I was reading a post on AllThingsD about the Twitter+Facebook tie-up that wasn’t. I have been scratching my head since reading that post – it’s good reporting but I still can’t figure out why Facebook would want to buy Twitter.
Twitter is building a very interesting community of users with very different norms from Facebook. As an active user of both services, I think there are three basic things that really differentiate the Twitter audience from that of Facebook:
–Self-promotion is much more acceptable on Twitter – Promoting one’s own products, brands, services or general wares is much more widely-accepted on Twitter. Whether it’s sharing links to blog posts, talking about new product announcements, or whatever, twitterers seem less bothered and generally more tolerant of such behavior.
–Twitter has a laserlike focus on simple content sharing – it’s a communications utility, not a social utility. It makes the value proposition for Twitter much simpler to understand and allows users to interact with people on a simple level without having to know everything else that’s going on in that person’s life (wall posts, photos, virtual gifts, new friendships, relationships, etc).
–More appropriate relationship with brands / non-human entities – I don’t actually know that I want to fan or become friends with brands on Facebook. For the few brands I do follow, I don’t really get much for it – I don’t hear from them or get any communications of value from them. The same is not true on Twitter. There are a number of brands that I follow on Twitter and I find that to be a much more satisfying experience – I hear from them from time to time and it’s usually interesting or useful information. I also follow a few entities on Twitter (Caltrain and BART) and find the experience to be a useful way to stay up to date on commute-related delays. I can’t imagine that I’d want to be a fan / friend of either of these entities – follower is the right relationship given the way in which I interact with them.
When I look at why Twitter is interesting and why it might be interesting to Facebook, the only answer I can come up with is that Twitter might be another tool to help Facebook improve its somewhat awkward relationship with advertisers and brands. Brands and users seem to get along much better on Twitter than they do on Facebook – the follower / followee relationship between brands and users makes a lot more sense to me than the “let’s be friends” or “fan” model that other social networks are testing. Also, the open nature of most Twitter conversations makes it much easier for brands to get a sense for what users are saying about their products and services.
Despite the better fit in terms of the relationship between users and brands that Twitter offers, I’m not sure that they will be able to a) turn that into a business model and b) turn it into a model that justifies a multi hundred million dollar pricetag.
As is the case for all companies that achieve scale, there comes a point where competitors will beat you on point features or experiences. In reading between the lines, it seems to me that Facebook might be grappling with the onset of this reality and how they want to address it. In the event that there is a modicum of envy over the level of success that Twitter has achieved with status updates, it certainly won’t be the last time that a smaller company develops a feature around an activity that Facebook feels it ought to own.