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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > September 2010

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Vol. 30 No. 7 — September 2010
FEATURE
Facebook vs. Twitter: Battle of the Social Network Stars
by Curt Tagtmeier

Many questions occupied my thoughts when discussing libraries and social networking. Should a library choose one over the other? Does one service have greater value or return on your investment? Was there an easy way to do both?
Twitter. Facebook. These names stir up feelings, opinions, and experiences in just about all of us. Some love Twitter or Facebook more than life itself, while others merely have a passing fancy in these services. Regardless of the level of involvement, there is no denying the immense popularity of Facebook and Twitter. In July, many websites reported that basketball player Lebron James began a Twitter account just days before he announced his free agency destination. He drew 150,000 followers in 7 hours. Not to be outdone, pop sensation Lady Gaga became the first person on Facebook to reach 10 million fans.

As these services rise in popularity, libraries have begun to use them to reach out to patrons. Some libraries use Twitter but not Facebook. Some use Facebook but not Twitter. Some use both Facebook and Twitter, while others use neither. Yes, the popularity of these social networking services does warrant implementation as a way to reach patrons. But, as I had always preferred using Facebook, was there room for Twitter at the table?

As I struggled with this issue, many questions occupied my thoughts when discussing libraries and social networking. Should a library choose one over the other? What are the major differences, if any? Does one service have greater value or return on your investment? Was there an easy way to do both?

In May 2010, Illinois’ Fremont Public Library, where author Curt Tagtmeier is a reference librarian, began a project that started a Facebook page and a Twitter profile to take advantage of the popularity of social networking. This article will seek to answer the question of whether a library should choose Facebook or Twitter in a battle of the social network stars.

Two Social Networks Compete

Looking at my dilemma of Facebook versus Twitter, I am reminded of a time when people constantly referred to the World Wide Web as the internet. Although the two were not the same entity, people began to use the terms interchangeably. The same thing has happened with Twitter and Facebook. Unfortunately, mainstream media have helped to give the impression that Twitter and Facebook are synonymous, and this is not the case. Before we decide how to use them in libraries, we must first answer the question of the function and purpose of these two tools. They both function as social networking services. However, Facebook as a social network is much more flexible and versatile. You can upload pictures, videos, games, and apps to your profile; embed videos from YouTube; and post calendar events. Twitter, at first glance, only allows for text, more text, and even more text with links. Also, Twitter is a microblogging service while Facebook has many facets including a microblogging component.

The difference between Facebook and Twitter emerges in this quality of versatility, but the distinction between the two tools is much more complex than that. A couple of years ago, such a project and such an article might have been much easier to implement and write, but what has changed is that both services are trying to implement what the other does so well. A couple of years ago, Twitter did not provide share buttons on just about every website on the internet. Facebook pages had not become so popular either, with many users still unsure whether to create a group or a page. Today, however, the distinction is not quite as clear as both services try to become similar to the other. Facebook is becoming more and more active as it has implemented new tools such as a new Facebook Mobile interface. On the other hand, Twitter has tried to make itself more versatile. For example, you now have the ability to link your account to other services such as LinkedIn. Also, the application Twitpic allows users to share pictures through a Twitter account while the application TweetDeck streamlines tweets.

Differences Between Facebook and Twitter

Let us now take a deeper look at each service as truly different entities through a comparison of other available social networks. Yes, both Facebook and Twitter are social networking tools. The reason behind the strong comparison between Facebook and Twitter probably originates with the fact that these services are two of the most popular and recognizable social networking tools on the internet. MySpace and LinkedIn have emerged as the closest services to Facebook while Tumblr is probably the closest microblogging service today to Twitter.

A major difference between Facebook and Twitter emerges in their methods of communication. Facebook is, in fact, meant to be more passive, as Jeff Glasson noted in an early 2008 blog post on the Social Media Today website. In contrast, Twitter seems a much more active form of social communication in which the way you talk to people on the social network emerges as much more conversational. Twitter has been likened to a giant party where you know no one but wish to make many friends. In contrast, Facebook would be a wedding reception filled with family and friends.

When looking at these two tools, one issue comes up quite frequently—the issue of privacy. Privacy seems paramount to the users of Facebook, but Twitter users tend to embrace the feeling that everything is public. Simply look at this difference in the two services: Facebook gives you friends, while Twitter gives you followers. With Facebook, you often need some sort of approval to contact another user while Twitter does not require the same type of approval.

Facebook: The positives: Now, let us take a look at some of the other benefits that you may not know about to using Facebook for your library, which we learned about through our project. This social networking tool gives you the ability to import any blog address. Many libraries, including mine, started blogs years ago on services such as WordPress and Blogger. Yet trends have changed as Facebook has overtaken many of these blogging sites in terms of popularity and relevance. As far as younger audiences go, this benefit of Facebook becomes even more important. A new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that, while one in 10 adults blog, only 14% of teens do, down from nearly 30% in 2006. If you cannot bring the teens to the blog, why not bring the blog to the teens in the form of Facebook? The best part is you do not have to change a thing about your current blog. Colleagues post to the blog in the exact same way as they have done in the past. After placing the blog address in the proper place, every post on the blog is automatically added to your Facebook page. Staff can still contribute to your Facebook page, but they do not require much Facebook expertise. The only downside of importing your blog is you may only use one address. This may require merging if you have multiple blogs.

