Archive for May, 2009

Gender Differences In Social Media Participation

Thursday, May 14th, 2009


“I think women put more emphasis, focus and time into their social media browsing than men. Men seem to be very ADHD with social media, jumping from news story to story, whereas I’ve noticed women take slow time and incorporate what they read more into their daily life and lifestyle planning.”

Loren Baker, Search Engine Journal

A great thing about social media marketing is that you literally get a first-rate, hands-on education in human anthropology. You learn what moves people. You learn what people want. You learn how to tug at heartstrings and drive emotions to their limit. You learn how different groups of people respond to different types of content. It’s simultaneously liberating and disillusioning to discover how predictable groups of people behave.

[Note: for the rest of this article, I err on the side of gross generalization. This is necessary to make a general point. There are definitely exceptions to the rules and it’s your duty to identify them;-)]

One of the more interesting observations I’ve made over the years as a participant in social media is how differently males and females participate. It is easy to see a strong analogy between the playing field of social media and the playground from elementary school. On the one hand, you have the males who are driven by aggressive competition, accomplishment and the highs of “victory” (football at recess/24 hour digg voting marathon). Sure, there are some females who join in, but for the most part, the aggressive side of social media is dominated by men. Just like how dodgeball games during gym class were usually dominated by the boys. Females, on the other hand, tend towards activities that are cooperative, non-aggressive and friendship building. As I recall, during recess in elementary school, the girls would teach other things like hand-clapping rhymes or sit around in a circle making bracelets (or each others hair). Not all the girls, but most of them. I think the same holds true in social media. Women are looking for like minded people to learn from, to share with, and to build lasting friendships.

Men use social media as a means to some other end. Men want success. Men want traffic. Men want money. Men want to be the best. Men compete to be the best at social media like athletes compete to be the best at their sport. Just like there are superstars in sports, social media sites like Digg and Reddit also have clearly identifiable superstars (and their fanboys).

Now, it would be silly to say that women don’t want things like traffic, money, success, etc. But the point is just that most men are using social media for something other than the social interaction. Women seem to actually use social media as an end in itself: they use it for socializing.

So whereas men use social media to accomplish things and gain status, women seem to use it for “deeper” stuff like building genuine relationships, solidarity and discussions about life (which men might call gossip;-) In my experience, women are much less likely to hit you with a dozen social media vote requests in a single day. I have half a dozen guys bombard me everyday via AIM with non-stop vote requests without even stopping to say hi. Women, in my experience, like to drive real conversation. They actually take the time to read stories and then tell me what they thought rather than just skimming headlines and voting blindly. Women are energized by compliments and pats on the back and affirmation. In other words, women are more social with their social media because in reality, women are more fundamentally social beings.

Women also tend to be more principled in their social media voting. This can be good and bad. The good is that if I send a story to a woman and ask for a thumbs up on StumbleUpon, if she actually likes the story she is more inclined to take the initiative and submit it to other social media sites she is active on (Twitter, Kirsty, etc.) The bad is that women are much, much, much more likely to secretly downvote a request if they don’t like the story (or the person who wrote it). As an example, I’ve stopped sending any “Hot Women” articles to my female social media friends because I have strong empirical evidence that the majority of them end up downvoting. This is not surprising at all and I should have figured it out much earlier given what I know about my wife;-)


So before getting to a list of some observations and a handful of insightful quotes from my social media friends, let’s draw a conclusion. I believe that the social media professional will be much more successful at his or her craft when taking gender differences seriously. The key, really, is to understand the needs of each person you interact with. Offer them something in return. But don’t assume that everyone wants the same thing. Take the time to understand what motivates each of your social media friends and go above and beyond the call of duty to interact with them so that when it comes time that you need something, they are eager to help. And remember that it’s very easy to wear out a social relationship of any kind (marriage, friendship, business) if one party is not having his or her needs met or if one person is carrying too much of the burden.

Before ending this article I’ve included a few more general observations that come from various social media friends who chose to be anonymous. We’d love for you to add your thoughts in the comments.

  • Men often make accounts that look like attractive females for pragmatic purposes (to motivate more action by other social media participants)
  • Women tend to use Twitter more for chatting and real conversations
  • Men tend to use Twitter more for marketing
  • Women are more likely to forward chain emails
  • Men are more comfortable with manipulative behavior so long as it helps them acheive their goals
  • Women like sites that facilitate discussions about life and offer a peek into others’ lives
  • With men, social cooperation comes down to swapping favors
  • With women, you have to earn social cooperation through relationship

Quotes from Social Media Users

More men are using it for networking and establishing authority/credibility. More women are using it to share their lives and to connect with other women who share the same values or similar experiences. Women are using it more for solidarity. They’re social beings, and social media has given them the amazing capability to find like-minded women instead of feeling judged and misunderstood by the women in their immediate families/geographic regions.

Daniel Dessinger

Social media is a lot like relationships in real life – men tend to want information and to give out info if it will help them get ahead or achieve a goal. Women tend to take it a step further and are more willing to connect on a deeper level.

– Charlene Polanosky, Essential Keystrokes

Men seem to promote more, it’s more “about me,” whereas women are natural networkers and seek cooperation and participation. Don’t throw tomatoes at me, I’m just making a generalization in what I’ve obserrved.

– Brian Wallace, NowSourcing

I think women socialize more, but they both use it too boost careers and brands.

– Deb Ng, Freelance Writing Jobs

Women want to be popular or communicate, men want to make money or be considered cool.

– David Peralty,

The biggest difference is that women are actually more naturally atuned to the whole social aspect, and tend to spend more time interacting and consuming the content, whereas men tend to be more fly by visitors and less interactive.

– Elise from Cell Phones .org

I’d say women are more drawn to social services like facebook and twitter, where communication is the feature as opposed to something like digg where there’s a competition like atmosphere.

JD Arney

I think men want success from their participation on the social media. I think women mostly want to be social and have fun.


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