In May 2009 Harvard Business Review published a report on the latest social media statistics relating to the gender of users. A survey of 300,542 Twitter users put men at the forefront of this new media. These statistics went against the trends of other popular social networking sites, like MySpace and Facebook that suggested women dominate the social networking sphere.

Charlotte Clark, a communities manager and freelance writer takes a closer look at some of the reasons behind the slow take of up of twitter from women. You can follow her on twitter and also read more about via her blog.


In the HBR study the majority of Twitter profiles were male, an assumption based on an analysis of profile names. By analysing follower data, researchers hoped to build up a picture of the community. It was concluded that the average man had 15% more followers than the average woman and was far less likely to follow a female account. Perhaps, as one narrow-minded commentator put it,

“Maybe this is because men don’t talk about things like shoes, nail polish and hair styles? And, in turn are easy to follow”.

In fact a Pear Analytics study conducted in August 2009 with a smaller sample concluded that in fact 40% of all tweets were of this nature, ‘pointless babble’.

So if all female tweeps liked the same thing then surely they would all follow one another? Not so. Surprisingly the Harvard study also found that women also didn’t tend to follow women. Girls were tweeting at the same rate as boys but just weren’t attracting the same amount interest.

A further study published by Box in September 2009 (which used US census data to determine sex) found that based on name, 59% of Twitter users were female. Subsequent studies have found that women not only tweet more but they have more followers than men.

Assuming that the HBS study was correct and that overall, in this modern society men and women have an equal access to these sites, why was that in 2009 women didn’t ‘get’ Twitter?

The geek dominated early days
One argument is that back at its conception in 2006 the microblogging site was mainly populated by the male-dominated tech industry. After several years of fantastic publicity and steady growth, in 2010 the Twitter population truly exploded. The demographic of users also changed and now real people, both men and women are seeing the benefits of being a follower or using Twitter to communicate to a large and previously unknown audience.

The celebrity trend
To the outside world Twitter seemed (and still seems to many) quite frankly, pointless!

“I’ve stopped with Twitter. I just don’t get it I’m afraid. I’m sure it’s fun as a networking device for teenagers but there’s something a bit undignified about adults using it.” – Ricky Gervais.

But despite the critics the site gradually filled out with journalists, PRs, spammers, brands and celebrities.

Of the top ten current most popular Twitter accounts in the world (based on the number of followers) currently eight are the profiles of famous people. Of those eight, five are female. In February 2009 an article in The Times claimed that out of the top ten most popular celebs on Twitter nine were male. The shift here is obvious. Famous women are suddenly getting it.

And where celebrities go, more average users follow. It’s well documented that a celebrity endorsement on Twitter has a far larger reach than any other social network with a tiny percentage of the costs of a traditional advertising campaign.

Boys like brands
It’s not just celebrities using Twitter, companies are getting onboard and using the application as a way of connecting with new and old audiences, responding to problems, highlighting deals and announcing new products. Twitter was offering a unique opportunity to break down the wall between consumer and brand.

However, talking to the brand that makes your toilet roll or sells you insurance doesn’t appeal to everyone. ExactTarget (subscriber only link) recently revealed that men are more than twice as likely as women to follow brands on Twitter in order to interact with a company.

Twitter is a microblogging site
Just one month on a different study conducted by Sysomos concluded that women make up a larger part of the overall social networking demographic than men. This could suggest that there was a specific problem with the Twitter application itself. Maybe women just don’t like blogging? In fact another Sysomos study found that globally there are in fact slightly more female bloggers than male.

Women love to shop
Over the last year social shopping is the latest craze to be taken on by web brands. You can now get discounts for ‘checking in’ to stores regularly on Foursquare, you can see demographically targeted adverts based on your Facebook profile and voucher code accounts are big business on Twitter.

However, following voucher and discount accounts, like @vouchermumuk, @voucher_monster or @ArgosVouchers, doesn’t require any interaction. But competitions do. Every day, brands and press companies launch thousands of competitions on Twitter. These encourage participation, requiring entrants to retweet, follow or post items to enter. They work with the concept underlying Twitter’s success; People love to share.

We love to share (and talk)

An oft-quoted fact is that the average woman uses around 5,000 more words a day than the average man. And now it seems women are using Twitter as an outlet for their interaction, we’ve already seen that women love to blog, but perhaps the 140-character limit wasn’t enough?

Twitter encourages people to be concise. But you can make up for having to cut out the babble, just tweet more often! According to one study women now tweet 12% more than men over the life of their account.

Social media Mums
Women in their 30s and 40s make up a large percentage of the total users on Facebook, it’s not just about students. Many of these users have access to Facebook for a larger amount of time because they’re stay-at-home Mums and social networking sites connect these women to a wider community.

Now Mums aren’t known for their instant understanding of new technologies but they do have more time to adapt, and are a social force that brands must please to survive these social times.

Mums who have already followed the blogging trends, joined forums and Facebook are now turning to Twitter to share stories, find other parents in similar situations and even ask for advice.

Social networks are perfect for women
My final point is that the very nature of social networking makes it perfect for women because on the whole they tend to be far more empathetic than men. They love to communicate. As I’ve pointed out some attributes of Twitter back in 2009 weren’t ideal for this.

From looking at other networks we can see that women want to engage with real people, (not brands), they want to follow celebrities who inspire them and they want to talk to like-minded individuals.

Since 2009 the nature of the medium has vastly changed. We now have the choice to add sound, pictures, video and more to our tweets. We’re able to communicate in a way that suits us. Twitter has become far more female-centric. Every day more users – both female and male – are discovering ways to use the micro-blogging platform to their own advantage, and as the audience grows there’s more to be found.

So, although the HBS study suggested women were slow to catch on to Twitter, like other networks they’ve discovered the benefits and adapted their way of communicating to suit – and lead – the medium.

Do you agree?



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