Twitter vs. Facebook

As both networks increasingly catch on within the masses (including everything from grandmothers to six year-olds), I hear more and more people express confusion about the differences between Twitter and Facebook.  Why use one and not the other?  Or should it be both?  Both sites let you keep in touch with friends, send private messages, and share photos.  Almost every company that advertises a social media presence offers both options.  So what in the world is the difference?

Let’s find out, in as simple a format as possible.

I’ll break down the major advantages of each to let you better decide where your interest might lie:

Distinctions of Facebook

  • Sharing photos and videos with friends and family. Facebook’s built-in features (and storage) for these types of items don’t exist on Twitter. You can upload complete albums, link your friends’ beautiful faces, and share them easily through tagging.
  • Oh, those games and applications. Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, Facebook has a slew of Farmville, Who Has the Cutest Dog?, and Answer a Question About Me! applications. Facebook also has all of these applications visible by default, so users have to deliberately hide them if they wish to.
  • Larger group conversations via comments, including non-friends. When a friend makes a post, you’ll see the full thread of conversation, including people that you do not know (non-friends).  This essentially widens the audience for all Facebook posts.
  • All connections are both ways. In Facebook, two people are either connected or they’re not.  This is a major distinction from Twitter, as we’ll see in a moment.
  • Fan status. To see updates for a restaurant, business, celebrity, or web site, you have to “Like” the page in question. This has resulted in a bit of a popularity contest for many businesses, with raffles and other marketing ploys to get customers to “Like” them.

Distinctions of Twitter

  • All relationships are one-way. In Twitter, all relationships are “opt-in”, meaning that you can follow someone (to see their updates) without them following you back.  This ultimately means that people are more likely to allow followers because there is no reciprocation needed.
  • Twitter has become the defacto choice for businesses and celebrities. Largely because of the above, business owners, actors, athletes, and other personalities are increasingly embracing Twitter because it is so simple and brings little negative impact.  Some examples I’ve found pretty entertaining: Nathan Fillion (Castle – http://bit.ly/gxkVte), Lea Michele (Glee – http://bit.ly/fH4SXO), Oprah (http://bit.ly/grGZoH), and Stephen Colbert (http://bit.ly/hhxIPh).
  • Facilitating the spread of information. Of all of Twitter’s features, this one is silently why it has become so popular.  With the concept of “retweeting” (passing along someone else’s post), it is very easy to both spread information and give credit back to the original person that posted it. This culture leads to really interesting content, because people want to say meaningful (or entertaining) things and get retweeted.
  • Users only see replies (i.e. comments) from people they follow. Another big distinction from Facebook, this means that if you don’t follow someone, you never see what they say unless they specifically direct it at you.  Compared to Facebook, this is like only seeing your friends’ comments instead of the entire world’s.
  • Link sharing. Although Facebook supports link sharing, Twitter has become the most popular place to do it. This is really important for business and trade purposes, because it is an amazing way to stay up-to-date with news, careers, skills, and causes.  In my case, I have found this absolutely invaluable for keeping tabs on the world of web design, simply by following a handful of dedicated web designers (who constantly share thoughts and links on the state of the industry).
  • Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters. This can be both good and bad, depending on how wordy you like to be.  But ultimately this ensures that all posts are concise, which supports both texting and post digestability (if that’s a word!).

Can You Use Both?

Absolutely.  There are applications (for phones and desktop) such as TweetDeck that allow you to post to both places at once, and if you’re seeing someone’s posts in both places, simply hide them in one or the other—whichever service you use least.

Note that if you add the Twitter application to Facebook (which automatically posts all of your tweets), Facebook consolidates these posts together and hides them unnecessarily. This is why I use a service to do it instead.

My Take

I use both of these services frequently, but for mostly different purposes.  Because of its widespread adoption among casual users, Facebook is absolutely my go-to place right now for general friend updates.  However, I do not post photos and personal details there because Facebook’s security has always been a little hazy, so that limits its usefulness somewhat.  Instead, I use third-party services (such as Flickr) to do this and link to them on both sites.

It’s Twitter, though, that I’ve really come to love after ignoring it out of the gate.  Mostly it’s been the professional and entertainment worlds that have driven my enjoyment of it, and again, I have discovered an incredible number of web design tools and articles via other web designers.  This concept has easily be applied to any trade or passion—even getting up-to-the-minute updates on your favorite sports team (something my father has quite enjoyed).  And on top of that, the pure entertainment of following your favorite personalities (often actors, in my case) puts the icing on the cake.

If you hear people slamming either of these services, they’re being naive.  Each has its benefits to offer, and if those benefits are not for you, then that’s perfectly okay.  But there is little question that both are providing great value for many, many people.

Are there things I’ve missed?  What are your favorite aspects of one or the other?  Feel free to leave your own comments (something that should be easier to see on the new blog here).

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Technology