As a social web participant, technologist and consultant, I am being asked on a daily basis my thoughts on Twitter and Facebook for business. I definitely have opinions about the uses of both platforms, and the suitability of each to various types of marketing and relational/conversational business networking activities. I was asked by a merchant’s association of which I am a member to share some insight on the social web strategies I see working, but of course before any such discussion can be meaningful, there has to be a short summary of the features and benefits of each platform. And the shorter this preface is the better, in my opinion.
So in an attempt to cram it into a nutshell for my upcoming audience, I was comparing and contrasting the ways in which the two networks build connections. The starting point for a connection can often be quite revealing about what sorts of conversations will be able to emerge as mutual participation and engagement ensues. If I meet someone in the context of being “a friend of the family”, I am likely to explore radically different topics of discussion than if I met the same person in the context of “having the same interests”.
Facebook’s primary connection mode seems designed to bring together people who already know each other, or are very likely to know one another in an existing relational context, whether past or present. A slightly secondary mode is the locale-centric one, in which Facebook seeks to center activity and connections based on the reported location of its members. Both modes suppose an existing geographic or sociographic connection in order for the system to perform well in suggesting friends. And indeed, many if not most of the prompts and activities around which Facebook revolves suppose that the connections occurring within networks have some real-world mirror or context. Nowhere is this more clear than in the memes and recurring quizzes, etc. that get passed around. Without already knowing something of the individuals participating in these activites, the answers and the exercises themselves would be of little interest, consequence or value to the group.
Twitter, on the other hand, with fewer guided activity options (and subsequently a LOT of general confusion about what Twitter really is) can be much like Facebook, in terms of mirroring confined and pre-existing real-world social connection graphs, but it isn’t designed to limit or promote only those social spheres. In fact, Twitter seems to be harder to use in that way than Facebook, because of the lack of recommendations and six-degrees-of-separation sort of ready-made connections. To find people to follow on Twitter, or to find followers, one would typically start with an interest or subject matter that mattered in their world. With little in the way of formal introduction or pre-existing awareness of an individual, connections can be made, based on little else than a mutual appreciation of a topic, interest or body of knowledge. In this way, Twitter tolerates more anonymity during interactions in the network, and thus can be an appealing place to be a genuine and transparent brand with a valuable voice in the conversations already occurring there. One does not have to know much about someone before choosing to follow them, because the value of the connection is not based on felt associations, but rather based upon a knowledge transaction.
In other words, Facebook networks are based upon WHO you know, and Twitter networks are based upon WHAT you know.
I am thrilled to have finally come up with a “10 words or less” comparison/explanation of the two services. But probably no more thrilled than my audience will be.