Social Media: Is It a Woman’s World Now?

Women and men are socialized differently, and have been for centuries, long before computers and mobile phones became part of our daily lives. It follows logically, then, that men and woman use social media in different ways. Namely, women are more likely to use social media recreationally and to impart a high level of interest in and regard for online friends, while men are more likely to use social media to advance their personal brand and network for business connections.

Penn Olsen is a self-described “tech-business blog” that is rich with aggregate information about how men and women use social media, including a breakdown of a study from October, 2009 showing that female users outnumber male users on most social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, with the only male-dominated social media site being Digg, with 64% male users. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg sums it up rather bluntly: “The world’s gone social. And women are more social than men.”

Penn Olsen also covered a related Liberty Mutual study in March, 2010, which showed that, while women dominate numbers-wise on most social media sites, men are more likely to integrate business with social media and, apparently, use social media sites more often:

40% of men think it’s ok to “friend” a boss or co-worker on a social media site, while only 29% of women would do the same.

51% of men approve of a CEO using Twitter to promote his/her company, while only 37% of women think that’s appropriate.

57% of men are likely to have more than one social networking account, while only 50% of women are likely to have more than one.

Men are more likely than women to log on to and use social networking sites LinkedIn, MySpace, and Twitter (Facebook being the notable exception) at least a few times a week.

A Forbes article examines the dichotomy between male and female social media users, interviewing several professionals connected with the industry. A gender and communications professor at Villanova University, Sherry Perlmutter Bowen, says, “I see males espousing their wisdom on social media sites and using social media to sell, to compete, to ‘climb the ladder’”¦ Girls and boys are often raised in two distinct cultures where they learn different rules and norms for behavior and talk: Girls learn to build relationships by sharing social information. Boys learn to compare and compete with others, always striving for more success.”

On the converse side of the nature/nurture debate, a psychologist, Leslie Sokol, whips out the ol’ evolutionary psychology theory, emphasizing the contrast between the ancient, lone male hunter and the collaborative female gatherers, the point being that women today continue to work in groups, while men prioritize their own personal well-being.

Parsing through all this data, I agree most closely with Professor Bowen and her assessment that men and women are raised from childbirth to value different pursuits. It doesn’t help that I despise evolutionary psychology, so I’m not likely to attribute a contemporary woman’s love of Farmville to a memory, coded in her genes, of ancestors gathering berries down by the river.

From an anecdotal perspective, my male Facebook friends are the ones plugging their entrepreneurial businesses or their deviantART pages or their Flickr streams, not so much my female friends. If I were to armchair psycho-analyze the entirety of female social media users, I’d say this is because women are trained to value kindness, which includes elevating others and placing their interests before one’s own. Self-promotion does not jibe with looking out for the well-being of others.

But social media is an ever-expanding, changing beast, as are women’s roles in it. Twitter is the perfect microcosm to illustrate this: the Harvard Business Review blog published findings in June, 2009 that men have 15% more followers on Twitter than women. But an August, 2010 study done by a Hubspot blogger found that those number had more than flipped, with women averaging 1717 followers and men only 643.

My prediction is that women are already catching up to men in utilizing social media for personal gain. Most women are unlikely to abandon the personal side of social networking to do this, but rather capitalize on it. Woman-centered blogs with active commenting communities have already taken off in certain corners of the web, and it doesn’t take a networking genius to cash in on their popularity. Likewise, Etsy, which has been chastised for being a “female ghetto,” is a popular, successful website that is dominated by women sellers, not least because the Etsy business model (“favorite” and “share” users you like, post pictures, connect with local members of your community) is a collaborative one that appeals to many women.

What do you all think? Do you use social media primarily to keep up with friends, to promote your business and network, or some combination of the two?

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