When we created SHARE, it was founded on a basic idea: that as successful, bright, creative women who are key influencers and decision makers for point of purchase (across so many categories and channels), we could really make a difference with our knowledge, based on who we are and the clients we work with. One of the reasons we focus on social media, is because of the ease in which we understand the parallel between social media and the way women naturally connect and engage with one another. Of course, we’re always clear that what is good for women is GREAT for men.
The ability to be able to be open, share ideas, get information in a one-to-one format via ratings and reviews—or to find communities with others who have the same common interests—allows women to form new relationships with like-minded people. All of which can take place at times that are flexible and in keeping with the varied busy schedules that all women tackle. This is just one of the many reasons that businesses should be leveraging social media as a means for companies to reach out to women. The good news is that many companies are doing just that. Consumer product goods companies like P&G and retailers like Walmart have received the memo. But there are many companies that are still not in the game. On Twitter, I posted a stat that 50% of online retailers are not on Facebook—yet Facebook has 400 million active users. Not to mention that the fastest growing segment on Facebook is women 55+!
Mashable.com has a superb post written by Jessica Faye Carter that clearly walks you through 5 key areas that point to the bountiful areas of opportunity for companies that are looking to reach, engage and connect with women.
What does this mean for your business? OPPORTUNITY!
Women have firmly established their presence on the social web, and account for the majority of users on many popular social media sites. But what does this mean for the future of women in social media?
One word: Opportunity.
Companies looking to reach women — whether as consumers, entrepreneurs, employees, or advocates — have an unprecedented opportunity through social media to engage them. For women, social media presents abundant opportunities to lead, effect change, innovate, and build relationships across sectors, locally, nationally, and globally.
Clicks & Mortar
Many companies are searching for the perfect blend of online and offline strategies, and their forays into social media are impacting their interactions with women in important ways.
“Businesses are going where their customers are, in an effort to reach them in their environment,” said Rashmi Sinha, CEO and co-founder of SlideShare. “[They] are also starting to share content and join in the conversation in the same way that individuals do.”
Conversations between companies and female consumers are moving beyond “what do you want?” types of questions. Companies are starting to use social media to secure real-time feedback from women on products, services, and marketing campaigns—sometimes before they go to market.
Unilever used social media to launch their new Pond’s Age Miracle moisturizer in China, recruiting bloggers to try the product and share their findings. The strategy was risky because of the heavy usage of social media there, but it came with a huge upside: If the bloggers liked the product, word of mouth could lead to major success. If not, the poor publicity from blogs would make the launch difficult to salvage. The risk paid off and the moisturizer was a hit, leading to the adoption of social media strategies by other Unilever offices in Asia.
Kmart’s Smart Shoppers Unite is a different style of interaction with consumers. It’s a promising community with a mix of deals, shopping advice, and lifestyle discussions. Features include tips from The Frugalista, a popular bargain-shopping blogger, a coupon section, and games. What’s interesting about this network is that it’s interest-based — anyone interested in budget-conscious shopping can join. As the number of female social media users increases, and notions of women’s interests expand, we are likely to see more of these interest-based types of sites.
Companies seeking to gather women’s opinions, feedback, and insights should consider using what Tim O’Reilly calls “architectures of participation” on their sites. Such architectures build the collection of information into the site’s structure, so that users participate through their activities on the site. Instead of (or in addition to) asking users which features they enjoy most, companies can measure the usage or traffic patterns for particular features and get a sense of what users enjoy, and plan for future offerings.
These participative structures are important because they help gather data about women’s activities and interests on the social web. With the significant amount of stereotyping that occurs around women’s interests — particularly assumptions that limit women’s interests to fashion, celebrities, and motherhood — collected data on women’s Internet behavior can give companies a better idea of how to develop communities that can garner maximum participation from women.
Margarita Quihuis, a researcher at Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, sees social media as a relationship enhancement tool.
“Human beings have always gotten together, collaborated through their church groups and PTAs, told stories over coffee or over the backyard fence,” said Quihuis. “Social media merely allows us to do what we’ve always done faster, better and with scale… From a persuasive standpoint, social media can be used to surface engagement opportunities and increase participation through building new social norms.”
