The Archive October 17, 2018

Mobile, the Internet and the Rise of the Female User

The Future of the Internet Will Involve a Digital Usage Gender Flip

For years, the conventional wisdom about Web usage and the devices on which the Web is accessed has been that men adopt new technology and new platforms with greater fervor than women, while social media has been seen as a mostly female-ruled realm.

Citing research, Anna Bujala of the University of Lodz in Poland gave three explanations for why men have for so long claimed sole ownership of the predilection for tackling new gadgets:

  1. Men and boys have traditionally received more encouragement in that endeavor than women have.
  2. Men have more free time at home to explore new devices than women have.
  3. Men are expected to communicate and network electronically in the public sphere more than women are.

And in 2013, Pew Research indicated there was indeed a significant gender gap in social media usage, with eight percentage points separating the proportion of women who used social media sites from the proportion of men. But two years later Pew had changed its tune, saying that men had statistically caught up with women in their social media participation.

“Women are far more likely than men to interact with brands on the Internet.”

Where the notion that men are technology’s only notable early adopters is concerned, experts have been poking holes in that stereotype for several years. In 2013, Intel researcher Genevieve Bell presented findings indicating that women in Western countries used the Internet 17 percent more each month than their male counterparts and that they were far more likely to use portable Internet-enabled devices.

Far from being tentative about technology, women comprise one of the fastest-growing demographics of Internet and technology users, according to a study cited by Sephora chief marketing officer Julie Bornstein, writing for Business Insider. In fact, Pew’s latest research suggests that American women and men are now neck and neck in their overall Internet usage. However, just because it’s becoming harder to make some of the same familiar generalizations about how men and women access and use the Web, it doesn’t mean that men and women use the Internet in the same way.

Men Want Information, Women Want Connection

A blog post by Iris Vermeren at the Brandwatch website put it succinctly: “The old saying ‘Men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ holds water when it comes to how men and women use social media.” For many years now, Facebook and Pinterest have had more female than male users, while the opposite has been true of Reddit and LindkedIn. This shows that women “generally prefer sites that allow them to connect with their friends,” according to an article in the British newspaper the Daily Mail, “while men seem to prefer social networks where they can find stuff out.”

Citing data compiled by the website FinancesOnline, Brandwatch noted that “females use social media less than men for business reasons, whereas women use social media to share more personal information than men, revealing more about their personal lives.”

“Women are also more likely to buy online than men.”

The revelation that women gravitate toward Pinterest (described by Naomi Schaefer Riley of the New York Post as “a photo sharing site popular for showcasing home projects, food dishes and hobbies” and as “a treasure trove of beauty hacks, face charts, and makeup tips” by Renee Jacques of Allure magazine), while men gravitate toward Reddit (described by Samantha Allen of the Daily Beast as a “spacious, tricked-out man cave: a lot of people can fit inside, but only some people feel comfortable hanging out there”), may not exactly be earth-shattering.

But there’s a disconnect here and it has to do with who some advertisers think is using the Internet at any given moment and who among those users is most open to marketing messages. For a long time, it just so happened that the demographic most appealing to advertisers (males aged 18 to 34) was also the demographic that was most prevalent, active and available on the Internet. That’s not true any longer, however.

These days, according to Vermeren, women are far more likely than men to interact with brands on the Internet. They “use social media to show support and access deals or promotions from brands,” she wrote, and they “also comment on their favorite brands more than men do.” Women are also more likely to buy online than men, according to a blog post at Womenology. And women do more things on the sites they visit than men do, according to an article on FinancesOnline. It would not be overstating things to say that the future of tech and the Web is being shaped by women.

Mobile Is the Future and Women Are Leading the Way

In April 2015, Daniel Newman of Forbes magazine named the move to mobile “one of the 10 trends that I think are going to have the biggest impact on the future of marketing.”

“From cell phones to smartphones,” he wrote, “tablets to wearable gadgets, the evolution of mobile devices is one of the prime factors influencing the marketing world. As the focus is shifting to smaller screens, brands will be able to strike up a more personalized relationship with their customers by leveraging the power of mobile.”

You can thank women for that transformation. “Women generally spend more time than men accessing the mobile Web and/or applications,” according to a recent Burst Media study (PDF). And the Finances Online article predicted that “women will be setting the pace towards social mobiles.

“Men are losing their iron grip on the marketplace.”

Women are “leading the shift from desktop to mobile where social media is concerned, which is a huge concern for social networking sites launching in the next few years,” Vermeren wrote. Still, some companies that might do well to diversify their notions about target audience continue to focus exclusively on young men. In these fast-changing times, “focusing on that testosterone-rich niche to the exclusion of all others can be dangerous,” wrote Todd Longwell for Strategy Online.

Longwell cited Machinima, a gaming and media streaming website that ran into some financial trouble in 2014, as an example. It is Longwell’s belief that Machinima didn’t do enough to court women. This doesn’t mean that young urban males, dubbed “Yummies” by some marketers, won’t always be important. Their wallets are relatively full, their responsibilities are few, their wants tend to get confused with their needs, and their gratification must be instant.

But as Jack Myers, author of the book The Future of Men: End of the Age of Dominant Males, observed on his website: Men are losing their iron grip on the marketplace.

“For those who haven’t been paying attention, in the United States women now represent 80 percent of all consumer spending across almost all categories of products and services,” he noted. “They are more influential in the family’s voting decisions than ever before.” One truism should live “at the genetic core of every man,” Myers added. “Our time has passed. Women can look forward to generations and generations of growing dominance.”

Female Tech Users Do Not Mirror Female Tech Workers

One possible explanation for why some tech companies underestimate the power wielded by female consumers and users is that their workplaces are predominantly staffed by males, Alexis Madrigal wrote in the Atlantic magazine.

“One huge reason is the relative lack of women at major venture capital firms, startups, electronics makers, and Internet companies,” she noted. “When you look around, it seems as if technology is by and for dudes, but the reality is much more complicated than that.”

The majority of technology users these days, Bell said, are far removed from the “Yummy” demographic: women in their 40s, 50s and 60s.

“So if you wanted to know what the future looks like,” she added, “those turn out to be the heaviest users of the most successful and most popular technologies on the planet as we speak.”

Photos: Shutterstock

What's Next?