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Gen Z's exploration of alternative search methods

17 April 2024
Generation Z is frequently ignoring traditional means of search like Google or Bing and instead using TikTok and ChatGPT for their online information research. Source: N F/ Adobe Stock

In an age where the ubiquity of social media platforms and mobile devices grants instantaneous access to a wealth of information, the traditional pathways to knowledge and consumer engagement are undergoing a significant transformation. This digital evolution has precipitated a pivot in consumer behavior, with an increasing number of individuals turning to online platforms not just for socializing but for research and purchasing decisions as well.

As the reliance on Google and Bing wanes, a new chapter unfolds, marked by the ascendancy of social platforms and generative AI as the preferred methods for information retrieval, particularly among Gen Z and Millennials.

The departure from conventional search engines to dynamic, interactive channels such as TikTok and ChatGPT underscores a broader change in how digital natives seek out and consume data. In response, businesses as a whole and IT must recalibrate strategies to align with this shifting landscape. Optimizing online presence, engaging consumers through favored platforms, and leveraging data-driven insights are imperative in the design and consumption of data.

The influence of social media

Social media platforms and cutting-edge search engines such as TikTok have fundamentally transformed the paradigms of information discovery and consumption. According to a 2023 study by CRM developer HubSpot, 31% of consumers now utilize social media for queries, with an additional 12% seeking instantaneous responses from AI-driven chatbots like ChatGPT, a trend poised for significant growth by 2025.

The ascendancy of influencer marketing, propelled by figures revered by Gen Z, further illustrates a profound shift in the foundations of trust and credibility in the marketplace, emphasizing the potent influence of social networks in shaping consumer preferences. Similarly, TikTok's meteoric rise from a platform known for its engaging short-form video content to becoming an indispensable search engine among younger demographics highlights this shift. Captivating 64% of Gen Z and 49% of millennials, TikTok outpaces traditional search engines in meeting the diverse informational needs of these groups, from culinary arts to do-it-yourself projects. Legislative challenges notwithstanding, the platform has demonstrated resilience and innovation, becoming a pivotal information source for 40% of consumers, as evidenced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

TikTok's efficacy as a search engine can be attributed to its user-centric design and algorithm, tailored to the visual and interactive preferences of a younger audience. By delivering personalized content in a narrative format, including video tutorials, product reviews and personal stories, TikTok not only engages but also establishes a deep connection with its users. This innovative approach, emphasizing immediacy, relevance and engagement, positions TikTok as a formidable competitor in the online search arena, challenging traditional engines and redefining user expectations for information retrieval.

Cultivating connections

In the modern digital ecosystem, the art of community building adeptly evolved into an indispensable strategy for nurturing customer engagement and conducting insightful market research. These online communities serve as a vibrant nexus for direct observation and interaction with consumers, offering invaluable insights into their behaviors, preferences and the subtle undercurrents of emerging trends. This fertile environment fosters a rich tapestry of authentic engagement and genuine connections, where meaningful dialogue and interactive exchanges are not just possible but thrive. The digital realm presents a diverse array of platforms for these endeavors, ranging from established giants like Facebook and Reddit to dynamic, emerging forums like Discord. Each offers a unique environment tailored for real-time interactions, feedback collection and sparking vibrant discussions that resonate with a target audience.

This intertwining of research and community engagement heralds a move toward a more informed, data-driven approach to decision-making. Meaningful dialogue encourages authentic engagement in spaces where genuine connections flourish. It enriches brand narratives and provides actionable insight to refine products, strategies, and service approaches. This new collaborative model benefits industry and users by creating a sense of belonging and loyalty among community members while providing a leg up in the competitive digital marketplace.

Integration of ChatGPT

ChatGPT represents a change in basic assumptions for how information is sought and delivered. Distancing itself from the traditional search engines' approach of returning lists of web pages, ChatGPT ushers in a new era of direct, conversational responses, rendering the search experience significantly more personalized and interactive. This revolution holds a particular allure for Generation Z, a demographic that values the immediacy and personalization that ChatGPT provides, facilitating a search experience that is not just efficient but also engaging. The burgeoning wave of generative AI models, including ChatGPT, LLaMA, Bard and Sparrow, is a testament to their disruptive potential across various sectors, notably in higher education. These models have swiftly become a cornerstone in the digital toolkit, evidenced by ChatGPT's meteoric rise to 100 million active users within two months of its launch, emphasizing its unmatched pace of adoption.

The integration of ChatGPT and similar generative AI models into academic research ushers in a transformative move toward more adaptive research practices, necessitating a reconception of traditional research methodologies, advocating for a tripartite framework that includes sharpening research questions, creating research efficiencies, and validating research outputs. ChatGPT excels in augmenting the initial stages of academic research by generating novel ideas and insights, thereby enriching the literature review process, and facilitating data exploration. However, it is recognized that there are inherent limitations in the use of AI models. Unlike human knowledge, which is epistemological and rooted in the ability to understand and critique through logic, ChatGPT is solipsistic, predicated on statistical patterns without true cognition. Despite the boundaries of its capabilities, the potential of ChatGPT to streamline the research process, from ideation to validation, is undeniable. It will never be a replacement for human expertise, but it becomes a strong complementary option to enhance productivity and innovation in research.

