Extra! Extra! Women are fans of social networking: ComScore

A new global study reveals how women like to spend their time online; unsurprisingly, social networking ranks high.

Hey advertisers: women are about more than just baby sites, Bejeweled and fashion blogs when it comes to their online browsing habits.

That’s the overarching message from ‘Women on the Web: How Women are Shaping the Internet,’ a new global study about women’s internet usage by ComScore.

Although women are still slightly below men in terms of global internet use at 46%, they are more engaged during their time online than men tend to be, the researchers found. Social networking has become central to women’s experience online globally, a trend that has been particularly embraced by older women and is extending now into the mobile sphere as well. Canada is one of four countries with the highest percentage (50% or more) of adult female web users.

Women over the age of 15 spent eight per cent more time online than males in the same age group, for a global average of 24.8 hours per month for women and 22.9 hours for men.

What do they like to do when they get there? Social networking ranked highest with 16.3% of women saying they like to participate in social networking when online, compared to 11.7% of men. Instant messaging came in second, with 11.3% of women spending time on it compared to 10.4% of men, and email was in third, with 7.7% of women spending a ‘fair share’ of time doing it compared to 6.8% of men. In all regions surveyed globally, women consistently ranked higher than men in time spent social networking (including web, email, IM) online.

Older women, the study noted, are driving growth in social networking usage globally. While reach and usage for 15- to 24-year-olds was similar for males and females in this category, the ratio diverged by 10 percentage points when measuring adults over 55 years old. ‘For older women, social networking is a new frontier they are embracing; men are doing so to a much lesser degree,’ it noted.

And although the study consistently notes that men tend to be ‘early adopters’ of technology much moreso than women, photo-sharing sites proved to be an exception to the trend. Women flocked to photo sites much faster than men when they first became available, the report noted, and now women exceed men in photo site reach and usage in every age group.

Online retail trends measured in the report were fairly predictable in terms of categories preferred by women (apparel, beauty, home) and time spent (20% more than men) but it also noted that women tend to close the deal online more than men do (12.5% of American women closed purchases online in Feb. 2010 vs. 9.3% of men.) The interesting aspect of the online retail research was the convergence of women’s social networking and retail preferences, in a trend it called ‘social retail.’

Women are not only far more likely to use ‘share’ functionality on websites to engage with friends on potential purchases, they are also more likely to use group-buying (e.g. Groupon.com) and ‘flash sale’ sites, such as Montreal-based Beyond the Rack. In both group-buying and flash-sale sites, more than two-thirds of visitors are women, according to recent Comscore US research. Women outrank men in every age category when it comes to coupon site visits as well.

Video reach was an area where women and men’s reach and usage diverged quite sharply, especially in Canada, where video usage is among the heaviest globally, the report noted, with men spending an average of 17 hours per month watching video, compared to only nine hours per month for women (ComScore Video Metrix, March 2010). Interestingly, though, the report noted that women were more likely to watch YouTube for online video than any other site. (In Canada, YouTube claimed 40% of women’s video minutes, compared to 30% of men.)

The report also included information on women’s mobile usage, which is reportedly much higher among men than women in the US (60/40 men to women) and Europe (63/37 men to women). The difference, the report said, can possibly be attributed to earning power: not only do men more commonly tend to be early adopters of new technology, it costs more money to have a data plan for a smartphone, and women tend to earn less than men. However, it noted, ‘women’s adoption of mobile social networking, however, is a clear indicator that mobile internet services are moving out of early adopter mode and into the mainstream.’