Why Twitter is for ‘real’ information and Facebook is not

Facebook vs Twitter

I used to never really ask myself why I use both Twitter and Facebook for leisure and work, but now that I’m more and more asked to lecture and advise on the use of these social media, it dawned on me that these two media had very different profiles, and were being used quite differently by online actors.

So here are the two points I’d like to make and on which I’d be happy to have your opinion:

  • corporate brands are better on Facebook than on Twitter, with the exception of news broadcasters.
  • the more useful your service, the more likely you are to use Twitter – sounds provocative, doesn’t it? 🙂

Facebook is for brands and communities

Actually, I realised that the traditional scheme for a brand is generally to have lots of fans on Facebook, and far less on Twitter. One recent example of that is Austrian Airlines with a staggering 30,000 fans on Facebook but merely 1,678 followers on Twitter.

You would say this is because there are 5 times more people on Facebook then on Twitter. Personally I think that’s only partially the explanation to this situation. What is however of interest is that when you befriend a brand’s page on Facebook, this brand’s updates get to sit in your home feed next to that of your ex-boyfriend or high school Math teacher.

This gives Facebook users the impression that they are more familiar with this brand, that they can get a glimpse of that brand’s inside story.

Of all the Facebook pages I administer, this has proven very true. The sense of community or belonging is very strong and the posts that usually work best are of two kinds:

  • those in which you engage your audience around your brand’s industry/area
  • those that let fans see what it’s really like to work at your brand’s HQ or get to meet the real people behind your brand.

Twitter is for real, ‘useful’ information

Now I have one clear example in mind here, backed by several arguments. When I’m not developing online communication strategies or convincing senior management of the benefits of moving to a paperless environment, I manage the social media accounts of a European public organisation (Eurocontrol), including on Twitter and Facebook.

On Twitter this organisation has almost 15,000 followers, while it “only” has 6,000+ fans on Facebook. Now if I take the European Parliament or NATO, both organisations have far more fans on Facebook than on Twitter. So why is it that it’s the other way round with Eurocontrol?

Twitter has made such a big difference to Eurocontrol’s online presence for two main reasons:

  • It is all about real-time or almost real-time information, which comes in very handy when reporting about the European air traffic situation in the case of a volcanic ash crisis or a snow onslaught.
  • People tend to check their Twitter account more often than they do with their Facebook account.

If you combine those two factors, you end up with a simple equation: Twitter is better if you are looking for concrete, useful information that you can use to take action immediately.

While Facebook remains the domain of PR and marketing, Twitter is in my opinion for ‘hard-core’ communication experts, who value information and client-focus above all.

The other reason why Twitter is gaining momentum for brand communication is because of Facebook technical limitations. Yesterday I read a Facebook update from KLM saying that they could not answer individual questions anymore in private and that they advised fans to move to Twitter (see screenshot below).

No surprise then if Twitter is being more and more used to replace traditional customer support services (eg. Bestbuy and their Twelpforce, http://twitter.com/#!/jetblue” target=”_blank”>Jet Blue, etc.)

Having said that, I’d be curious to hear about your experiences of both Twitter and Facebook as a follower/fan of brands.