Noreen Farooqui, writer, copywriter, behavioural scientist, strategy, strategist, University of Toronto, English, business psychology, behavioural economics

Women’s Online Behaviour Dismantles Stereotypes

Part of my job as an advertising copywriter is designing brand and character personas. A few years ago, I was part of the creative team on a project involving developing a personality for a woman in her mid-thirties living in the mid-western United States.

My creative team gathered together in a boardroom and together we discussed everything from her marital status, hobbies, education, and hairstyle to fashion sense. When it came time to discuss what shows she’d be watching on television, I said, “LOST”, and was scoffed at by the Art Director.

According to him, women don’t watch that show. “She watches Desperate Housewives,” he said. “Do you really think all women in their 30s are watching Desperate Housewives?” I asked. Hobbies? Guess what he said? Gardening.

He was a 40ish musician, and although fun to talk to outside of this boardroom, it was shocking to discover he still held onto these stereotyped images of women. The fact that advertisers still use traditional demographics did not help matters either.

Advertisers are going to have to soon throw out stereotypical demographics of gender because women are making waves across the Internet and their online behaviours is casting a new light on their interests while challenging previously held assumptions.

In North America, women represent 50.4 percent of all Internet users over the age of 18. The online behaviours of women can fall into three categories: young women, professionals, and digital moms. Let’s take a closer look at some facts:

Younger Women
• Eight-six percent of women less than 30 years of age have profiles on social networking sites.
• They are more likely to look at consumer-generated content than middle-aged women – 28 percent versus 10 percent.

Professionals
• In 2010, professional women spent nearly 2.5 hours online per day.
• Most of their Internet usage takes place at work, and on average, they shop online 10 times a month usually between 12 pm and 1 pm, go on social media sites 18 times a month, and casually surf the Internet 30 times a month.

Digital Moms
• Eighty-four percent of all mothers are classified as Digital Moms and they have used at least two Web 2.0 technologies in the last three months.
• More than 50 percent use email, search engines, social networks, SMS, IM, gaming, and news sites.
• Mothers with children under 12 years old are most likely to use social networks.
• Mothers with children over the age of 12 are more likely to use online video and podcasts.
• Mothers younger than 35 are more likely to use mobile browsing and SMS.
• Mothers 45 and older prefer informational tools like online news and consumer reviews.

When women want to know something, they turn to the Internet. They mostly use this technology to stay in touch and share news. Preferring to use the Bing search engine, they use the Internet as a productivity tool, rather than a form of entertainment, with 68 percent of women using digital coupons.

Social media is arming women with the necessary tools to dismantle traditional mainstream media stereotypes about gender. Women are not as predictable as rigid advertising segmentation methods would have you believe.

We are redefining ourselves online and driving social media with 68 percent of us making regular visits. Advertisers can now view us as individuals and discover our passions, hobbies, politics, health, beliefs, religions and more. We are more complex than traditional cookie cutter images of traditional demographics. Advertisers are increasingly realizing that the information they are tracking about our online behaviours is far more meaningful.

The Internet is transforming the perceptions mainstream media has planted in our minds of women, and minority groups such as Hispanics, Blacks, and Muslims. On the Internet, we don’t view each other by age, gender, race, religion or skin colour. Everyone is equal. We can embrace the Internet for positive social change.



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