The business case for proactively targeting female users

Some of the Africa Farmers Club moderators

Last year I wrote a blog telling the story of how we managed to close the gender gap of the Africa Farmers Club chatbot in just five days. In the blog I talked about how building a diverse user base is vital if we want to deliver a quality service:

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.

For those who don’t know, the Africa Farmers Club (or AFC) is a bit like a Stack Overflow for farming. Launched last summer, we now have around 50,000 user generated posts and comments and almost 100,000 members.

Since I wrote the blog I’ve had a lot of really interesting discussions with people about the importance of a gender-diverse user base. It’s great to hear so many people appreciate the social benefits of actively including women. However, what’s been most striking about these discussions, is the lack of available data to prove the business case for proactively targeting female users.

I spent a day number crunching in an effort to add some (much needed!) data to this debate. While this isn’t a comprehensive business case, it’s certainly food for thought…

Women are more likely to be content creators

We can divide up our user base into 3 broad categories: spammers, readers and content creators. 
Spammers are typically people who try to sell products to farmers and clutter up the forum with annoying ads. They are quickly blocked by our moderators.
Readers make up the majority of our users and are people who peruse the latest posts and search for information through the AFC chatbot.
Content creators are the backbone of the Africa Farmers Club and are the people who actively post advice, answer questions and share their experiences.

I split our male and female user base into these 3 categories and found this:

The data shows that our female users are actually slightly more likely to be content creators and slightly less likely to be spammers than our male users. Contrary to what many people may assume, female farmers in Africa aren’t just passive recipients of information, they are driving the generation of new content.

Women are more likely to be commenters

As the content creators are our most valuable users I decided to dig into this segment to understand more about their behaviours.

We can divide content creation into two main types: posting and commenting.
Posting is the act of creating a question, story or piece of advice to share with the rest of the community. Posts often include photos of the users’ crops or livestock.
Commenting is typically the act of answering a question, sharing a similar experience or, often, just words of encouragement.

Splitting by gender I found that an average female content creator creates 30% less posts than men but 20% more comments.

Comments by women are rated more highly

It’s one thing to create content but it’s quite another to create content of high quality. Defining the quality of content in our forum is a complex, and often subjective, art. What’s valuable new information to one farmer may be blindingly obvious to another.

One potential proxy for quality is whether or not a comment received a like from another group member. As you can see below, comments by our female users were slightly more likely to have received at least one like than comments by our male users.

While it is possible to argue that women are outperforming men when it comes to helpful comments, there are some obvious challenges to this statement. In fact, scrolling through the latest posts in the forum, I can find a number of examples of thoughtful comments being overlooked.

One other potential proxy for the quality of a comment is its length. To understand whether men or women are posting longer comments, I used a natural language processing tool to tokenise each comment and measure the number of words. Interestingly, the analysis shows that women are more likely to post very short comments than men are.

While it’s not the case that longer comments are necessarily of higher quality, it’s fair to say that comments of less than five words are less likely to include thoughtful advice. Check out the example posts and comments below to see what I mean:

Women may be more supportive community members

One thing you’ll notice in the examples above is that many of the shorter comments are words of encouragement rather than answers to questions. In an effort to understand how many of our comments fit into the ‘words of encouragement’ category I ran a sentiment analysis.

For those who aren’t familiar, sentiment analysis attempts to measure whether the ‘attitude’ of a statement is positive or negative. It typically measures the frequency in which positive or negative words are used and the strength of those words.

Since the Africa Farmers Club is >95% English language based, I used a common English-language sentiment analysis tool which also included emojis. For example, in this tool, “amazing” would score a +4, “helpful” would score a +2, “😔” would score a -1 and “terrible” would get -3.

Analysing the sentiment of each comment shows that women are almost twice as likely to comment with a very positive sentiment. This analysis suggests that comments by women are more likely to fall into the ‘words of encouragement’ category than comments by men.

While receiving words of encouragement may seem trivial, for many farmers this can be vitally important.

Thanks to all who encouraged me to press on. 
Thanks to all AFC members you rock.
 — Carolyn, Africa Farmers Club member

Women are just as likely to be influencers

Arguably the most important people in our user base are our influencers. Influencers are people who can create posts that go viral and are viewed by tens of thousands of people. More often than not, these posts are of farmers sharing their stories — both good and bad. The reason these people are so important to us is because they drive the majority of our organic user growth.

You can see some examples of this month’s most viewed posts below:

Some of the most viewed posts in March 2018 in the Africa Farmers Club

Analysing these viral posts shows that women and men are just as likely to be influencers: of the top ten most viewed posts in March 2018, five were created by women and five were created by men.

And the most viewed post of all time?

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