Twitter is to Facebook as Apples are to Oranges?

Last moth, Twitter celebrated its 10th birthday. While most users were concerned how this celebration would translate into new features or stellar updates (re: getting rid of the 140-character limit), one user by day/tech blogger by night took the time of heightened Twitter publicity to inform the world that Twitter is in fact not a social network. Although Twitter VP Kevin Thau said as much in 2010, no one seemed to care, or believe him. So why care now?

Twitter’s 10th anniversary (Twitterversary?) brought about significant discussion regarding how Twitter and Facebook would continue to interact and compete for business over the next few years. Some even suggested that Twitter is on it’s way to its final days.

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However, blogger Kirsty Styles argues that those comparing Twitter and Facebook at all are missing the point entirely. Facebook is a social network. Twitter is a micro-blogging platform. One aims to help users keep in touch with friends and family, the other aims to give average people like me a venue to engage with celebrities, brands, journalists, and other (more exciting than average) humans. Turns out, Twitter doesn’t even rely on users for most of its business. Its revenue has increased more than 50% since December of last year, largely because of page/ad views and site visits from non-users.

“Twitter generated 3.7 billion impressions on 24 million tweets over a 7.5 hour span [at the Oscars last year]. That’s compared to 3.3 billion in 2014 over the course of 48 hours – clearly reaching way more people than pure user figures imply. That’s a whole load of potential ad viewers that the advertising industry now knows just love entertainment shows.”

That being said, Medative, a Canadian data analysis/digital marketing firm, has used Twitter networks to advise its clients on how best to improve business. According to Medative, “Social network analysis (SNA) is a way of graphing the relationships that exist on social networks. It provides a way of visualizing and analyzing how people are connected, how they interact, and who the important influencers are in a network.” Recently, Medative used Twitter SNA to advise @MarpolePlan, a Vancouver city government account used to to promote civic engagement on the south side of the community, on how to improve reach and engagement on and off the social networking site. The firm collected data on Twitter accounts that either mention or reply to another user about the target keyword “Marpole.” The colors in the network below highlight who in the network different groups cluster around. Here’s what the network looks like and the names of the key Twitter users:

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“As you can see from the network, there are certain users who act as important bridges, ensuring that information about Marpole reaches groups that otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to that information. For instance, if @kathyacouch were to be removed from this network, the other nodes in orange wouldn’t have access to the information she’s broadcasting about Marpole – there are no other paths that exist to these users. Also note the important role of the @theprovince Twitter account in this network. The Province is one of Vancouver’s local daily newspapers, and its influence online helps to inform what will be important for @MarpolePlan’s offline marketing strategy as well.”

This is just one example of the types of visual networks Medative has constructed to advise its customers. Using this data, it has advocated that @MarpolePlan follow specific users who are important to the network in the hopes of being followed back, as well as mention or direct mention key Twitter accounts directly with important information to ensure they reach the full extent of your network.

However, while it is possible to use its data to dabble in constructive network analysis here and there, Twitter is by no means a social network like we have come to know and love. In general, for users and non-users alike, the site acts as a broadcast you choose to view, not a platform you use to connect. What’s unique about Twitter is that reach – what keeps the website relevant – is what types of people are coming into contact with its content outside of the platform itself. So yes, Twittersphere, you’ve been played. Stick to Facebook if you’re looking to analyze practical examples of the friendship paradox because Twitter is not at all a social network as we once suspected. Rather, it is for content, news, and information. Just because you follow Kim Kardashian does not mean you two share a connection. With reference to the larger Twitter universe, it does not allude to a “weak tie” or any sort of affiliation beyond some loose colloquial definition of the term that cannot be translated to graph theory. It simply means you enjoy/relate to/find humor in her content. And honestly, who can blame you?

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