Will the Google+ gender gap make it… or break it?

If you saw the movie The Social Network, you may remember how it depicts Napster founder Sean Parker discovering Facebook. He spies a female college student who he’s ‘dating’ using the site almost immediately after they’ve woken up together. It’s a telling detail.

Several of the men around F-Secure discovered Facebook did so by looking over their wives’ or girlfriends’ shoulders. This anecdotally confirms what Comscore found in July of 2010: social networks reach more women than men and women spend 30% more time on social networks than men do.

In 2004, I was working at a company that was building a social network to compete with MySpace, which had quickly replaced Friendster as the most popular social network in the world. Our team saw how MySpace courted club culture and built celebrities up as they lured bigger celebrities in. We wanted to replicate this feeling of digital nightlife.

Of course, the theory that women attract men to real life social events has motivated nightclubs around the world to offer discounts to females through various promotions for generations. Thus we decided that it was women who drive the growth of social networks, most effectively recruiting others. Sadly, for business reasons, we never got to test that theory out.

But now it seems Google+ may be employing a strategy that is having an opposite effect: men are clearly growing the network. Based on a 46,573 sample of users, SocialStatistics.com finds 86% of Google+ users are male. That’s probably an overestimation, but an abundance of males is a very familiar statistic to those of us who have targeted beta audiences and early adopters.

When you look at total users, there’s no doubt that Google+’s beta is successful. Some have called it the fastest growing social network ever. And Google definitely has not repeated the privacy gaffes in the launch of its Buzz network, which immediately connected users to Gmail contacts.

By only launching a limited field trial, Google has made Plus exclusive, attracting, as F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan points out, “…just the type of folks that you want as beta testers.”

But will this beta tester population grow a network big enough to compete with Facebook, the largest social network in human history? This privacy-sensitive decision could end up hurting Google+’s bottom line. And it seems that the search giant is beginning to recognize this.

Google+ has now extended 150 invites to all users of the site, a variation on the strategy that made Gmail a global powerhouse. And users can now invite friends via Twitter links.

But the question remains, since you can’t advertise on Facebook, how do you reach those non-beta users who will make your network social? Ask Tom Anderson your friend from MySpace. He’s advising Google+ to court the influencers that made MySpace such a juggernaut and to do so quickly.

Cheers,

Jason

CC image by: Sean MacEntee

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