There has been plenty of talk in recent years about all of the terrible effects that social networks—Twitter, Myspace and especiallyFacebook—have had on our lives. We’re addicts. We’re panicked and delusional. And most commonly, we’re lonely drones, hiding behind computer screens in extreme isolation, the inter-connectivity of the Internet having made us incapable of—or simply uninterested in—face-to-face human interaction.
For women, who make up the majority of social media consumers (Pew research finds 70% of women use social networking, compared to 60% of men and calls younger women the “power users.” Women out-pace men in social by 99 million clicks a month), it paints a grim picture of a future spent indoors, mindlessly trolling the Net and playing Words with Friends with strangers. After all, can you really call someone a friend if you haven’t seen their face since Prom?
Most recently a survey of 15,000 women revealed some truly shocking news: that contrary to popular opinion, all those hours we spend Internetting might be finally paying off in the real world. According to a survey conducted by SheSpeaks.com and Women’s Marketing Inc., one in three women say that their online social media usage has made them more social offline than they were before.
How is this possible?
“Connecting with others is the main reason women are on social media in the first place,” says Bonnie Kintzer, CEO of Westport, Conn. -based Women’s Media Inc. in a recent AdAge post on the survey findings. “Less important is ‘expressing themselves.’” She lists several responses from the survey to illustrate:
“Social media brings us all together in a way never imagined, but everything in moderation.”
“It is enlightening to realize the different tastes, knowledge and circumstances that are outside of my traditional circles.”
“I feel like I am closer to my friends now.”
“I am more in contact with everyone on a daily basis and more in the know.”
But while these quotes are encouraging, and research does seem to indicate that women and men use social networks in different ways—women tend towards networks for meeting new peple with like interests and staying in touch with current friends whereas men use social media to amass knowledge, according to one British study—they don’t necessarily explain how online social interaction is translating offline.
Consider this though: Women say they use social networking to strengthen existing friendships. They’re more likely to connect with people they know; 93% using social media to read posts and view pictures from friends, or to comment on their friends’ profiles. For men these numbers are much less: 89% and 84% respectively.
According to the same Porter Novelli study, men are far more likely to post statuses and check-ins than women. Along the same lines, Forrester research shows that women prefer to participate in interactive communities, meaning they share information and engage with others. In contrast, communication between men online is more linear and competitive. Are we shocked that interactive and egalitarian communication leads to more offline interaction than does the male behavior of online one-upsmanship?
I, dear readers, am absolutely not shocked. Not in the slightest.
As a mere observer, I see my female friends on Facebook engaging in conversations that border on pedantic. A status update like “I’m going to the park in High Bridge with the kids,” can spark a flurry of communication dozens of comments long—about the merits of the playground, the availability of nearby bathrooms and, unsurprisingly, a chorus of local mommies looking to join in on the fun. For the singletom set, a similar post about a Friday night happy hour can bring friends together who otherwise wouldn’t be making plans. (True story: this is how I recently had cocktails with a third-grade classmate who happens to work in my industry).
Do men behave in this way online? I’d imagine they do—but data supports the idea that they’d rather use social media to brag about the massive burger that they just finished eating than to let pals know where they’re headed on the off chance that they want to come.