A Look At Women in Social Media

We thought we’d provide a snapshot of some of our findings regarding women and their engagement in social media channels. To us, one of the great aspects of social media is that women are very engaged, and have played a vital role in shaping the medium as a whole. So here’s some of our findings;

Sharing Factor
Here we looked at who was more likely to “share” content across Twitter, Identi.ca, Plurk, blogs and Forums. As can be seen, women tend to share more than men, 40% more it would seem. This means sharing links, video, images and other content that they find. Sharing counts for re-tweets in microblogs and in comment sections on blogs or forums.

Frequency of Engagement
So who’s spending more time then in Social Media channels? Turns out it’s fairly equal. Our hypothesis going into this analysis was that women were likely to spend more time. Women are, but only marginally.

Response Tendency
In this case we mean how often are men or women likely to be to respond to comments or messages in microblogs. This isn’t “sharing” of content, this is responding. Women tend to respond more and would seem to be much more engaged with their channels.

Staying on Topic
Seems women are also more likely to stay on topic in a channel; mostly forums and blogs (comments) in this instance.

It would seem from this data that women are better at being engaged, though they are almost equal in terms of the amount of time they spend online. Much research has indicated that women tend to be more social to begin with and so this seems to be translating to social media. And social media is about human communication.

What’s your thoughts?

For this research we looked at our aggregate data of over 200 research projects. In every research project, gender is one of the key demographics we look at along with age groups and regionalization. Here we looked at 500 samples in Twitter, Plurk, Identi.ca, 10 forums with relatively equal male/female engagement (not sports topics) and 300 blogs. Geography was USA, Canada and England. In all cases margin of error is +/-6%.

Where Social Technologies Have Been Used to Effect Societal Change

If you’ve turned on any form of news media in the last 6 weeks you’re more than aware of the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Oman and Yemen. And a few mild attempts in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Iran. No doubt Israel’s foreign service folks are not getting much sleep and the military is wired on caffeine. Thoroughly.

What are some examples of how social technologies have disrupted or aided in the change of government.

  • Phillippines: Filipino’s use texting to coordinate mass protests resulting in the ousting of Joseph Estrada
  • Spain: Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero used text messaging to coordinate the 2004 ouster of the People’s Party in four days.
  • Moldovans used social media in 2009 to turn out 20,000 protesters in just 36 hours
  • In 2008 Egyptian youth use Twitter to coordinate the taking of an activist and protest his release
  • In 2010 Canadians use Facebook to hold a peaceful nationwide rally against proroguing of Parliament
  • In the autumn of 2010 British students coordinate massive rallies in London against changes to fees
  • Ukrainians used text messaging to coordinate the Orange Revolution, ousting the communist government in 3 days
  • South Koreans rallied against beef imports in 2008 taking their grievances directly to the public, sharing text, photos, and video online, without needing permission from the state or help from professional media.
  • In 2011 Tunisians use various social technologies to share and coordinate unrest, ousting a dictator in a week
  • Inside of 3 weeks after using a Facebook group and other social technologies, Egyptians ousted dictator Mubarak in 2010
  • Chinese anticorruption protesters use the instant-messaging service QQ to coordinate in 2011

In our research into which social technologies are most often used to coordinate social change activities we found that text messaging has proven to be the most popular and what we classify as a Tactical Tool; meaning it can be used quickly and in a rapidly changing context. While SocNets (Social Networks like Facebook or Orkut) are what we term Strategical Tools that are used to establish groups and set an event, but are poorly adapted to being mobile. Microblogs (such as Twitter, which leads the way) are still more “strategic” sliding towards tactical since Twitter is susceptible to outages (Fail Whale) and not always a rapid means of posting.

That new technologies will come onto the scene there is little doubt. Some will be used in ways we cannot yet predict. It took nearly 300 years until the printing press aided a speedier revolution and the telephone nearly 40 years. Social Technologies of today took less than a decade to begin aiding social unrest activities.

How Many People Can You Actually Network With Online?

The pundits hollared, the social media guru’s chanted and hummed, the hype-masters hyped – you must get as many friends on Facebook as you can. Search, dig, sign them up! Faster! Faster! Then Twitter and the social media gurus drooled and pontifacted, the MLMers sprang into action as fast as their pinkies could type; you had to have as many followers as you could. Now. Eyeballs. Lot’s of ‘em. They’d make you rich, your social currency would be invaluable. Then you had to tie them all together in FriendFeed or some other aggregator.

