Girls may not run the world, but they dominate on the web.
When it comes to the demographic discrepancies of social media usage, we tend to think primarily about age. Young people, we assume, are Facebook addicts; older people, we assume, are Facebook-phobes. And while generational divisions have represented, and continue to represent, a primary division in the way Americans use social media, there's another important factor, as well: gender.
In a report released this morning, Nielsen found that women, overall, are significantly more likely to engage with social media than men. Per Nielsen's Internet-usage index, women are 8 percent more likely than the average online adult to build or update a personal blog -- while men are 9 percent less likely to do so. Similarly, women are 18 percent more likely than the baseline American to fan or follow a brand on Facebook or other social media sites ... while men are 21 percent less likely. Have created at least one social networking profile? Women: 6 percent more likely to have done that. Men: 7 percent less likely. Used the Internet to purchase a product featured on TV? The ladies: 12 percent more likely. The dudes: 14 percent less likely.
These are striking discrepancies -- particularly because they're not just about purchasing trends. (It's long been documented -- and Nielsen reiterates it in today's report -- that women are the more active gender when it comes to digital brands and online purchasing. Just as they tend to dominate with traditional brands and analog purchasing.) The Nielsen findings suggest an intriguing generality, though, to women's digital affinities: The ladies aren't just more likely to buy stuff online; they're more likely to be online in the first place. They're more likely to blog. They're more likely to be on Facebook or Twitter. They're more likely, in general, to represent themselves as digital personas.
And those findings, in turn, are part of a clear trend. A June 2010 comScore study found that women, globally, spend more time online than men (24.8 hours a month for women, as compared to 22.9 hours for men.) A September 2011 report from Rebtel, the mobile VOIP provider, found that 68 percent of women who use the web to stay in touch with friends, family, and acquaintances do so using social media, while only 54 of men do the same. And a February 2012 report from the firm Porter Novelli found a similar breakdown: In a survey of U.K. women, 65 percent said they used social media at least once a week, while only 51 percent of men said the same. (The same survey, however, found results that contradict one element of today's Nielsen findings: Men, it concluded, were more likely than women to write their own blogs, read others' blogs, and comment on others' blogs.) And a February Pew survey determined that "women use Facebook more than men," with women averaging 11 updates a week -- compared to 6 updates for their male counterparts.
Those are takeaways that are worth many, many follow-up studies. They're also a good reason for optimism when it comes to the web as an agent of social change. Girls may not (quite) run the world; on the web, though, they're quickly finding their voices.