many brands’ marketing strategies.

It can paint an authentic, behind-the-scenes, more ‘human’ picture of a brand and their vision, while also creating a FOMO effect that drives up engagement through the illusion of exclusivity.

So who are this audience and what makes them tick?

1. They’re aspirational, connected technophiles.

Ephemeral content consumers are made up of both males and females, with a 52% to 48% split respectively.

While neither gender dominates this group, this audience is predominantly younger internet users: over two thirds fall in the 16-34 age range.

But despite their youth, “ephemeral content consumers” isn’t just shorthand for a generation.

Compared to the average Gen Zer, this audience is more than twice as likely to be considered cosmopolitan and technophilic. 8 in 10 are aspirational individuals (Index 2.29), and they’re a very forward-thinking, motivated and career-focused group.

They’re also a group that care about their status.

7 in 10 say they like to stand out in a crowd, and over three quarters say that having the latest tech is important to them.

This matches the boldness and innovation of the content they love.

The hyper-awareness of their status and future may be due to their above-average income, with this group being 40% more likely to be in the top 10% income bracket.

This higher income also gives them the luxury of trying out new products and services, too: 6 in 10 say they would buy something simply for the experience of being part of the community around it.

They’re also much more likely to be positive when asked about the global economy (Index 1.46) or the future of the environment (Index 1.37).

2. Their consumption is spread across devices and platforms.

Ephemeral content consumption has become a near-defining characteristic of Gen Z and younger millennials’ media consumption behavior, which many commentators attribute to their digital native orientation and the familiarity with variety and freedom of choice it’s led to.

Reports often cite claims that teenage attention spans have decreased from around 11 to 8 seconds since the year 2000. Our research does show a dramatic increase in time spent on devices since measurements began, along with a global expansion in the number of devices used.

Ephemeral content consumers average 4.4 devices per user, compared to the global average of 3.7, and spend an average of 36 minutes more online than the general population.

This is a group that clearly enjoy being constantly connected, and have become adept at switching between screens, devices and platforms.

3. Social media is the base of most online activities.

Their social media usage takes place across multiple platforms, and their reasons for using them are just as diverse.

This group’s primary reason to be on social media is to stay up-to-date with news and current affairs (91%, Index 2.27), but this is followed closely by finding funny or entertaining content (89%, Index 2.45).

This group are also three times more likely than the average internet user to follow celebrities/celebrity news, and twice as likely to research products to buy.

Only 1 in 2 cite ‘to make sure I don’t miss out on anything’ as a factor for their social media usage.

Although this is nearly 2.5 times the rate of the average social media user, it does indicate that whilst they like to be connected and informed about world events, this group’s social media use is not based solely on FOMO or a sense of belonging.

4. They aren’t committed to any single topic.

Ephemeral content consumers are naturally not constrained by one particular topic of interest. In fact, they over-index by at least 45% on any topic of interest that we currently track.

Their highest-indexing interests, however, reflect their transient personality: dance entertainment (29%, Index 2.48), urban and modern art (31%, Index 2.48), celebrity news and gossip (35%, Index 2.40), entrepreneurship (35%, Index 2.22), and fashion and style (60%, Index 2.22).

All five of these interests can be seen as dynamic topics that regularly shift and update to reflect modern culture.

Eco-conscious consumer topics, such as volunteering and environmental issues, also rank highly with this group, which makes sense given how tuned in this group are to the issues of today.

This group are as ephemeral in their personal interests as they are in their content consumption. Their always-on-the-go lifestyle and trailblazer attitudes go hand-in-hand with their fickle interactions with content.

5. They’re all about online reputation.

Ephemeral content consumers are always on the lookout for the next big thing.

Just as they want fresh and exciting content, they similarly desire the newest products and services to try. So it comes as no surprise that this group think the most important role a brand has in a consumer’s life is to provide innovative and new products, which 1 in 3 cite as their favorite thing for brands to do.

But the most distinctive factor is when brands make them feel cool and trendy (Index 1.31).

As mentioned previously, this group score highly on status-seeking, and maintaining their appearance and online reputation is important to them. These values are reflected in the factors that motivate this group to promote their favorite brand online.

They’re approximately twice as likely as the average person to advocate a brand if it enhances their online reputation (Index 2.04), if they have insider knowledge about the brand (Index 1.94), if they have access to exclusive content or services (Index 1.88), or if they have a personal relationship with a brand (Index 1.85). This demonstrates how responsive this group are to brands that make them feel like a valued and special consumer.

Ephemeral content comes and goes, but as a marketing tactic it’s here to stay.

That’s why it’s crucial for brands to understand who the ephemeral content consumers are, and what they expect from this fast-paced content ecosystem.

By creating and promoting content that satisfies the group’s need for dynamism and indulges their desire to look trendy, marketers can create hot-off-the-press brand advocates.

Respondents are categorized as ephemeral content consumers if they use social media for any two out of the following three reasons:

  • ‘to find funny or entertaining content’
  • ‘to follow celebrities and celebrity news’,
  • ‘to stay up to date with news and current events’,

and if they strongly agree with any two out of the following three attitudinal statements:

  • ‘I like to keep up with the latest fashions’
  • ‘I tend to make decisions quickly, based on a gut feeling’
  • ‘it is important to stay in touch with what is going on in the world’.

This definition rendered a sample of 4,527 respondents, making up 6.1% of the global population.


Written by

Duncan is a Senior Analyst and Writer at GWI. Duncan produces a wide range of assets including reports, infographics and dashboards, along with our Chart of the Week series. Moving to GWI after completing a degree in psychology, Duncan specializes in online consumer behavior and motivations.

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