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Oct. 5, 2009, 3:33 p.m.

Women use social media more than men: what’s news orgs’ response?

News organizations, take note: More women than men are using social media, a new study says.

The study, from Information is Beautiful, uses Google Ad Planner numbers to come up with its conclusion that more women than men use many popular social networks. Digg stands out because 64 percent of users are men. LinkedIn and YouTube are tied, genderwise.

You can view that data yourself, but here are some findings I found interesting:

Twitter: 57 percent women users.

Facebook: 57 percent women users.

Flickr: 55 percent women users.

Patrick Thornton at BeatBlogging.Org, which tipped me off to the study, notes that it’s important to understand the demographics of each social network because “news organizations — especially newspapers — have struggled for years to attract as many female readers/users as they do with males.” You can say that again.

The traditional media has largely failed in wooing those female readers — despite the potentially lucrative fact that women make 80 percent of the buying decisions in most American households. This problem has become even more urgent in today’s troubled days for journalism, where many newspapers are cutting the features sections, which were long the province of women readers. I argue that news important to women shouldn’t show up only in the features sections, but at least these sections guaranteed a space for women. I fear that as news organizations cut features, news for women will evaporate from the pages and online news that will make up the new journalism.

But then this study comes along, showing that women get social media. Not all women, mind you, but many. There is something about social media that resonates with them, perhaps in a way that is more powerful than the way it resonates with men. I have some ideas of why that might be. My first thought when I read about the study results was to think of my own experiences. What do I do with my girlfriends? I sit around and chat, talk about life, build relationships. What does my husband do with his guy friends? They play golf or tennis or poker or volleyball. What is social media all about? Virtually sitting around and chatting, talking about life and building relationships.

Yes, that’s an oversimplified gender stereotype based on a study of two people, my husband and me. Yes, there’s more to it, which I will explore as the course of study for my Ph.D. program is this very topic: what women get out of the Web.

Attracting women readers

But for news organizations the question is not really why do women get social media but what does that mean for attracting women readers? If news organizations can answer that second question, they will stand to gain readers — and money — for sure.

This social media finding is significant in several ways. Men spend more time online, are more tech savvy and use the Web to gather information more than women, according to a study by the Pew Research Center. So the social media finding isn’t a function of women using the Internet more than men, I’d argue. There is just something about social media that grabs them.

For news organization leaders, this means: Start taking social media more seriously. Stop spending so much time wringing your hands and figuring out how to limit how your employees use social media. Instead, make a firm commitment to using social media. Lots of it. All the time. Don’t just set up a Facebook page for your organization and do nothing with it and then argue, “See, didn’t work.” Don’t set up a Twitter account but seldom tweet and do nothing to drum up followers, so your tweets fail to reach a critical mass of people.

Use those well-honed reporting tools to spend time on a variety of social networks. What are women doing there? What do they want? How can your news organization help them get what they are looking for online? Don’t stop with the biggies, such as Facebook. Try the niche social networks: TwitterMoms, for example, has a buzzing online community. As do Cafe Mom and WorkitMom.

But don’t stop at moms, as some news organizations’ efforts to attract women readers have. Not all women are moms, and even those who are moms have interests outside their children. Really. Just like men, we have hobbies, fascinations, and interests that have nothing to do with our ability to reproduce.

Check out Ning, where anyone can set up a social network. When I just searched, I found 3,783 social networks having to do with women. Scan the top blogs for women listed at AllTop or read Divine Caroline, a site that’s about “every woman and the bonds that connect us even though we’ve never met.”

The mission: To find out what women are doing on these sites and figure out how your news organization can serve this need.

Beware: This might not make money right away. And, I know, news organization feel they can’t take the time to do anything that doesn’t yield an immediate profit. But you must. If you only focus on finding a new business plan, you may discover you’ve lost more readers — and the power to win them back — by the time you figure out the finances. Sorry, but you have to do it all.

POSTED     Oct. 5, 2009, 3:33 p.m.
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