What (older) women want … on online social networks

She’s highly educated, opinionated, a decision maker with a fat wallet and she’s perfectly at home – on social networks.

If marketers and advertisers want to make the most of their online ad dollars they had better start paying attention to older women, a recent survey suggests.

Women are using social media and social networks faster than any other demographic, the survey by ShesConnected Multimedia Corp., a Toronto-based social network research and marketing firm indicates.

In the past year, the rate of social media adoption has been especially strong among women 31 to over 40.

“Clearly this is not your teenager’s social network,” said Mark Grindeland co-founder and CEO of Shes Connected.

The Shes Connected site is positioned as targeting “today’s busy woman.”

Grindeland notes that women control up to 85 per cent of all household expenditure and currently they outnumber men online.

“Follow the money is the advertiser’s mantra,” he said. “And today the money is in the purse of women who are spending their time on social networks.”  

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Social net for mature audiences

When MySpace launched as an online data storage and sharing site in 2003 and Facebook began acquiring “friends” in 2004, both social networking sites focused mainly on the youth market.

Since the media also catered to a younger demographic, many businesses were “leery” of advertising on the sites. Traditional advertising metrics didn’t translate well on the social net, according to Grindeland.

Since then, these and other concerns have been resolved and there’s been an explosion of advertising and marketing campaigns driven by the viral nature of social networks.

ShesConnected also helps companies design marketing campaigns targeted at female online audiences. Among other things, the firm makes use of bloggers to generate online buzz around a product or service.

Recently, ShesConnected conducted a research into the online preferences and habits of Canadian women. The company also drew information from secondary sources such as the US Census Bureau and Forrester Research.

Based on the results many advertisers appear to be pouring in throwing online ad dollars at the wrong market, according to Donna Marie Antoniadis, ShesConnected co-founder and chief operations officer.

“Very often we see online ads designed to appeal to a much younger audience. The data shows that this is not your typical social net user,” she said.

For instance, the survey found that women under 25 years of age make up only one per cent of female social net users.

The top five aged groups for women social network users are: over 50 years — 20.8 per cent; 46 – 50 years — 14.6 per cent; 41 – 45 — 17.2 per cent; 36 – 40, 17.2 per cent; and 31 – 35 – 14.5 per cent.

In fact Facebook recently reported that one of their fastest growing segments is women over 55 years, up by 175 per cent in the last four months.

Women comprise 56 per cent of Facebook’s audience, up from 54 per cent in 2009.

The majority of women social network users are married (59 per cent). Single women represent 29 per cent of core users and 12 per cent are divorced. Over half (55 per cent) have children.

Almost half (47 per cent) of core users reported working full time for someone else and about a third (36 per cent) reported being self employed. Self employed users skewed towards those aged 41 to 45.

Twenty three per cent of social net users have a Masters, PhD or other advanced degree.

How women use social nets

Women are among the fastest growing business owners in the country, according to Antoniadis. “These women tend to be older and better educated than wage and salary-earning working women,” she added.

Antoniadis said ShesConnected found out that women use social networks primarily to:

  • Promote their businesses
  • Build business relationships through networking
  • Promote their personal brand

Women are using blogs, micro-blogs such as Twitter) and social networking sites to build PR for their business and themselves, Antoniadis said.

Women also use social networks to connect with friends or research products and services by sifting through online communities or reading user reviews.

Trinni Franke, social media specialist for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation agrees.

“I’ve found a tremendous number of women using social media to open up and enrich their lives,” she said.

For cancer patients whose movements might be restricted by their illness, social networks have been empowering, said Franke. “The technology allows women to connect with other people who share the same views or experiences.”

The social media specialist said many women seek out targeted sites that cater to their personal interests or hobbies, reconnect them with friends or update them on information about topics or illnesses.

Opportunities abound

ShesConnected co-founder Grindeland says theses insights spell one thing for advertisers – opportunity.

For instance, the survey indicated that the top four activities of women on the social net are:

  • Viewing profiles – 81 per cent
  • Reading blogs – 71 per cent
  • Watching videos – 65 per cent
  • Leaving comments – 51 per cent

“By having a presence in the most popular activities on social networks, marketers can increase both the number and quality of customer touch points,” he said.

This can be achieved by talking part in blog discussions, loading videos on YouTube or setting up Facebook fan sites.

Another alternative is to develop sites that offer users information and assistance, said Antoniadis.

For instance, Visa launched the Visa Business Network on Facebook to connect with small business users. Visas’s Facebook page helps SMB owners promote their businesses to a larger community, she said.

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