The Social Analyst is a column by Mashable Co-Editor Ben Parr, where he digs into social media trends and how they are affecting companies in the space.
There’s no disputing that Facebook is the poster child for social networking. It is the platform for building social connections online and keeping up to date with what’s happening in your social circle. It is one of the two most important platforms in social media.
The other one is Twitter. However, if you try to describe Twitter as a “social network” to anyone who works at the company, they’ll quickly correct you. Internally and externally, Twitter describes itself as an “information network.”
What exactly is the difference? And is there one?
People have used the terms “social media” and “social network” almost interchangeably over the years. It’s inaccurate to say that they’re the same thing, though. In fact, I argue that social networking is a branch of social media, and can itself be further broken down into two distinct branches — the social network and the information network.
It’s with this distinction that I attempt to explain the relationship between Facebook and Twitter, and why I believe they are not destined for a clash of the titans. Instead, they represent two different sides of the same coin.
It’s easy to see why most people think Facebook and Twitter are essentially the same. The core of their experiences focuses around profiles, relationships and a newsfeed. But if you dig a bit deeper, you realize that people use each platform for different purposes.
On Facebook, you’re supposed to connect with close friends. Becoming friends with someone means he or she gets to see your content, but you also get to see his or her content in return. On Twitter, that’s not the case: you choose what information you want to receive, and you have no obligation to follow anybody. Facebook emphasizes profiles and people, while Twitter emphasizes the actual content (in its case, tweets).
The result is that the stream of information is simply different on both services. You’re more likely to talk about personal issues, happy birthday wishes, gossip about a changed Facebook relationship status, and postings about parties on your Facebook News Feed. On Twitter, you’re more likely to find links and news, and you’re more likely to follow brands, news sources and other entities outside of your social graph. In fact, Twitter tells me that one out of every four tweets includes a link to some form of content.
There’s also interesting data from a team of Korean researchers suggesting that information sharing is fundamentally different on Twitter when compared to social networks. Their conclusion was that Twitter has “characteristics of news media” rather than characteristics of a social network.
In other words, Facebook and Twitter are different once you look past their social media roots. Now it’s time to define the difference between a social network and an information network.