If I didn’t think it would start a riot, I’d suggest we do away with “social media” altogether. Not the media, but the term. By lumping widely disparate vehicles together on one term, we give people the mistaken idea that they all do more or less the same thing. This seems to be especially true of Facebook and Twitter, which have just enough in common to feed the mistaken idea that they’re two tools for doing the same job.
After all, both allow only short messages (140 for Twitter and 420 for Facebook). Both let you post photos and links. Both allow people to connect with you by following you (Twitter) or becoming your Facebook friend. And indeed, a lot of the “social media” posting utilities, such as Tweetdeck and Seesmic, allow you to post to both, simply by clicking a second icon. So I guess it’s easy to see them as more or less equivalent.
But here’s the big difference: Twitter can allow you to reach a targeted group of thousands, regardless of how many “followers” you have, whereas Facebook makes reaching out beyond your “friend” base much more difficult and less certain. On the other hand, Facebook provides a far better place to have conversations and develop relationships. I find it helpful to think of Facebook as a telephone (OK, maybe one with a party line) allowing two-way conversations, whereas Twitter is more like a PA system, better suited to one-way communication.
When I hear someone brag about having thousands of Twitter followers, I just roll my eyes, because in most cases, those followers may have very little to do with what you wish to accomplish. Instead, it’s better to place your messages on appropriate channels using hash tags (you create a hash tag by putting a # at the beginning of a work, e.g. #hashtags). We’ll talk more about that later.
Yes, I know you can reach people searching for topics on Facebook, but that doesn’t seem to be the way people are using it for now. It may change later, but for the moment, think Twitter PA and Facebook telephone.