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The Gender Game Online: Part II

By Sarah Klein

In the past few years, as women of all ages have been flocking to the Web, there has been a lot of media coverage of how these women are using the Internet. Recently the buzz has focused on the rate at which women are joining Facebook; at the end of 2008, women outnumbered men on the social networking site 51 to 44 percent and it appears that trend  is continuing. (Don’t be alarmed at the “missing” 5 percent; some users decline to disclose their gender!)

But the number of users isn’t the only difference between genders. The ways women and men use social networks differ as well. In fact, most of the activity on a typical social network is focused around women, according to a report by Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, assistant professor of strategy at Harvard Business School. Piskorski studied social network users and found the largest activity category to be men looking at women they don’t know, followed by men looking at women they do know! Women browse profiles of users of their own gender and tend to focus on women they know, rather than the opposite gender or women they don’t know.

Because both men and women are looking at women’s profiles, female users receive up to two-thirds of all profile views. Female users are more likely to nurture existing relationships, (by looking at profiles of women they know), which explains why they dominate on sites like Facebook and MySpace. Men are more often “transacting” online, rather than nurturing relationships, and are therefore more likely to use sites like LinkedIn or Flickr, where the activity is more structured.

But when it comes to social networking newbie Twitter, male users are getting all the attention. On average, men on Twitter have 15 percent more followers than women, even though women make up about 55 percent of all Twitter users. New research from the Harvard Business School found that the average male Twitter user is almost twice as likely to have another man following his Tweets than to be followed by a woman. Even the average female Twitter user is 25 percent more likely to follow a man than a woman.

Researchers are still unsure as to what causes these differences, especially because men and women Tweet at about the same rate. What may make it different from the typical social networking experience is the fact that the top 10 percent of Twitter users account for over 90 percent of all Tweets! A more typical social networking experience finds the top 10 percent of users responsible for only about 30 percent of the content. In this way, Twitter becomes a more transactional activity, more likely to be popular with male users. Researchers feel Twitter “resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network.”

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