Twitter = Elite, Facebook = Mass

September 20, 2011


The digital world is pretty efficient at arranging its pecking order. And right now, Facebook is the unquestioned king.

With nearly 900 million users worldwide, Facebook reaches more than half of the globe’s Internet users. Collectively, they view more than 1 trillion pages a month. Yes, that’s trillion with a “t.”

Facebook excels at both personal and business applications. With it, you can talk to friends or advertise to customers. According to the web-metrics firm Experian Hitwise, Facebook “is becoming critical to the success of multi-channel marketing.” A British Web analyst recently calculated that each Facebook friend is worth 20 visits a month to the average retailer’s website.

Twitter, on the other hand, has always been the domain of a relatively small but intensely engaged group of users. It counts 160 million users worldwide, but studies have shown that half of all Twitter users have never “tweeted,” and that 10 percent of Twitter users account for about 90 percent of the tweets.

But Twitter generally has been viewed as a great place to find links to interesting content. It’s a place where smart, passionate users spread the word about great content they’ve discovered.

Now a study by Outbrain, a Web analysis company, shows that Facebook is ahead in that game, too.

According to Outbrain, people are five to 10 times as likely to follow content links from Facebook as they are to follow content links from Twitter. That doesn’t surprise me. Given the amount of time people spend on Facebook, and the amount of material posted there, it stands to reason that a user is more likely to follow a link from Facebook to a news article or an entertainment blog than they are to find the same link on Twitter.

Twitter is still unrivaled on the Web as a medium for breaking news. Think of the Twitter feeds that now routinely accompany natural disasters or political uprisings. Sports reporters depend heavily on Twitter to track down rumors and to post their own scoops.

But increasingly, I view Twitter as a service for insiders rather than as a true consumer communication medium. As a marketer, I believe Twitter is valuable in reaching opinion leaders who are actively engaged. For example, editors and reporters of business-to-business trade magazines tend to be active on Twitter, and a tweet with a link to a company news item might reach them very effectively.

Other important Twitter audiences include subject experts as well as the most vocal and passionate consumers — the kind of people who love to let the world know about their latest discoveries.

But Facebook is clearly the largest, best and most versatile medium for reaching the average consumer. Any company or marketer that’s not actively exploring Facebook programs is missing the boat.

This is John Reinan’s weekly marketing column for