In social media, as in so many things, the conventional wisdom is “bigger is better”; Facebook is the best social network because it is the biggest, and smaller networks risk being dismissed as “also-rans.” This consensus is based in part on the perception that scale is a prerequisite to effectively monetizing social networks, since revenue per user tends to be low (especially with business models relying on display advertising).
But is bigger always better, in the social media universe? Are there any circumstances where the counter-cliché “small is beautiful” may apply?
This question was prompted by some new data from Pew showing that Pinterest still skews very much towards a female user base: 19% of female Internet users are on Pinterest, versus just 5% of male Internet users. Since the total numbers of male and female Internet users are roughly equal, that means Pinterest’s membership is still basically three-quarters female.
The Pinterest phenomenon has, of course, attracted a lot of attention in the press, and one of the recurring themes has been its “need” for more male users. A lot of observers seem to take it for granted that this would be a good thing, since it would help make the network bigger and therefore more attractive to advertisers, and so more valuable overall.
I’m not sure I agree, however. Who says social networks can’t cater to the two genders? The idea has already gained ground with male-focused counterparts (e.g. Gentlemint, Manterest), and it makes a lot of sense: first of all, men and women do indeed have different (some might say divergent) interests, which have long been targeted by gender-specific media including TV shows, magazines, books, movies, and radio. Second, both genders still clearly seek out and enjoy “homosocial” settings, where they are relatively removed from the other gender, at least on occasion -- and this is especially true, it seems to me, when it comes to relaxation and recreation, including hobbies and enthusiast activities.
In this analysis, Facebook represents society at large, with even representation of men and women and an overall tone and atmosphere that doesn’t favor either gender. Pinterest and its manly counterparts represent a second wave of more gender-specific social media that will be overlaid on top of Facebook, coexisting and serving different purposes.
What do you, dear readers, think? Should Pinterest try to get more men on board, or should it aim to retain its female-dominant milieu?