It's common knowledge that Pinterest users are mostly women, and it’s conventional wisdom that the social network -- an image-focused online scrapbooking platform -- “needs” to get more male users. On that note, The Wall Street Journal just published an article about Pinterest's efforts to change the site's gender profile -- a bit of a Catch-22 proposition, as they must first overcome men's perceptions that it is just for women (because, so far at least, it is).
Once again I find myself questioning the notion, always presented as self-evident, that Pinterest needs to recruit more male users and even up its gender balance. My question is: why?
I guess the obvious answer is “to make more money from advertising,” and it's no coincidence that the WSJ article notes, in an aside, that venture capitalists valued Pinterest at $5 billion because of its potential as an ad platform. And recruiting more male users would indeed increase its scale and eventual revenues. More is better!
But is it? First of all, are we really saying that 3.42 billion women -- representing half the human race, including 160 million people or 50.8% of the U.S. population -- aren’t a large enough target market to support a social media site through advertising? Globally, women wield consumer spending power of $20 trillion per year, including $7 trillion in the U.S. alone, and they account for 58% of all online shopping in the U.S. They are better educated than men, with American women now 33% more likely to earn a college degree by age 27 than men, and more likely to own homes.
I am not running men down -- I am one -- but I have to wonder what's going on when half the human population is not considered a viable base for future growth (especially since there are already plenty of very successful media companies targeting both genders).
Then there's a second, more practical question: is it even possible for Pinterest to substantially increase its male user base? Here there are two somewhat related issues -- men's perceptions of the site, and fundamental differences in how the genders spend their time on aspirational media.
As noted, the WSJ touches on the perception issue, meaning the difficulty of getting men to at least try something that has a -- shall we say -- “cultural aura of femininity.” For better or worse, I believe most men still tend to define their gender identity in fairly narrow terms, and are far more likely to be uncomfortable blurring those lines even slightly; I mean, some guys still get embarrassed reading women's magazines in waiting rooms. Is it silly? Sure. Maybe even a little pathetic? Probably. But it's still the way things are, and unlikely to change much any time soon (I would say the Millennial men of my acquaintance are just as invested in cultivating masculinity as their predecessors).
Although I am going out on a limb here, I also think there is are important underlying differences in the ways men and women pursue their interests and hobbies. I know this may sound too simplistic or stereotypical, and I fully expect some criticism for saying it, but in my view women's pursuits lend themselves more to static images, a la Pinterest, while men’s lend themselves more to video, like YouTube.
That's because traditionally female pursuits (and the aspirational media that reflect them) had been more focused on the final, aesthetically pleasing presentation of a completed product -- say, crafts, clothing, food, artwork, gardening -- while men's pursuits had been more focused on repeated, endless tinkering and improvement of products that are supposed to go or do, like cars, stereos, snowboards, gas grills, and the like. Yes, process plays a role in both -- but even here men seem more inclined to post video of themselves doing stuff like unwrapping an electronic product or just driving (some of my friends are always sending me videos of themselves driving performance cars on closed tracks, with all kinds of details about the changes they made to the fuel injection or whatever).
In short, the goal of many women's hobbies is to produce a beautiful image of a perfect, completed product, while men's hobbies seem to be more focused on working on things that you can use to have fun but are also somehow never finished. Of course these are far from strict divisions -- plenty of women post videos of themselves tearing up the slopes, and plenty of men like to cook and post pictures of the food -- but I am looking at the big picture and general tendencies. I’d be interested to hear what readers think -- am I way off base, or do the genders really enjoy their pursuits differently?