Twitter Accomplished What Facebook Couldn’t

Posted on March 22, 2009. Filed under: Market Research, Online Interactive Marketing | Tags: , , , , , , |

My previous post explained the early competitive edge that Facebook enjoyed against MySpace. The examples that where explored began to establish just a few principles of the foundation required of successful online social network:

-A homepage focused on encouraging greater social interaction

-Facilitating ways to meet new people that still respect privacy

-Providing ways for real-world social ties (Geography, Organizations, Work) to manifest in group activity

SOCIAL NETWORK SUCCESS is An Empowered Online Community. But Is It Also A Double-Edged Sword?

All of this has translated into the successful fomentation of an empowered online community that takes ownership of the network because their lives are portrayed on it. Mark Zuckerberg has publicly acknowledged the that “one of the things that makes Facebook really special is [that] it’s a service that people are using to put up information that they want to share with people that often is very personal, private, intimate.” The latest retraction of the Facebook Terms of Service (TOS) agreement is part of their continuing realization that any attempt to use the profile information that wets the appetite of every online marketer needs to be done with full transparency and a respect for privacy. At the crux of the TOS agreement misstep is the growing contention between the expectations from online marketers for Facebook to monetize its network and Facebook’s better judgment. I’ll explain what I mean by Facebook’s better judgment a little later, first let’s explore the argument for monetization. The combination of demographic and psychographic information to which Facebook is privileged makes that network an ideal application for behavioral targeting (BT) methods.

In fact, recent research findings revealed a slightly increased acceptance of this more invasive online advertising practice if the marketer/brand/website is “more open, honest and transparent about where, when and how behavioral targeting is used.” When this is considered in the context of the upsetting click through rate (CTR) average for online display advertising on social networks, one can understand that the future of greater social network advertising depends on bridging the disconnect between advertisers and social networks. Most agree that bridge is behavioral targeting.

One of the companies that understand this better and before than most is San Francisco based Peanut Labs, a market research firm that has developed an online social network sampling methodology to target specific demographics. They believe Facebook Connect has the potential become a social network advertising game-changer if a marketer implements specific behavioral targeting marketing practices. An example provided by them sites the affect of BT upon the average advertising click-through rate of 0.01 – 0.1% would multiply CTR by between 3-10 times if just one social network contact clicked on the product advertisement presented to them after someone in their network was identified as a recent purchaser of that product. All of this sounds great for the prospects of Facebook advertising, but let’s look at other edge of the sword.

I believe it’s becoming more apparent to Facebook that its network is too personal real-world relationship-based for it to be used as a marketing platform for big name brands to successfully mass consumer market themselves on the Facebook channel. Nike’s Facebook page has over 1.3 million fans, but what does that mean now, two months after their campaign got their fans’ attention? They haven’t posted anything since January 8th, so it’s hard to tell. Simply put, the kind of online corporate or commercial brand relationship with which consumers comfortably identify typically does not fit within the current Facebook social interaction/utility  model.

The main reason behind this is due to the a growing realization that online activity and personal identity as portrayed through Facebook, is not as amenable to a brand identity/affiliation that could be better facilitated on other platforms. Research from Facebook on their user communication statistics places the average number of reciprocal relationships maintained on the network to be at most 16 people; the high end average amongst the one-way communication is only 26 people. In the brick and mortar world this concept is referred to as the Dunbar number, a concept which suggests that the size of the human brain has a limited cognitive capacity for sustaining a real-world social network of 148 people. Both of these behavioral statistics suggests that average Facebook user’s attention may not have the bandwidth on Facebook to interact with a brand’s advertisements or Facebook profile even if BT is effectively implemented.

What Twitter Reinforces About Facebook

After a failed Twitter acquisition three months ago, the latest Facebook redesign of company pages alludes to some of the important lessons it probably already acknowledged before Nielsen Online reported upon Twitter’s incredible February user growth of 1,382%. The newly adopted Facebook Stream is a twitter-style real-time status update + news + conversation feed that will put another notch into Facebook’s social media marketing tool belt. It takes Facebook a step toward providing a more marketing-friend platform since now companies will have direct visibility on their fans’ homepages. This new development had already hit personal pages earlier this month, but within Facebook evolution, this added feature is only an upgraded version of the “mini-feed.” The only difference between the two is that previously the mini-feed wouldn’t allow comment/like/share options or provide you with real-time updates. Companies have not had enough time to plan and execute any Facebook Stream friendly social media campaigns that specifically harness the niches that exist on Facebook, but when compared alongside Twitter the differences are very interesting.pleitez-example

Facebook Stream will not change user behavior to emulate the kind of activity on Twitter because it is a “closed ecosystem [where one user is…] not exposed to as many different users and shared items as they are on Twitter or Friendfeed.” But it will make truly resonating media or messages much more visible within individual Facebook cohorts and communities than before. Obama has been credited with giving Twitter a de facto blessing for strategically using it to communicate with his grass roots movement throughout his campaign. Now a new politician within the same ideological current, Emmanuel Pleitez has begun to benefit from community niches that compose Facebook, because Facebook Stream gives these communities much more visibility to one another. Thus Facebook Stream has the relative potential to strengthen a brand’s existing following. Now that the marketing weaknesses and strengths of Facebook have been discussed, a review of Twitter’s unique success will reveal how this network differentiates itself within the social media universe.

