A sizable segment of North American women enjoy using their social networks so much that they prefer socializing online over dating or spending time with their partner, according to new research from Weber Shandwick and its KRC Research subsidiary.

The Digital Women Influencers survey of 2,000 North American women was designed to identify segments of women who are influential in social media.

“No successful brand these days can be without a social media engagement plan,” says Marcy Massura, director, digital engagement, for Weber Shandwick. “Nor can any marketer ignore the strength—in number and influence—of women who use social media. Our research reveals how invested these women are in their social network communities.”

The survey found that:
• 86 percent of North American women who have a social media account;
• 68 percent are “Women of Social Media,” who spend one hour or more each week on their social networks and, on a scale of 1-10, rate their enjoyment of social networking a 5 or higher, and have an average of 1,600 social connections;
• 62 percent of Women of Social Media who say they like that social media lets them control who they talk to and when; and
• 24 percent of Women of Social Media say they would rather socialize online than in person.

The Women of Social Media enjoy their online networks nearly as much as they enjoy live social activities (75 percent and 77 percent, respectively) and, notably, slightly more than dating or spending time with their partner (72 percent). In fact, one-quarter of Women of Social Media (24 percent) prefer to socialize online rather than in person.

Says Massura: “Social media is where these women like to be and social platforms connect them with products and brands. Marketers need to recognize that social media is more than a channel for distributing coupons and promoting sales, but an opportunity for building relationships.”

However, nearly four in 10 North American women (38 percent) have decreased or stopped their usage of one or more social networks during the past six months. Their top reasons for social network usage disengagement are “just not interested/lost interest” (59 percent) and “no time/too busy” (35 percent). Marketers should not take decreased usage of a social media site lightly: analysis conducted by SocialCode found that the average cost of acquiring a Facebook fan is $9.56.

But given the emotional investment many women have in their social networks, marketers should consider building more emotional ROI into their social media brand platforms to keep these influential women engaged long-term, Massura says.

Weber Shandwick offers the following advice:
• Monitor your channels carefully to get to know your members. What are they “liking?” What is their tone of conversation? What product websites are they linking to? Develop a robust profile of your members so that when you need to reach out to them, you are doing so authentically.
• Develop engagement plans around your authentic knowledge of your members. Experiment beyond contests and sale events. Base engagement programs around your members’ interests and sync them to your promotional calendar.
• Find the advocates among your members and help them build communities of interest. Encourage them to bond with each other and your brand.
• Continuously evaluate and refine your engagement plans and activities to help reduce defections and ultimately the cost of your acquisitions. Develop defector strategies to bring them back to the platform they left. A one-size-fits-all approach to social brand engagement program likely won’t work.
• Keep in mind that not all women are mothers or wives. Be careful not to fall into cliché content approaches that polarize the female experience.