How we closed our gender gap in 5 days

We recently launched a new Messenger chatbot called the Africa Farmers Club. It provides farmers with local trending news about their crops and a way to connect with other farmers in their local area. While we’ve been excited by the speed at which we’ve gained traction over the last few weeks, one thing has been bugging me: our gender gap.

In my previous life I advised mobile money providers on how to better target women in their markets and reduce the, often persistent, gap between male and female users. In some really bad cases the proportion of women using mobile money in a market was as low as 30%. That’s why I was pretty horrified to see that as our user base was growing so was our gender gap. In the middle of last week we hit the 70% men mark and I knew we had to act.

The first thing was to understand the route of the problem. I analysed usage data at each stage of the funnel and, to my surprise, found almost no difference whatsoever between male and female behaviour. Men and women who try out our chatbot are equally likely to finish the registration process (which involves telling us where they are located and the types of crops they are farming). Men and women also have very similar retention levels over time: 82% of men and 81% of women who register are still using the bot on day 7. This gender parity still holds at day 14.

It became apparent that female farmers wanted to use our bot just as much as men. The issue was that we weren’t marketing it properly to them.

Much of our advertising was through Facebook Ads so I decided to analyse the performance of the ads for different demographics to understand where we were going wrong.

You can see a selection of the best performing ads below with the % of total clicks on the Sign Up button that came from female users.

Analysis of these ads highlighted some interesting behavioural trends. Unsurprisingly the ads with pictures of women in them seemed to appeal more to women. But it’s not as simple as this. Ads 2 and 4 seem pretty similar, they even show the same woman, but ad 4 worked much better with women. Clearly there was something in the style of the photo and the messaging that made ad 4 more appealing to women.

The other clear message to come through this analysis was that not a single advert saw more than a 38% share of clicks come from female users. Getting the photo and the messaging right was not going to be enough to close our gender gap. In fact the more we continued to use these ads as a marketing channel the more our gender gap was going to widen. We had to change tack.

I decided to experiment with running a Facebook campaign for a week that targeted only female users. On the Facebook ad platform you can select a demographic to see your ads and so I ran the campaign selecting only adult women in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. I also created a series of ads with a variety of different photos of female farmers and a variety of messages to see what would fly with our target segment.

Below are a selection of the ads we ran…

In terms of cost per click the ad on the furthest right returned the most clicks per $ spent. However, there are other ways to cut ad performance. In terms of overall reach ad number 3 was by far the strongest receiving over 1,000 likes within a couple of days. In terms of comments and shares ad 2 was the highest performer as hundreds of women tagged their friends (or themselves) in the comments. The least well performing ad was on the far left which, interestingly, was the only ad that didn’t specifically reference ‘lady farmers’ or ‘farmers like you’ in the messaging.

It’s not possible to say conclusively what type of imagery and messaging works best for attracting female farmers and this is most likely because women are not a homogenous segment. What works with one person may not work with another. However, what is clear is that if you want to attract female users to your service you need to put women front and centre in your marketing.

A few days later I ran the numbers on our split of male and female active users…

In less than a week we’d (pretty much!) closed the gender gap in our active user base. While we’ll now open up our marketing efforts to both a male and female target audience we’ll continue to monitor these numbers and take concerted action if and when we see a gender gap start to emerge.

Why we care

For those wondering why we’d go to such an effort to target female users, this is not just about fairness. Africa Farmers Club is a community: farmers share their success stories, their failures, their advice and their questions. It’s important to the quality of our service that women’s voices, as well as men’s, are heard. As we see from our ad campaigns, women are more attracted to stories and messages that come from farmers who look like them. Early analysis also suggests that our female users may actually be more likely to share helpful information than our male users (more on this to come!). For these reasons it’s vital to the success of our chatbot that we grow and appeal to a gender diverse user base.

For more info about what we do check out our website or email us at We’d love to hear from you!