Analytically Dissecting Twitter’s Impressive Surge

Twitter has a much better capacity for expanding that brand’s following; this is almost soley attributable to the search applications that allow for the real-time mining of the thought stream that comprises Twitter. If I had to define the real-world marketing equivalents of the concepts embodied by Twitter and Facebook, they would be company press releases and industry associations, respectively. Much more investment of marketing resources and definition is required of the latter than the former. Like industry associations, Facebook is  a arena dedicated to a specific niche where individuals, organizations and businesses can share ideas, news and other relevant information. Twitter however is a public electronic “soapbox” platform from which to individuals can send personal press releases about the most trivial aspects of their lives.  Although Google CEO berates Twitter as “poor-man’s email,” he has recognized that “Twitter’s success is wonderful, and I think it shows you that there are many, many new ways to reach and communicate, especially if you are willing to do so publicly.” At this point however, it is remains to be seen how the surge of new users will use Twitter. Let’s look at some important marketing case studies to see what interactive marketing lessons we can extract from them.

A “Micro” Analytical Example

Michael Arrington from TechCrunch has shared some valuable insight into their specific example of how the recent Twitter user surge has translated onto increased traffic for Techcrunch’s website. Below are a table and graph that present their number of followers and website traffic derived from tweeters at three critical growth stages:

A) “Organic” growth up until January,

B) When they were added to the “recommended” Twitter list presented to all new users

C) During the surge of new Tweeps subscribing to Twitter


It seems that at its current network size, an endorsement from Twitter did not result in much of gain for their website when tweeters have already vetted and supported it. Recently Jason Calacanis proposed Twitter to give him one of the recommend slots for an annual subscription of $125,000 on the belief that it would translate into gathering millions of followers and ultimately in one million or more a year in incremental revenue. The math upon which Calacanis is predicating his judgment hasn’t been completely explained, but the example presented by only represents web traffic trends. It doesn’t take into account revenues that may result from lucrative consulting engagements. This does caution already popular web sites with revenues based upon their traffic to not expect a huge increase in web metrics derived from twitter if they already have a large following on that network.


The Twitter Macro-Picture

Who are these tweeters? twitter-demographic-information-chart

Currently our larger demographic understanding of the Twitter-sphere’s population is relatively basic. The most recent “post-surge” age demographics reported by Nielsen Online was the source for charts that detail the percentages and populations that compose the tweeters. The report explains that “the majority of people visit while at work, with 62 percent of the combo unique audience accessing the site from work only versus 35 percent that accessed it from home only. [… and in last year’s final quarter] there was an average of nearly 240 tweets per person.”

Most interestingly about the results of this that the demographic that lead the way for Facebook’s current dominance didn’t represent itself enough within Nielsen Online’s sample for it to be reported upon. The next post will delve deeper into this as part of the concluding lessons learned about social networks.twitter-age-demographic-pie-chart

To which internet sites does Twitter send its users? The dust from the exponentially growth on Twitter hasn’t revealed any single dominate trend, any particular internet sector or brick-and-mortar economic sector around which Twitter’s activity coalesces. The most discernable patterns to recently emerge have been reported Hitwise. Their latest report describes that the web traffic that Twitter generates tends to send its users to the following types of websites:

Search: Google (ranked as the top visited), Yahoo!, MSN & Twitter Search.

The most apparent trend is that 40% of its generated traffic benefits other social Networks (20% and media or entertainment sites (20%): Facebook, Twitpic, MySpace, Youtube & Flickr.

Hitwise also determined that in February 7.28% of the traffic it generated directed users to personal websites and blogs. In fact, so much Twitter traffic has been diverted to blogs that it has spurred some observers to ponder whether Twitter Search traffic is poised to eclipse Google Blog Search over the long term. Steve Rubel points out that “as of February, Twitter Search attracted 1.35 million users while Google Blog Search, which has been plagued by relevance issues, sits at 1.38 million users.” This is no small accomplishment. Considering that Twitter is no where near maturity as a network, this insight does have time to gain more traction. Most interestingly the type of internet sites that receive the least traffic, less than retail sales, are dating, business and finance websites.

Twitter’s Definitive Accomplishment

The combination of the information from Hitwise and Nielsen begins to construct an understanding that the people, the usage and personas developed on Twitter. There a disconnect between the corporate/business person at work that composes the majoirty population and the trends that represent the where twitter diverts traffic. What this alludes to is the emergence of what is considered the Brandividual, the dual persona that incorporates a business’s brand and their own personal brand in order to more completely engage on a web that’s become increasingly social and personal. The development of the public presentation of the combination of two different aspects has not been without its contention. However what is most significant is that this important marketing development between the world of business and personal online interaction has been propelled by Twitter and not Facebook, blogging or other social networks. Twitter does not have to become a heavily used mass consumer social network for it to maintain it’s relevance with the social media universe as the personalized business-orientated “press release” medium/channel. The innovators from the marketing and technology sectors that invested into developing the Twitter community from the very beginning will not stop tweeting any time soon. Facebook got the consumers to sign up in droves, but marketing potential inherit within Twitter will translate into the kind social network usage that directly connects businesses with their respective markets.
Condensed Coverage of Multiple Markets


– The Evolution/Future of Social Media

-Social Media Marketing Lessons Learned

-Transition to The Next Topic

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