In other words, social media can increase the visibility of opportunities to engage, and influences actions so that the visibility of the engagement acts as a catalyst for increased involvement. We’ve seen evidence of this type of engagement with the recent catastrophe in Haiti. Quihuis noted, “When individuals see all their friends texting money to Haiti, they’re persuaded to do so as well.”
In addition to overcoming hindrances to action, social tools help people to connect across cultural, social, and other barriers to interaction. For women in business, this is especially good news, as they often confront difficulties in securing capital, gaining access to key decision-makers, and finding opportunities to demonstrate their expertise. The “flattening” effect of social technologies allows women to develop relationships with people previously out of reach, and they can demonstrate their expertise using blogs, webinars, and other social tools.
The Mobile Web
A significant opportunity exists for companies to connect with women using mobile technologies. Women comprise 47% of current mobile web users, and between 2008 and 2009, the number of women using the mobile web increased by 43%, compared with a 26% increase in the number of men.
Joyce Kim, CEO of Soompi.com, a Korean pop and Asian music and entertainment community, understands the need for a comprehensive mobile strategy. “Accessing content via mobile devices is getting both more popular and easier across the Internet,” said Kim. “Also, a good percentage of our traffic originates in Asia where mobile usage is more widespread.”
In addition to mobilizing their sites, companies are moving towards making women’s lives easier, according to Corvida Raven, a technology blogger and social media consultant.
“We’ll start seeing more apps catering to the lifestyles of women on a personal level, such as shopping apps that provide discounts on popular items that women usually buy for their homes and kids,” Raven predicted. She added that some apps are upping the convenience factor: “Location-based apps are partnering with stores to provide discounts and deals through augmented reality.”
Companies targeting mobile women should also consider developing or sponsoring apps which cater to a broad array of women’s interests, including careers, politics, personal finance, and organization, in addition to the more traditional categories of shopping, fashion, and parenting.
Opportunities are abundant for women to demonstrate thought leadership in the world of social media.
“I believe that now is a golden time for women in technology,” said Gina Trapani, an award-winning author, blogger and programmer. “It’s a time when an awareness of the need for diversity in our field is at its highest. Conference organizers, editors, journalists, and CTO’s are desperate to get knowledgeable women onto their speaker rosters, mastheads, source lists, and staff. There are bigger and better opportunities than ever before.”
Women hoping to seize these opportunities need to be proactive, by submitting workshop proposals that demonstrate knowledge and substantive value. In social media, everyone has an opinion. Conference organizers want to know what research you have done and what expertise you have — why people should listen to you. If you can demonstrate expertise, next steps include networking with conference organizers, speaking regularly at tech events, and publishing.
None of this, of course, provides any guarantee of landing a high-visibility speaking slot. But submitting your proposal to a conference that actively seeks women’s participation is a start. Lisa Stone, Elisa Camahort Page, and Jory Des Jardins, co-founders of BlogHer, cite SXSW as just such a conference.
“For years, Hugh [Forrest, Event Director for SXSW] has recruited the help of women as personal and professional advisors -— us included!” they said. “Elisa sits on his advisory board, and SXSW has grown as a result.” O’Reilly Media, host to some of the most influential technology conferences in the world, recently released a statement on conference diversity, and crowdsourced a diverse group for feedback and ideas as part of its development process.
Crowdsourcing is also useful for improving the representation of women speakers and attendees. Stone, Page, and Jardins encourage conference organizers to be proactive and to “recruit women to support every part of your event — from recruiting speakers to planning marketing, web sites and wifi.”
But not all conferences are women-friendly. At some, sexualized images of women are still included in presentations. Others feature scantily clad women as props or for entertainment. Stone, Page, and Jardins observed that “the organizers of many conferences, especially tech conferences, don’t seem to appreciate that women don’t want to sit through presentations — PowerPoint, video and otherwise — that depict women as porn stars and/or sex objects.”
“It’s hard to believe we even have to spell that out,” they added, “but, trust us, we do.”
While some organizations have yet to get the memo on creating inclusive conferences, and despite the challenges facing women thought leaders and experts, the future still looks bright for women in social media. The number of women programmers, entrepreneurs, bloggers, consultants, community managers, and social media users continues to grow. It’s only a matter of time before these numbers translate into greater visibility and influence in the social space.
Trapani, too, is optimistic: “Ladies, now is not the time to be timid. Step up, take chances, push yourself beyond your comfort zone, use your powers and influence for good, and let your expertise shine.”