Then in late 2009 the trend was “how to unfriend” on Facebook. Wait? Really? There were always some sober voices in there, Chris Brogan weighed in and launched a discussion on the 150 people you could logically maintain some form of relationship with. He was (and remains) one of the sober voices and thought leaders of this emerging world of hyper-connected humans.

Now, today, some are saying it’s time to do spring cleaning on your Twitter account; weed out some of those you follow. Really? Now it’s time to trim down. As Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out, the Dunbars Number theory that you can only effectively, cognitively, manage about 150 relationships, holds very much true in social media.

I just enjoy the irony of the current trend to whittle down those numbers and drive for quality. So with that in mind, we set out to look at some of our past research and see if we could gain some insight to how many people an “average” person might engage with online

Our research over the past three years where we’ve conducted network mapping to understand connectivity shows that in reality, people are consistently communicating with about 25 people on average at least once a month. When you tighten this up to how many people we communicate with 4 or more times weekly, that plummets to about 10 on average. This is an average of a demographic average of people who are active online in social media channels at least 10 hours per week and are between the ages of 30 and 45. If we look at gender, naturally, women are higher at 14 people, but that isn’t by much really. Our estimate is that perhaps only 5% of netizens communicate with over 100 people on a regular basis. They are the exception, not the norm.

Since our work is simply to observe and report, we’re just delivering our findings, but more than happy to hear your thoughts…let us and others know…

How Activists Use Social Media Against Corporations

In a recent blog post we showed how activist groups are taking the lead against corporations in social media channels and we observed that corporations need to catch up. Here’s why and here’s some of the ways activist groups are using social technologies to win their causes. A client just this week said to us “we’ve ignored this issue for too long, it’s going to cost our industry a fortune to catch up.” He is very much right.

The Objective of Activists Using Social Media

Companies and industry associations often think the activists are railing against them specifically. While the content of their attacks is, the real objective is to get directly to the target audience that will take action with the content. Part of what activists want is for users online to then re-shape the content, turning it into a meme that goes even more viral.

How Social Media Activism Translates to the Real World

The result activist groups want from their social media forays is multifaceted, but one easy way to understand what the result can be? Citizens who see a heart tugging video on YouTube either email or pick up the phone and call their Congressional Representative, Legislative member or Member of Parliament.

Forget About Being Rational. It’s About Emotion.

Corporations tend to rationalize. Issues are analyzed and researched to make viable business decisions. Activists are not concerned with being rational – they want to be emotional. A rational response doesn’t always work…that doesn’t mean coming out ranting. It means understanding how to use perception and emotion in the response to the activists message.

But It’s Just Kids Using This Stuff Isn’t It?

That assumption can prove a fatal error. Very quickly or as death by a thousand cuts. Youth segments are involved, but even if a teenager sees the message, they share, and often share with their parents. But when you also consider that the average age of a Twitter user is 35 to 44 and Facebook is edging higher, you can see it’s about a demographic that has voting power.

Activists Use A Complex Web of Tools

Pun aside, activist groups are very savvy with social technologies. They use multiple services to deliver content, understanding that different channels appeal to and are used by different demographics. A simple social media monitoring tool is often not enough to understand the complexity of a communications strategy; more in-depth research is often required. Such research online also provides context by the research firm that is not available through a social media monitoring tool or online reputation management service.

Organizational Impacts Can Be Multifaceted

It’s not just having a large mass of constituents calling their elected representatives that can cause damage. It may also take the form of a boycott, incrementally lower product sales over time, an investigation by federal authorities, a series of negative media stories. Senior management jobs may be the sacrificial lamb or serious issues with the board and governance. It may also be harder to attract top talent to your company. Sometimes suppliers can become collateral damage. Activists understand this well.

Steps to Be Prepared

Undertaking an in-depth review of your company or industry associations presence on the Web and in social media channels is a critical first step. You can then have a clear insight into the landscape of Cyburbia, identify any threats or existing issues and gain insight into how activists might be using these tools through a mapping exercise.

