Facebook as a social network is flexible and versatile. You can upload pictures, videos, games, and apps to your profile; embed videos from YouTube; and post calendar events. Twitter, at first glance, only allows for text, more text, and even more text with links. Also, Twitter is a microblogging service while Facebook has many facets including a microblogging component.
Facebook is, in fact, meant to be more passive, as Jeff Glasson noted in an early 2008 blog post on the Social Media Today website. In contrast, Twitter seems a much more active form of social communication in which the way you talk to people on the social network emerges as much more conversational. Twitter has been likened to a giant party where you know no one but wish to make many friends. In contrast, Facebook would be a wedding reception filled with family and friends.
When looking at these two tools, one issue comes up quite frequently—the issue of privacy. Privacy seems paramount to the users of Facebook, but Twitter users tend to embrace the feeling that everything is public. Simply look at this difference in the two services: Facebook gives you friends, while Twitter gives you followers. With Facebook, you often need some sort of approval to contact another user while Twitter does not require the same type of approval.
Twitter’s top three accounts and Facebook’s top three are completely different. Katy Perry (54 million followers), Justin Bieber (52.4 million followers) and Barack Obama (43.4 million followers) are top of the Twittersphere. Over on Facebook, the top three have a much larger following, led by Shakira with 102.3 million. Cristiano Ronaldo is in second place with 94.7 million while Eminem comes third with 93 million.
Once the preserve of millennials and college students, the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is now the 55-64 year age range. For young people, the prospect that their mum can see everything that they are posting and talking about with their friends is a serious risk to Facebook’s cool factor.
Real-time news attention
This is where Twitter excels. The reason that its status updates or “tweets” are restricted to just 140 characters is that it was originally conceived to add a social layer to SMS text messaging, before smartphones became widespread. While 140 characters might not be enough for long-form blog content, it does force users to be concise, and they can still link out to external websites and articles.
Twitter is widely thought to have come of age during the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements of 2011, when protestors in the Middle East used it to share their movements and organize mass demonstrations.
Facebook’s most common use is to keep people informed of what’s happening. It’s become a scrapbooking site, where people archive important moments in their lives. Twitter focuses on speeding things up, often becoming a source in and of itself.
Connecting with friends & family
Here Facebook has the edge – reflecting the emphasis of connection over information in its mission statement. Whereas you can follow anyone you like on Twitter – which results in a lot of one-way connections if they don’t follow you back – Facebook friend requests require mutual consent. This usually means that you end up with more ‘real’ connections of people you actually know. Which brings me to one of Facebook’s biggest bugbears or virtues – depending on your point of view – the role of “passive communication.” The idea being that, once somebody’s accepted your friend request, you forevermore have a window on their life, broadcasted to you in daily chunks.
Due to its huge user numbers, if there’s a big event on, like the Oscars or the Super Bowl, you’re likely to hear what your friends and perhaps their friends are saying about it on Facebook, but you’re less likely to get the full range of views from across the whole of the world. Facebook tried to introduce hashtags last year to its status updates, but so far they have caught on to the same extent as in Twitter. By contrast, Twitter’s news feed can be rather raw and unfiltered, but that has actually proved an attraction for people wanting to follow celebrities and get an insight into their daily lives. Again, Facebook belatedly introduced fan pages that you could ‘like’, but whereas updates from musicians and film stars on Facebook can sometimes seem a bit scripted and the work of the PR department, on Twitter, there’s a direct interaction between celebrities that intrigues users, as well as a chance that a fan’s comments or @replies might get read directly and ‘retweeted’ by the celebrity.
Where we build and share our digital identity
Facebook pushes us to use our real-world name and identity, and its controversial “Timeline” feature is quite literally a lifelong history of your every move on its network. On Twitter, less information is required to register, and we can be more anonymous if we so choose. If Facebook is a bit like a digital scrapbook for our lives, where we share both the big and the small things with friends, Twitter is more like a digital soapbox, where we share our big and small views and ideas with the whole world.
Here, Twitter fills an interesting middle ground between Facebook and LinkedIn, which is more for purely professional talk. On Twitter, many professionals tweet on work-related topics and contribute to the relevant hashtags – hoping that they will build a following over time – whereas on Facebook such shop-talk might risk boring or alienating friends and family. Those wanting to craft such a professional or public identity on Facebook are forced to set up separate “Pages.”
However, as we switch from sharing words, to sharing photos and increasingly video, Facebook is better positioned. With the 140-character limit and text focus, photo-sharing is still something of a niche activity on Twitter. Many photography enthusiasts now flock to Facebook’s Instagram.