The Social Media Butterflies – Chawm Ganguly

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Do women, especially women in India, approach the social media differently when compared to their male counterparts? Innocuous as it may seem, it is indeed a trick question for various reasons. For one, those asking the question are primarily marketers who want the answer to push whatever they are selling. Secondly, and more importantly, because there are no pan India data of such depth and quality that answers can be attempted with any reasonable amount of certainty. And finally, the digital media is so vast, is evolving so fast and incorporates the finer nuances of so many diverse faculties, that it is near impossible to make predictions and still be on the right side of the facts.

Let me be honest upfront. What we normally pass off as facts are no more than educated guess work, estimates, based more on the feelings of the guts than mechanisations of the mind. And here, my personal feeling is that the outcomes are skewed more towards the knowledge of psychology than statistics. That said, let us take a quick dekho of the broad trends. What I feel, are the trends, that is.

Facebook continues to be the most popular platform, especially for women. While young adults still make up the overwhelming numbers, middle aged women too have a solid presence and if current trends are to be believed, the aged are flocking to Facebook in ever increasing numbers. As net connectivity, backed by the proliferation of smartphones increase, the demographic migration to Facebook is continuing at ever increasing paces with more and more women joining the fray. There is no doubt about the fact that Facebook is the undisputed Saas-Bahu serial of Social media.

The other platform where women have had a traditional edge over men is Pinterest, though the numbers involved are nowhere near the top. Besides, if market watchers are to be believed, the platform has not really made it across the urban-rural divide and is still largely confined to women of a certain educational background, however snooty (read derogatory) that might sound.

Instagram with its ready-made filters, is the one platform that adds the real value to every paisa spent on acquiring that smart camera phone. And, selfie obsessed women are taking to it like fish take to the water. However, here too, the critical mass is yet to be attained and the numbers, however impressive they may seem in isolation, are way away from the kind of popularity that the Kyunki of Social Media already boasts of. What is remarkable is the steady accretion to the club of cell-phone wielding photographers who are helping this niche of freezing frames expand by clicks and posts – people who consider the square format their God and Instagram their religion. And, the number of women doing it is what makes me happy to the bottom of my Carl Zeiss lenses.

If sheer numbers are the only criterion, then Linked-in will be some distant cousin of the mainline Facebook. However, make no mistake, for those who are in the job market (as potential givers and takers), it is the place to be in. And yes, while Indian men seem to have just that edge, the sheer number of women who are jiving it all the way to the workplace is mind-boggling. And yes, these are typically the well-educated ones with the spare cash whose eyeballs your friendly neighborhood marketing (wo)man wants to engage.

Google Plus too has a fair number of women participating – but the grapevine has it that these ladies are the Amazons from the digital army, primarily using the platform to further the Optimization cause. They are there to Tango for Cash, with the Search Engines, that is. And swear by the meta-tags even as they hash and slash.

Movie teasers, video clippings of inane jokes and titillating stuff pandering to every conceivable kink are the primary reasons why people flock to YouTube, according to industry insiders. The numbers that are posted too, are insane. However, the same insiders are also quick to point out the fact that “women” (not considering the college going PYT’s catching a glimpse of the Bollywood heart throbs) are not the prime movers in the segment. Television gives them the high drama and Facebook has already taught them to brush up the images they post, not to mention the opportunity of hating the children of people they hated in school.

The most baffling are the Twitter numbers though. The restriction in the number of characters one can use to express one’s feelings is a definite straitjacket, yet, the popularity of the platform is swarming with activities that are enough to put even beehives to shame. Here too, if the pundits are to be believed, the average Bharatiya Nari is yet to make her presence felt, though some handles owned and operated by women have already attained the celebrity status with dedicated fan followings that would even put Hollywood stars to shame. Perhaps the lady next door is put off by the dreaded troll, perhaps it is the fear of the Grammar Nazi.

The fluttering of the Social Media butterfly’s wings is already deafening. We still don’t know whether the fluttering of a mere Butterfly’s wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas and you expect me to know what will happen when they flap in the Telengana?

(originally written for the Indian Express / Financial Express)

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