Understand That Activists Do Not Use Traditional Media Very Often

PETA creates ads that the Superbowl will not air. They place the ads on video sharing sites such as YouTube or Break.com and then everyone goes to see them. Activist groups do not always need to get the attention of mainstream media anymore and often don’t even bother. While you may monitor traditional channels, assuming the Web doesn’t matter, your sales are dropping and an organized lobby may be instrumenting a legislative change that will cut profits or restrict your business operations. And you won’t even realize until it is too late.


Social technologies such as Facebook, Twitter or Ning enable groups both formal and informal to very quickly come together, create and distribute content at essentially no cost. In 2010 Canadians, Americans and Brits spend more time online than watching television. Add in tablet devices like the iPad and smartphones and you have a heady mix of tools anyone can use at anytime. Does your organization have a process in place to understand the potential impacts or at least monitor Cyburbia?

Activists VS. Corporations in the Social Web

Let there be no doubt; there is an information war taking place on the Web between corporations and their industry associations and activist groups who want legislative changes or government policies changed. For decades, corporations were the ones who could afford to fight the perception battle in traditional media; they had the financial resources. With the advent of social media, that has shifted. And activists have learned to use social technologies very well.

In our research of multiple industry sectors, from extractive resources to consumer products and to public policy research for governments around the world, we have come to find this pitched battle raging in every country we’ve conducted research. Who’s winning on the social web? For now, the activists. Whether it be environmental groups, health related or political, activist groups move faster are more nimble and less intimidated by engaging with the general public. Here’s a broad look at our findings;

Activists vs. Industry Associations:
As can be seen from the table below, activist groups are heavily engaged across all social media channel categories, far more than the industry associations they are often battling. We note that activists are using video and imagery very effectively and that it has become their medium of choice as citizens react more to imagery than text. Where they even out for presence is in blogs – but people don’t read long blog postings. Industry associations tend to rely on long blog posts when engaging in social media. Activist groups have also been faster to adapt to microblogs like Twitter and on average we found them to have 72% more followers than an industry association.

Activists Vs. Corporations
When it comes to measuring corporations vs activists, we see that corporations lag far behind activists. Especially in the use of videos and photos. In Social Networks (SocNets) we see a more level playing field, but looking at 4 primary social networks (Facebook, NetLog, Orkut and MySpace) our research showed activist groups tended to have 42% more followers than a corporation on average. As with industry associations, there is also a more even play in the blogosphere, but corporate blogs tended to be 30% longer in text and 78% less likely to include videos and photo’s in their blog postings. Looking at Alexa and other ranking tools for traffic and inbound links we also found that activist blogs had 32% more inbound links and mentions across social media channels than corporate blogs.

Well, a lot can be concluded from these findings. For many it is little to no surprise that activist groups are more engaged and that they tend to dominate the social web. Some may also surmise that is natural as the social web is more about grass roots, youth and ranting lunatics. Certainly there is a share of them. But more often than not, sober, well informed and educated, professional adults are seeing these messages. And they are reacting to them. As the technology to produce high quality videos and photo’s today is so inexpensive and a message can go viral so quickly, activist groups will continue to expand their activities and pose an ever more serious threat to corporations.

Activists are keenly aware of the challenges that corporations and their associations face with communications. They also know a corporation must contend with multiple stakeholder and present a balanced approach. And then there is the challenge of corporations still adapting to the swift changes and challenges of operating in a global community where the cost of broadcasting a message is almost zero and available to anyone who can get access to the Internet. The advent of mobile devices with immediate upload of video and photo images has added to the complexity of the situation and it will only become more challenging. Online reputation management tools will become ever more important, as will digital research firms who can dig deeper, go farther back in time and provide more professional insights.


Note on Research Classifications:
We defined “activists” as non-profit organizations with a primary mandate/mission to change government policies and legislation on societal issues such as the environment, human rights or health care. NGO’s and NPO’s such as The Heart & Lung Association or Medicins Sans Frontieres are not included in this category. Industry associations are those that clearly represent the interests of a particular industry such as the World Coal Association or OPEC. We classified corporations in the context of those with 2,000 employees or more operating in more than one country with an estimated or clarified market cap of $100M and above. Our results are based on the aggregate evaluation of over 200 research projects from 2007 to 2010 in the English language and includes Canada, United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Holland, Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Colombia, Argentina, France and Spain.