Queens of the Internet - Women's Week


Photo by Jerry Bunkers.

The AMC hit series Mad Men is an easy reminder of how far we (in North America at least) have come in terms of gender equality in the workplace. Observing the overt chauvinism practiced by the almost entirely male staff of Sterling Cooper triggers moments of wonderment and awe. Were our parents and grandparents really that misogynistic?

Okay, perhaps misogyny is too strong of a word. But there is a great irony to be recognized in the themes on display in Mad Men: Women dominate the market to which the advertisers continuously appeal. At the same time, all major decisions to reach that market are made by men.

Let’s jump to 2012. The market, without a doubt, is no longer in television and print; it’s in online media content. So what role are women playing in this new 21st century world that doesn’t live as much on Madison Avenue as it does in Palo Alto? Well, consider this: Facebook could reach over 1 billion users this year. In 2011, Twitter reached over 200 million Tweets per day. Tumblr has over 1 billion page views a week. Cityville passed the 100 million-user mark last year in just a little over six weeks.

Aileen Lee, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (an early-stage consumer/internet venture capital firm) in an editorial for TechCrunch asserts that “we’re witnessing a generation of consumer web companies growing at an unprecedented rate in terms of both user adoption and revenue. But here’s a little secret that’s gone unnoticed by most. It’s women. Female users are the unsung heroines behind the most engaging, fastest growing, and most valuable consumer internet and e-commerce companies. Especially when it comes to social and shopping, women rule the internet.”

Aileen Lee is on to something. Traditional statistics have suggested that, women control 80 percent of consumer spending and new statistics by Comscore assert that the majority of users on social networking sites are women, who devote 30 percent more time on such sites. With these figures in mind, it should come as no surprise then the female class rules e-commerce– queens of the internet, if you will.

“Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has talked about how women are not only the majority of its users, but drive 62% of activity in terms of messages, updates and comments, and 71% of the daily fan activity,” says Lee in her editorial. “Women have 8% more Facebook friends on average than men, and spend more time on the site.  According to an early Facebook team member, women played a key role in the early days by adopting three core activities—posting to walls, adding photos and joining groups—at a much higher rate than males.  If females had not adopted in the early days, I wonder if Facebook would be what it is today. (Why do you think all the guys showed up?)”

The last point is huge. You know the cocktail parties or downtown bars you go to where women get in and/or drink for free? Well the exact same theory is applied to the hundreds (if not thousands) of dating, flirting, matchmaking, etc. websites out there. Sites such as She-conomy.com and Mssmithmarketing.com are devoted solely to providing marketing techniques to men focusing on a female-dominated consumer base. Get the women to join and the men will follow. This line of thought pretty much puts women in the driver seat when start-ups are strategizing design, customer acquisition, and user-friendliness. Sorry to tell you fellas—your opinion means squat!

So back to Mad Men: the modern realization that women dominate consumerism helped ignite the repositioning of the female in the workforce. (This is not to discount the role second-wave feminism of the late ’60s and early ’70s played. Obviously the demand for gender-equality in all aspects of life, not just employment, played a major part in this transition.) The great skills that women have been known to naturally possess and strategically hone, like multi-tasking, relationship building, and appealing to emotions when negotiating and coaching, have brought a great asset to any business that places women in positions of leadership and executive decision-making. Tech start-ups especially are taking advantage of this working-class. In today’s world, women are no longer only found on the consumer side of the table; they are found in the seats John Draper and Roger Sterling used to occupy. And if any stock is to be held in understanding a company’s demographic, that is exactly where they should be.