Social media: is it too feminine?

The Christian Science Monitor
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Women make up 58 per cent of Facebook’s 850 million users, and most social media surveys show a similar divide. A series of coming startups hopes to balance the demographic. — Illustration by The Telegram

Facebook may be on track to break records with its initial public offering, but there’s a possible challenge lurking in its databanks: it may not be a guy thing.

Sure, plenty of its 850 million users are men who push a “Like” button or search for friends. But women make up 58 per cent of all users. They also do most of the status updating and commenting, according to the Pew Research Center, and they’re twice as likely to make multiple comments a day.

A handful of entrepreneurs are banking on that disparity as they try to create a new kind of social media for males. “Social networks are built on sharing — and that’s a feminine model,” says Phil Mark, cofounder of an eight-month-old start-up called Applified. Its strategy: ignore women and create a male-only social network.

It’s a tough nut to crack. While the number of social media users in America doubled from 2008 to 2010, the number of male users during that time dropped three per cent, according to Pew, which released a report on social media last year. But men also want to maintain their friendships, these entrepreneurs argue. If a start-up company can figure out how to cater to them, it can capture a new engaged audience for social media.

Mark’s first foray into the space is Jaxx, a social networking smart-phone app. Created with a former fraternity brother and fellow MBA student at Boston University and targeted at men ages 25-50, Jaxx is designed to overcome the traditional barriers to maintaining male friendship by allowing men to stay in touch around activities rather than shared feelings.

In practice, this means that once a guy signs up, he forms a private circle with other close friends. Within the group, friends can keep in touch around activities such as sharing pro sports scores or placing friendly group bets. Currently, the product is still in early development.

If Jaxx is aimed at strengthening male friendship, other male-oriented sites are all about prurient interests and male escape. “Men can’t post about their trip to Vegas or going to a sports bar,” says Ken Braun, founder of one such site, which has gained 30,000 Twitter followers and 100,000 registered users through word of mouth. On his site, ManWall, men can sign up to post anonymously.

Then there’s Gentlemint, pegged as “a mint of manly things,” which proudly displays on its home page its endorsement by the American Moustache Institute as “one of the more manly websites on the planet.”

Gentlemint looks like Pinterest, the social bookmarking phenomenon currently netting 11 million visitors per month (68 percent of whom are reported to be female), but without the wedding cakes and kitchen appliance pictures. Just a month after opening the site to the public, the founders were shocked to have a waiting list they say is in the tens of thousands. Like Pinterest, Gentlemint is by invitation, and the founders estimate time on the waiting list at 10 to 11 days right now.

“We’re growing at a pretty incredible rate,” says cofounder Brian McKinney of Lawrence, Kan. “We’re trying to let people in as quickly as we can, while being responsible and maintaining the intimate user experience that’s already there.”

McKinney and cofounder Glen Stansberry describe their site as “less frat, more rat pack” and say the response they’ve gotten shows that men do want their own outlets online. The site is currently losing money.

“We know we could plaster up advertising right now,” says Stansberry. But like Facebook and other networks that built huge followings before figuring out a business plan, the pair want to focus on the user experience first.

Can these social media start-ups survive? Some analysts are skeptical.

“Women historically are the net-workers in relationships,” says Keith Hampton, a communications professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and lead author of the Pew survey showing a decline in male users of social media. A different website format isn’t the answer, he adds. “Larger social forces that have nothing to do with the site’s interface explain better why men are less engaged on social media.”

Still, there are social websites that do draw men, such as the Art of Manliness blog, which boasts 8 million page views per month and generates a six-figure income for its creator, Brett McKay, and his wife. An eclectic and thoughtful mix of male topics — from choosing a “council of heroes” to cooking wild game and explaining the origin of WD-40 — the site has its own online social networking community. And traffic is growing, he says. “On my site, we double every year.”

Organizations: Pew Research Center, Boston University, American Moustache Institute Rutgers University

Geographic location: America, Vegas, Lawrence, Kan. New Brunswick, N.J.

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