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Why Twitter is different from Facebook, and what that means for TV

November 04, 2013

While we’re all thinking through the future of social + TV, it’s important to think through a critical piece about Facebook vs. Twitter: Facebook is a true social network, while Twitter is essentially a blog platform that’s often called social.

Here’s what I mean. On Facebook, you share conversations and experiences with your friends; on Twitter, you readily seek out content from content and brands. For just a small example, think of the suggestions about who you should engage with next: Facebook suggests people who you’re likely to know; Twitter suggests twitter handles that include content that’s similar to your taste profile—including brands and personalities you’ll never actually know. Plus, through trending topics and hashtags, Twitter invites its users into global conversations; that kind of open engagement just doesn’t make sense on Facebook. Ultimately, that means Facebook will end up knowing a lot more about you, the person (even to the point of knowing when you’ll break up); but Twitter might have the better chance of fueling your less-personal interests and passions online.

Yes, Facebook has hashtags and fan pages, too, but you don’t experience them in the same way—because Facebook is a private experience you share with friends; Twitter is a semi-public forum you use for hearing from, and sharing with, the world.

What that means for social television is that TV is poised to have a moment of being split in two. For the past 50 years, TV has been a one-to-one reach play (many viewers engaging with content in their private homes) and the world’s greatest ad-driven social glue (at the water cooler, with the family, at parties, etc.). And for the brands advertising on TV, that’s meant that TV was able to reach a lot of people at once—while also becoming a piece of the social fabric.

Now that we’re extending the TV experience into the social sphere, we’re essentially bringing the reach play to one network (Twitter), and the social component to a different one (Facebook—which, not coincidentally, actually has the lion’s share of TV-related social sharing).

That has a lot of repercussions, but I’ll just point out one repercussion around data. Twitter data is effectively reach data, which is an extension of the data we’re all used to looking at for TV. Meanwhile, Facebook data is purely social data—effectively, it’s putting data around the water cooler conversation, which is something entirely new. That distinction around data might be part of the reason why Facebook seems to be slower to become a part of the social TV universe, and Twitter seems to be moving faster: it’s easier to extend an old model than it is to layer in something entirely new. But once you do bring that new data into the mix, powerful things can start to happen.

Ultimately, the media world understands all of this—which is why I see huge impact for Twitter and Facebook in the TV future.