The difference between Facebook and Twitter

by Lee Hopkins on August 20, 2010 · 7 comments

in ethics,marketing,public speaking,tools

Facebook and Twitter - which one is better for marketers? At a presentation I gave yesterday I was put on the spot to explain the difference between Facebook and Twitter, and particular what the difference was between a Facebook status update and a tweet.

Thinking on one’s feet can be an energizing experience, or a slow and painful death, depending on a whole swag of circumstances.

How many times have you been asked a question that you think you can answer easily and then turn out to stumble over it, baffling the person who asked the question? Your own hard-won knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

I stumbled my way through an answer, but I wasn’t happy with it, and the question nagged at me all the way home.

At its simplest, a Facebook status update is different from a twitter update (aka tweet) because only your Facebook ‘friends’ can see your update, whereas the whole world can see your tweet should they so wish.

But that is also an incorrect definition, because any one of your friends can ‘share’ some of your updates, particularly if you have links to a video or webpage in them. This then enables your message to be seen by more people than just your immediate circle of friends.

So by this circuitous route I was brought back to the reason for the original question: which has a better ROI? Which would be better for a busy marketer to focus their attention on?

As Steve Thornton and a zillion commenters point out, the two are very different and come with pros and cons (see Steve’s post for a useful list).

In the context of the audience on the day, I think that the best one to use is the one you feel most comfortable using, because I see two main pros and cons for each:

con: small user base
pro: populated by higher-educated, influential and socially well-connected individuals (see Roger’s work on innovation for my justification for this; in a nutshell the early adopters of technology are most usually socially well-connected and influential individuals).

pro: massive, segmentable audience numbers (9.3m in Australia as I type)
con: it takes time and a concerted effort to create a Page that is enticing enough that people will want to ‘like’ it and thus give you permission to market to them, plus you have to consistently and repeatedly use that channel, offering compelling content (which can take time to create) which hopefully they will like so much they will ‘share’ with their ‘friends’.

The costs involved with either channel are not hard to determine: Time and Money.

It can take time to pull together content that will engage others. Let us not forget that unless you have a brand that your audience already adores and are hungry to interact with online, you are dealing with a faceless and cynical audience (particularly so in Australia). It takes time to build up credibility and trust in you and your organisation/brand; it cannot be bought cheaply with give-aways and competitions.

However, once you have your online content creation processes in place, the amount of time it takes to create content can be reduced (as long as the quality of the output doesn’t suffer). Tweeting links to great content can take as little as ten seconds.

Both Facebook and Twitter cost nothing to use and be a part of their respective online environments. But where Twitter continues to cost next to nothing (you can spend the first 15 minutes of the day finding something to tweet about and tweet it, leaving the rest of the day to your ‘normal’ activities, and services like SocialOomph allow you to create your tweets in advance of their release date/time), Facebook requires on-going investment of money in the form of human resource to create the content (videos, white papers, news updates, inter alia) and post it online.

The answer I gave to the client

In the end, the answer I gave to the client regarding their ROI question is probably the correct one: there is no answer, at least not yet.

Social media is such a new communication landscape that the rules are being made up as we go along, and what worked last month may not work this month.

Does that create confusion and frustration for marketers and result-hungry CEOs? Absolutely. Does that create pressure for consultants to promise ‘golden results’? Absolutely, and you will no doubt find any number of ‘experts’ who will promise you dazzling results from a social marketing campaign (and do I want to strangle ‘experts’ who think in ‘campaign’ terms when it comes to social media, rather than seeing that social media is an on-going conversation with the marketplace? Absolutely!).

But here’s the thing: as any marketer will tell you if you ply them with enough alcohol and fool them into thinking that you’re not listening, marketing is an inexact science; no-one can predict what the market place will do because the market place is populated by those annoying creatures called human beings. These human beings come with all manner of idiotic errors of judgement, emotional buttons (most of them hidden from view) and flawed logic circuits.

Marketers cannot tell you the exact ROI of their brochures because there are just too many variables that lead to a purchasing decision.

And so social mediarists like myself cannot give your CEO an exact ROI because human beings create the variables that befuddle even themselves. The best we can do is look at online behaviour, help you decide what it is you want out of your social media activities and help you determine if you have got there yet.

But what we can’t do is tell you in advance whether Twitter is going to be a better bet for you than Facebook. Sorry.

  • Sallie Goetsch

    How about, what you post on Twitter is always meant to be public, and you probably assume (incorrectly) that what you post on Facebook is only for your friends and family?

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  • Lee Hopkins

    But marketers are looking at Facebook as a channel, so they *want* their status updates to be shared far and wide. It’s a conundrum.

  • Cemil

    But there is a different in personal updates and updates via a Fan Page.

    I think that Facebook is a much more interactive platform which a majority of users use for that fact. Given this, marketers and businesses would be more likely to focus on Facebook.

  • Nick

    It is hard to choose what is the best compromise. I have stopped reading FriendFeed because there is too much discussion and only a few thread where worth my while.
    Twitter on the other hand looked a bit dry to me until I started using seesmic at full screen with columns and columns of searches and long streaks of updates.
    So it turns out that Facebook has started to become usable and significant to me only after I cut my friends to a bare minimum of real friends in real life.
    FriendFeed started working for me with a few more contacts, but only after killing most of the noise makers. If you get all the closure of an individual together with the person you have better choose wisely and add one person at a time. Sometimes the person that hosted the best parties is the one that brings in the whole blogosphere on a given area.
    Twitter on the other hand works best for me when I watch tweets a hundred at the time or through statistical aggregators like tweetmeme that might warn of a surge on a topic that could be a news in the making.
    This could be simply the difference between letters and newspapers if you think of it.

  • ambreen11

    The approach to these two platforms should be very different. On
    Facebook, the goal is user interaction, while on Twitter, it’s all about
    relaying brand information, with retweets proving to be very valuable.

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