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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Born Zillennial: UF graduate student creates a viral online community


A Facebook group formed by a UF student with a goal of reaching 100 members quickly became a viral online community.

The Born Zillennial Facebook group created by Matthew Duffy, a 22-year-old UF mass communications master’s first-year, rapidly took off in early October and now has over 100,000 members. The group primarily consists of “zillennials”: people who were born sometime in the ’90s but were shaped by the early 2000s, Duffy said. 

The online community serves to bridge the gap between two rigidly defined generations, Millenials and Gen Z, he said. Members range from 18 to 29 years in age, but there is not a restriction on who can be a part of the group. 

“Being a zillennial is just a mindset,” he said. “Anyone who can relate is welcome to join.”

The private Facebook group is a community where members post nostalgic content and reminisce on different aspects of their childhood. Members network with one another, share advice and bond over familiar memories.

Those who want to join must agree to the group rules and answer questions. Before being admitted, people must state their year of birth, what their first cell phone was and what they hope to get out of the group.  

Posts shared by members include photos of toys that bring feelings of nostalgia and clips from childhood TV shows such as “Hannah Montana” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” Group members have also created shared playlists of songs that they grew up listening to. 

“It’s been incredible to see how everyone is connecting even beyond shared childhood experiences,” Duffy said. 

Duffy created the group as part of a semester-long project for his Social Media Community Management course. The class aims to teach students how to build and manage communities of people on social media, said Justin Kings, the UF College of Journalism and Communications Online professor who teaches the course. 

Although this is only the second time he has taught the course, the success of the Born Zillennial Facebook group exceeds that of any other group that students have created for this class, Kings said. 

“The rapid growth of Matt’s group would be regarded as successful in a professional context, let alone for a class course,” he said. “It’s been very exciting for me as a professor and for the rest of the class as well.”

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The goal of the assignment was for students to practice what they’ve learned in class by developing their own social media communities based on a unique idea. 

“The idea for this group came to me because I always felt lost between the two generations,” Duffy said. 

Keeping his target demographic in mind, Duffy used TikTok to recruit young group members. Duffy’s existing followers on the app, which was then about 18,000, came to his advantage. 

Duffy posted an original TikTok video on Oct. 8 in which he introduced the concept of the Facebook group and encouraged people to join. 

“I basically told people to pity me and join my group so that I could get a good grade,” Duffy said. “But now, the group means so much more to me.”

The original TikTok video that Duffy posted now has over 1.5 million views and over 250,000 likes. Less than two days after the video was posted, the Born Zillennial group had over 53,000 members.

Duffy has enjoyed being a community manager but has been overwhelmed with having to oversee all aspects of the group. Because time management has been difficult to maintain, Duffy appointed five moderators on Nov. 2 to help him approve pending posts and facilitate discussion, he said. 

“I think I’ve spent more time on Facebook in the past three weeks than I have in the past five years,” Duffy said. 

Christie Allison, a 21-year-old nursing senior at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, came across the video on her TikTok feed and was immediately eager to learn more about the community.

“I don’t think anyone outside of our generation can relate to this,” Allison said. “I feel heard.”  

Duffy has also used the success of Born Zillennial to help his classmates spread the word about their groups. Endless Love Harris, a 24-year-old mass communications master’s student who is also in the class, says Duffy helped her grow her online community.  

Harris created a mid-size fashion community where mid-size women can share fashion advice and connect with one another. The group now has over 450 members, she wrote in an email. 

“My community originally started off with about 50 close friends and family,” she wrote. “But with the help of Matt, who shared a link to my group on his group’s page, my community grew tremendously overnight.” 

While the positive feedback and high engagement of the group have been exciting, Duffy has had to find a balance between meeting the assignment requirements and engaging his online community.  

“It’s been tough at times because although I’m having fun with this, I have to make sure that I’m doing everything right to get a good grade,” he said.

Although the class ends on Dec.13, Duffy plans to continue the growth of Born Zillennial beyond the assignment. He said he hopes to expand the community to Instagram and Twitter.

“There are so many opportunities to mobilize us,” he said. “I have a million ideas but just have to see where I want my vision to go.”


Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of zillennial.

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