The Social Media Gender Gap

According to a Rapleaf study, while both sexes still use social networking sites in huge numbers, women are the ones holding down the fort

If Slide and RockYou, two of the fastest-growing Web businesses, are any barometer for the future, the Internet is going to look pink. In other words, the future of social media is going to be all about the women. So if you're going to create the next hot Web 2.0 site and you want it to go viral, you'll target women.

It's no shock that men and women act differently online, just as they do in everyday life. The Web is an extremely social medium, and Web 2.0 is all about being social. Traditionally, men are the early adopters of new technologies. But when it comes to social media, women are at the forefront. At Rapleaf we conducted a study of 13.2 million people and how they're using social media. While the trends indicate both sexes are using social media in huge numbers, our findings show that women far outpace the men.

As a result, with the next wave of innovation likely to target women more than men, this gender gap on social networks (and increasingly in all of social media) will only widen. Naturally, male adoption of social media will grow as well. It just won't keep pace with the expanding engagement among female users. Here's why.

A Dearth of Married Men

Among twentysomethings, women and men are just as likely to be members of social networks. Facebook, MySpace, and Flixster are extraordinarily popular. But we found that young women are much more active on these sites than young men. And men above 30—especially married men—aren't even joining social networks. With the notable exceptions of LinkedIn users and venture capitalists in the Bay Area "friending" everyone on Facebook, married men are not hanging out on social networks. Married women, however, are joining social networks in droves. In fact, women between ages 35 and 50 are the fastest-growing segment, especially on MySpace.

Why the disparity? Clearly, young men spend as much time (and often more) in front of a computer. And they have just as much free time, if not more. But there's intense competition for their attention, especially from video games, such as role-playing fantasy games, like World of Warcraft, and first-person action games, like Grand Theft Auto. And men who play casual games tend to like poker and other distractions that involve betting. Since most social networks ban gambling, men seek Web sites (most of them based offshore) that allow them to wager when they play.

Women, by contrast, are big on casual games, and most social networks—especially those dominated by third-party applications—are essentially big casual game networks. Young women also spend much more time decorating their social network profile pages and making slide shows. Popular sites such as facilitate this trend by offering and catering MySpace layouts to young women.

The Transactional Type

Naturally, young men understand they can't spend all their free time playing video games (though some practically do), as they still need to interact with the opposite sex occasionally. Sex, of course, has long been one of the strongest drivers of online usage. Not surprisingly, many men see social networks as a potential gateway to fill that desire. But once they get married, men see less value in social networks. Indeed, men generally tend to look at things in a more transactional way than women. That's why married men dominate LinkedIn, the most transactional mainstream social network.

LinkedIn is all about gathering intelligence and making introductions. We expect men to keep gravitating to transactional sites, such as those that make gaining access to news, sports, and financial information easier.

Women's behavior online, on the other hand, is less transactional and more relationship-driven. They spend more time on social networks building relationships, communicating with friends, and making new friends. Married women use social networks to share pictures and treat their network profiles as family home pages to share with friends and relatives. And because they use social networks to be social, a dollar spent marketing to acquire a female user goes a lot further than on a male user.

Thanks to these realities, expect social networks of the future to keep catering to women and all but alienate men. Just take a look at RockYou and Slide, providers of two dominant photo widgets. These sites are clearly targeting young women, down to the fact that they're designed with traditional feminine colors (i.e., purple and pink), littered with glitter, and almost exclusively adorned with pictures of women. They barely give men lip service. Both companies do have a few niche Facebook applications that target men, but the fact that these applications are hidden and often marketed under different brands proves women rule this space. And from this thought experiment, it is not hard to predict future hits. We'll see an interactive version of Oprah and some sort of choose-your-own-adventure soap opera.

More Women Execs?

So what does this mean? To capitalize on this trend, we'll see a rise in female hires in the social media world. Given how important women are to the industry, it's amazing how few female executives there are at the companies and venture capital firms targeting this market. It's almost as if Procter & Gamble (PG) and Clorox (CLX) only employed male brand managers. This will change soon.

And because social media are so much more "in tune" with women, male audiences will be increasingly seen as less valuable than female ones. We already know that women spend more and make more purchasing decisions than men, and women seem to be more likely to tell their friends about their purchases—so an advertiser will get a double benefit from female consumers.

Perhaps Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus had it right. Mars, the god of war, is all about individual glory, so we'll see sites catering to men become more focused on "me." Venus, the god of love, is all about working with others, and we'll see social networks cater to women by focusing on "us."

Find more data from the social media study.

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