The discourse surrounding the ethical use and potential over-reliance on such generative AI tools in scientific writing and publishing is gaining momentum. With a substantial portion of the scientific community embracing these models for manuscript writing and grant applications, the imperative to navigate the benefits and pitfalls of this technology becomes paramount. Additionally, while the productivity boost offered by ChatGPT and its ilk is undeniable, caution is warranted against the allure of hyper-productivity, which might detract from the essence of meaningful research. As the academic and publishing landscapes grapple with the integration of generative AI, the overarching goal remains to foster a balanced approach that leverages the capabilities of these models while ensuring the integrity, quality and authenticity of scholarly work.

Research has gone mobile

The ascendancy of mobile devices as primary conduits for search and discovery is underpinned by compelling data that reveals an overwhelming 80% of Gen Z defaults to a smartphone for searching, closely followed by Millennials at 62% and Gen X at 66%. Over half of these consumers report a preference for using mobile devices over others for both search queries and online shopping endeavors. This inclination is even more pronounced among younger demographics, with 74% of those aged 18 to 24 favoring mobile for their shopping experiences.

What do these metrics mean for the future? Mobile optimization is not just a facet of digital strategy but the cornerstone of engaging the modern consumer. The journey toward mobile-first experiences must include a deeper understanding of generational preferences, an acknowledgment of the seamless integration of mobile devices into everyday life, and a commitment to meeting consumers in their preferred digital spaces.

Six advantages of alternative search

Generation Z and others are migrating toward alternative search methods, driven by the tangible benefits these platforms offer in terms of engagement, personalization and the capacity to navigate the complexities of today’s information-rich world. These novel search paradigms are equipping users with tools to traverse the digital expanse more effectively, uncovering insights and intelligence that traditional methods may obscure:

1. Engaging and accessible content format: Alternative search platforms, by design, cater to the predilections of a generation that is inherently visual and interactive. Unlike traditional search engines that often yield a deluge of text-heavy links, platforms like TikTok and AI-driven solutions offer information in formats that are both engaging and easily digestible, thus enhancing user engagement and information retention.

2. Personalized information delivery: The rise of AI-powered platforms such as ChatGPT signifies a monumental leap toward customized information delivery. These platforms excel in providing responses that are not only immediate but also highly relevant to the individual user’s query, a stark contrast to the one-size-fits-all approach of traditional search engines. This personalized touch amplifies the value of the search experience by aligning closely with the user's specific interests and informational needs.

3. Overcoming information overload: In the current era of data surplus, sifting through vast repositories of information to find relevant insights can be daunting. Alternative search methods, particularly AI-powered smart search solutions like, address this challenge head-on by filtering and prioritizing information in a manner that traditional engines often cannot. This capability is crucial for professionals seeking nuanced market intelligence, where the quality and specificity of information are paramount.

4. Tailored to market intelligence needs: For industries such as finance, where precision and relevance of information are critical, the limitations of traditional search engines in delivering customized results can impede effective research and analysis. Alternative search methods shine in their ability to offer tailored insights, adapting to the nuanced demands of different sectors and ensuring that professionals have the competitive intelligence they need.

5. Verification and timeliness of data: The challenge of verifying the reliability of information and ensuring its currency is adeptly handled by alternative search methods. By leveraging AI for data verification and delivering real-time updates, these platforms ensure that users have access to information that is not only accurate but also reflective of the latest market trends and developments.

6. Comprehensive analysis of fragmented data sources: Market intelligence research necessitates the integration of insights from a myriad of sources, a task that traditional search engines may not facilitate effectively. Alternative search methods excel in aggregating and analyzing data from diverse sources, offering a unified and coherent view of the market landscape, thereby enhancing the efficiency and depth of market analysis.

In summary, the conventional methods of search, while foundational, often fall short in meeting the nuanced demands of today’s digital natives. The allure of alternative search platforms lies not just in their novelty but in their profound ability to enhance the quality and relevance of search results through a variety of innovative features.


The challenge that now lies before businesses, content creators and technology professionals is to navigate this intricate web of consumer expectations and technological advancements. Crafting digital experiences that are not only meaningful and resonant but also innovative and forward-thinking, demands a nuanced understanding of this evolving digital dialogue. It is a call to action for those at the helm of digital strategy and content creation to harness the potential of these new platforms, ensuring that their offerings align with the shifting paradigms of digital engagement and information consumption.

While the spotlight shines brightly on the novel avenues of search and discovery facilitated by social media and AI-driven platforms, it is critical to acknowledge the enduring relevance of traditional search engines. Despite the rising prominence of alternative methods, search engines remain a cornerstone of digital query resolution, offering a breadth and depth of information that is both accessible and reliable. For businesses and SEO strategists, this dual landscape presents an opportunity to blend traditional search optimization with the dynamic capabilities of new platforms, crafting a multifaceted approach to digital visibility and engagement.

About the author

Emily Main holds a J.D. in Compliance Law and a BS in Telecommunications. With extensive experience in the intersection of technology and law, Main has contributed to numerous publications and conferences, exploring technical challenges, innovations, trends and applications. Passionate about communication and networking, she is dedicated to sharing the latest advances in the field with a professional engineering audience through engaging and informative articles.

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