Tom Webster, writing and speaking

The Twitter - Facebook Disparity

Added on by Tom Webster.

Last night, I attended a minor league (AA) baseball game in North Carolina (where I live) and was struck by how active the team was on various social media platforms. Before the game even started, they were showing pictures of the "Facebook Fan Of The Game" from their fan page, which I later learned had well over 3,000 members - not too shabby! I was also struck by the number of times the PA announcer asked fans to "join the team's Facebook Fan Page and follow us on Twitter" for news, discounts and special promotions.

This is a team that is doing everything correctly, right down to their social media calls-to-action. Yet, I was struck by this phrase - "join the team's Facebook Fan Page and follow us on Twitter" and how neatly it encapsulates the huge usage disparity between Facebook and Twitter that we observed in Edison's recent research on Twitter Users in America. Some of the people who've studied this report expressed surprise that there was such a tremendous difference between the percentage of Americans using Facebook, 41% at the time of our report, and those using Twitter, which stood at 7%. Yet awareness for both social media services was equally high - roughly 87-88% awareness for both amongst all Americans (online and off.) That there is a disparity is not a shocker, given Facebook's considerable head start. Why, however, given nearly equal and ubiquitous awareness, does actual usage of Twitter trail so significantly behind usage of Facebook?

I think one answer lies neatly within the example provided by this minor league team's promotion. The phrase "follow us on Facebook and Twitter" is repeated so often that it begins to resemble what my friend Dennis Clark calls "chickenorfish" syndrome: when the flight attendants rush down the aisle with their carts, robotically asking everyone "wouldyoulikechickenorfish," commoditizing both and making neither particularly appealing.

In the case of "followusonfacebookortwitter," almost everyone who maintains a social profile online is on Facebook, so if that is sufficient to get news, discounts and special fan promotions from the team, why would the average American bother with Twitter? Yet Twitter is a different dog, and its asymmetric nature cries out for differential treatment by businesses from their Facebook fan pages.

The team, I want to emphasize here, is really doing nothing wrong, and just about everything right. It isn't their responsibility to teach people how to use Twitter, or encourage its adoption - it's their responsibility to engage fans, and be everywhere they are. Ultimately, the responsibility rests with Twitter itself - the company - to reach out to the many media outlets tacking Twitter onto their "chickenorfish" promotions, crafting exclusive offers, and making the benefits and differential uses of Twitter for businesses not only crystal clear, but of value. Location-based networks like Foursquare and Tri-Out, along with online coupon providers like Groupon, are already doing this now at the local level.

I've noted this before, but it is incumbent upon Twitter to clearly articulate the unique value, usage and benefits of their service, before teams like the one I saw last night begin to craft their own differential strategies using Facebook for engagement, location-based services for sales promotions, and Twitter is left as the odd man out.

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This post originally appeared at the Edison Research blog.