It’s a fair question and on careful inspection, it seems that Facebook and Twitter couldn’t be more different.
Although they are based around the same concept; to connect people and allow them to share information, both Twitter and Facebook serve very different purposes.
Twitter makes it much easier to learn about a person you may not yet be acquainted with.
For example if you want to connect with someone you don’t know, perhaps for business reasons, you could look them up on Twitter and get a gist of what they’re into by scanning through their tweets, who they follow, how they are listed etc.
A Twitter page often gives away a lot more about a person than what they may choose to publicly display on their Facebook page.
So you could say that Twitter, unlike Facebook, takes away your privacy on default, unless you choose to set your account to private and therefore protect your updates.
That’s an important difference between Facebook and Twitter; you don’t have to mutually befriend on Twitter; you can follow someone and they may not follow you back, but this way you can keep up-to-date with their updates without them being forced to learn about you.
You can also ‘secretly’ get updates from others who you’re curious about – if you privately ‘List’ them, you can keep an eye on them and receive their Twitter updates but they won’t necessarily be aware of this. Twitter isn’t a two-way thing like Facebook.
Breaking down barriers to communication
Twitter makes it possible for you to communicate with people you wouldn’t generally be able to on a daily basis.
For example you could Tweet at a celebrity, ask them when they’re next in your city and there’s a chance they will reply.
Twitter takes away the exclusivity that Facebook relies on; you don’t have to befriend to talk.
This makes Twitter great for businesses; they can engage with their consumers, ask them questions, for example Starbucks asks its customers to Tweet any comments to them – this is an example of a business using Twitter effectively.
There’s nothing quite like Twitter for breaking news.
Often, a newsworthy event has been Tweeted about before actual news channels have had the chance to post up an article on their websites about it.
While people may post links to Facebook, there’s no way of retweeting these posts, or discussing the subject with random people who may be intrigued by it or have an opinion on it.
Twitter allows discussion of the hottest topics of the moment through the use of the hashtag.
Moreover, while Facebookers are often on the website to reconnect with friends, look through photo albums, play games, or to instant message others, Tweeters are primarily seeking to discover and share news and opinions.
You’ll see the perfect example of this if you log on to Twitter when the X Factor is on television – Tweeters will be giving up to the minute updates about what they think of performers, who will go, who will stay, all linked by a hashtag, and you can get involved or just sit and watch the commentary!
Short, sharp and sweet
Twitter could be seen as a micro-blogging platform; you’re encouraged to tap out short, punchy lines within the 140 character limit. You can of course extend this limit via third party applications like UberTwitter.
Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t focus on the character limit. Still, both Twitter and Facebook seem to emphasise a focus on the present and timeliness of updates – in the status box, Facebook asks, ‘What’s on your mind?’ and encourages posting of links, videos and other content to the news feed, which bears a similar resemblance to Twitter’s, ‘What are you doing?’.
Whereas constant updates on Facebook could be annoying to friends, and could bombard their news feed with your status updates, on Twitter this is unproblematic; you can update as often as you want as only the most recent tweets will display first, and your tweets will reach different people depending on who’s logged onto Twitter at the time.
Twitter can be used to drive traffic to your website, to an interesting article, to your personal blog – there’s a focus on linking and linking throughout the web.
Twitter encourages you to share with others, things you find interesting, or strange, or what you think others could enjoy reading about.
You’re encouraged to shorten URL’s using third party applications like Hootsuite, Bit.ly and Tweetdeck to squeeze as much as you can into a single tweet. But a Twitter novice may not be so impressed that they have to click on to other sites or use third party applications to shorten URL’s.
Also, if you wanted to attach a photo to your tweets, this would only be possible if using Twitter mobile apps, or applications like Tweetdeck. Its little things like this which make Twitter a bit more complex – Facebook is much easier to grasp and use.
Twitter allows you to engage in conversations, discussions and debate in the same way you can comment on other people’s statuses, walls, photos and links on Facebook.
Twitter encourages replies, via the @username function, but in comparison to Facebook Chat, the instant messaging service, Twitter’s @ function is less instant and you’re more likely to get responses from random people you don’t know.
So if you’re trying to connect with someone you know, you’re better off using Facebook rather than Twitter because Facebook allows you to see if the person is available to chat at a certain time.
And while Twitter offers the capability of private messaging, the immediacy of Facebook Chat is often more appealing.
What’s more, Facebook allows you to engage in more sustained conversations with people you know, as Tweeters focus more on what’s new rather than sustaining a conversation from yesterday.
As it places less emphasis on the latest news, and provides more options for holding discussions i.e. writing on others walls, commenting on statuses, commenting on photos, links etc, Facebook seems more suitable for longer conversations and catch-ups.
If you’re looking for feedback on personal issues, i.e. what to do for your birthday, you’d probably be more comfortable posting your question to Facebook, where people know you on a personal level and therefore can offer more realistic suggestions.
You’re likely to have met many of your Facebook friends and they are in a better place to make suggestions. This does not apply in the same way to those who follow you on Twitter.
The Twitter network could be likened to a big conversation. Users introduce themselves and others through retweeting, drop in other names by using the @username option.
You can also suggest that people become connected using the popular #followfriday hashtag where users, typically on Friday’s, recommend other users to also follow.
While Facebook has the recommend a friend option, it’s not as open or public as the Twitter function.
Openness and searchability
If you’re interested to know what others are saying about a certain topic, say the recent spending review for example, if you typed these key words into Twitter’s search box, you’d get a whole heap of Tweets mentioning it and this will put you in touch with others who are talking about it.
On Facebook, the search function can only put you in touch with other users, fan pages, groups or events; not what they’re saying.
Yet, on Twitter, this search function can be abused and make it easy for spammers, i.e. they can tweet at any individual who mentions a certain word.
So while Facebook and Twitter are both classed as ‘social networks’ there are significant differences in the services they offer, with Twitter putting you in touch with people you wouldn’t necessarily cross paths with and broadening your perspectives on hot topics, and Facebook letting you share more with your real friends and family.
They’re pretty cool tools, and I’d recommend Twitter virgins to give it a go. The only thing I’d say Twitter is missing though is a ‘Like’ button!