When I advise business owners or managers who are considering using social media, one of the first things I'll say is, "If you're going to do it, do it right."
Why? Because it's better to have no presence on a social platform than to have a lame one. A neglected Facebook page or Twitter feed sends a pretty clear message, and it's not good.
With that advice in mind, some businesses might follow up with, "Okay, I think I only have time to run one social media account properly. Which one is best?"
That's a good question. And it's really hard to answer. But I'll try here today.
I'll make it a more manageable question by narrowing the field to the Big 2 -- Facebook and Twitter.* Let's take a look at their pros and cons for small- and medium-sized business, concentrating on what an organization can accomplish organically (ie., without buying an ad):
- It has the largest audience, by far. And a high percentage of Facebook's large user base is active -- willing to like, comment and share when you publish compelling posts.
- People love photos, and they are displayed prominently and frequently in Facebook's news feed. The new news feed -- which is slowly being rolled out to users, will display photos even more prominently.
- It's easy to have a conversation in the comments of a Facebook post, allowing businesses to ask users questions, respond to complaints or simply get in there and interact.
- Facebook pages come with a robust analytics panel, allowing businesses to track how well you're connecting on the platform.
- The algorithm controlling what shows up in a user's news feed (known as EdgeRank) can be difficult to figure out at times. It's not uncommon for a Facebook page manager to be left scratching his or her head trying to figure out why a certain status update or photo did well, while another that seemed identical did poorly.
- It might be a stretch to say Facebook users just want to have fun, but it's not a huge one. Light-hearted and cute posts seem to go a lot farther on Facebook than thought-provoking or serious content. To some businesses, this might not really be a "con." But for similar reasons, pure business content can easily look out of place on Facebook.
- Some internet users refuse to use Facebook because of privacy concerns. They may have a point, they may not. But they are out there.
- Twitter is a good place for sharing knowledge via links to your content and other articles and blog posts that you find compelling. Why? Many users use Twitter the way information junkies used to use RSS feeds -- a one-stop shop for the latest news and analysis on the topics they care about most.
- Almost every post** and profile is public and searchable on Twitter. That makes it easier to build a network of people in your field, and to find and connect with people who might make good customers or clients.
- Since nearly all tweets are also searchable, it's easy to find people talking about your business or asking questions about your line of work. And it's easy to respond to them.
- Twitter is a hard-to-impress crowd. As noted above, Facebook users like, comment and share freely; digital affirmation is harder to come by on Twitter.
- It's harder to have a conversation on Twitter. Tweets move quickly, there are no threaded conversations, and, of course, there's a 140-character limit on each tweet.
- Studies show up to 25 percent of Twitter users never tweet.
- Although Twitter has improved in this area, photos and videos do not make as much impact in the tweet stream as they do in Facebook's news feed.
How do I sum it all up? As you may have guessed by now, I'm not going to say "Facebook is, hands-down, better than Twitter for businesses." Nor will I say the opposite.
I will note a comparison made on the Sprout Insights blog in November of 2011 that still holds up:
- Facebook's strengths make it more attractive to businesses selling to consumers, thanks to its more personal nature and the way it allows business to "showcase their products and promotions in creative ways."
- Twitter often is a better fit for businesses that sell to other businesses, as well as "individuals trying to build their personal brands as subject matter experts."
Hopefully that rule of thumb and the pros and cons listed above will help you if you need to decide between Twitter and Facebook.
If you go on from here to one of those platforms' sign-up pages, please come back and let me know how it's going.
And if you think I am missed something essential about Twitter or Facebook for business, tell me about it in the comments.
* - According to research by Pew Internet, 67 percent of online adults said they use Facebook as of December 2012. Here's how that stacks up against other social platforms:
- 67% of online adults say they use Facebook
- 16% of online adults say they use Twitter
- 15% of online adults say they use Pinterest
- 13% of online adults say they use Instagram
- 6% of online adults say they use Tumblr
In August of last year, 20 percent of adults reported that they used LinkedIn.
** - I included the "almost all" caveat when referring to Twitter content being searchable because some people make their accounts private. According to social media firm Beevolve last year, private users account for nearly 12 percent of the people on Twitter.
But trust me, the remaining 88 percent can give you plenty of opportunities to be social.