One common misconception about Facebook is that you cannot customize it. This is not true when discussing Facebook pages as we are today. By using the application Static FBML (Facebook Markup Language), users can create brand new tabs of their own choosing with fully unique content. For example, we created a tab called Reference Desk, which embeds a Meebo instant messaging widget within our Facebook page for our fans to message our service desks. The possibilities seem endless for FBML. They do have certain restrictions, such as Java and certain tags not being allowed. I have only used HTML so far, but for more information, take a look at FBML Essentials by Jesse Stay, which presents the reader with an introduction to such customized design in the Facebook environment.

Twitter: The positives: Let us now take a look at some of the more positive characteristics of Twitter. This service is fantastic for the person with a simple cell phone. What do I mean by simple cell phone? A phone that makes phone calls and sends text messages, not a dynamic BlackBerry or an iPhone with access to a web browser or applications. This is where Twitter fits perfectly into the equation of the wide world of social networks. Twitter allows you to interact while on your computer or your cell phone. Yet, all of this seems a bit more complicated now that Facebook has developed a mobile version of its site. This allows users the ability to update their Facebook statuses via text message. Now, one must ask, why do people continue to use Twitter? One reason is that this service does seem much simpler when viewing the account and profile creation process. The amount of work involved in creating a Facebook account is more involved when compared with Twitter. You can very easily send your first Tweet within 10 minutes of clicking “Sign Up.” Facebook does take time to build up friends and refine your profile to your liking.

Another important reason to maintain a Twitter account is that longtime users become attached to their social networks. They become accustomed to how a social network works and the people on that social network. They swear by that social network much the same way a person loves his or her favorite team or a favorite band. I have a friend who exclusively uses Twitter and completely ignores Facebook. His friends and the people with whom he communicates also utilize Twitter and not Facebook.

Our Facebook/Twitter Project Continues

Now, let us take a closer look at the results of our project, which involved the creation of a Facebook page and a Twitter account at the same time. For a long time, my primary concern had been the issue of logging into a Twitter account and a Facebook account separately to update them. Recently, however, Facebook provided a way for you to connect your Facebook status updates to your Twitter account and vice versa. If, for example, I announce on my Facebook page that the library has a concert, then that same update will post on the library’s Twitter account. You no longer need to log into different accounts to post similar information. This means that you can now use Twitter without a lot of maintenance, because everything can flow through your Facebook account.

This is a trend that offers unbelievable convenience—however, it does not offer a high success rate. An article recently published on Social Media Today helps to explain this. Author Paul Sutton lists “10 Reasons You’re Not Getting Followers on Twitter,”including incomplete profile, automated tweets, repetitive tweets, and spreading your tweets out instead of tweeting a lot in a short time. Even more interesting was this perspective: The ideal Twitter profile should consist of “about 30% conversational @replies, 30% retweets and 40% interesting broadcast tweets, hopefully with an opinion or link, of which only about 25% (10% of total tweets) are self-promotional.” In other words, a successful Twitter campaign honestly connects with its followers. Many experts have said in previous blogs and articles that the successful Twitter account for a business, or in this case a library, will engage with its audience instead of making general informational announcements. This means connecting with your users in ways that reflect their own postings. Make your posts relevant to them.

We have promoted both the library’s Facebook and Twitter presences in the same manner, with signs in our library, links on our website, and a notice in our newsletter. Currently, my library has more than 100 Facebook fans while the Twitter page has six followers. I attribute this to a couple of factors. First, as I indicated previously, we did not make our posts relevant to the Twitter community but instead made our Facebook status updates our Twitter messages. Second—and this factor is out of our control—Facebook might seem more appropriate for a library to use as a social networking tool because of its popularity. From a personal standpoint, my friends—by an overwhelming majority—use Facebook, not Twitter.

Lessons Learned

Where do we go from here? First of all, we must keep promoting and updating our Facebook page. This formula seems to be working just fine by creating unique content not currently found on our website. One thing to remember here: The process of more and more users liking your page is a gradual one. There exists no quick and easy way to build up a fan base (unless, of course, you’re Lebron James or Lady Gaga).

We also have begun to revisit ways in which we can improve the visibility of our Twitter page. We have begun to understand that we cannot just create an account, make a few posts on a weekly basis, and expect the followers to begin to flock to our Twitter. We must now begin to actively follow relevant Twitter users. Another method could come in retweeting posts made by other users to highlight a good book, movie, or CD that your library may own. We may need to define our Twitter audience in an even more focused manner. For example, we are seriously considering creating a separate Twitter account for Readers Advisory. As noted on Businessweek.com, another creative way to use Twitter would be to start a separate account for a big event such as a concert or a fundraiser. You would identify the account by that event’s name. The message generated by Twitter to the users would serve as the invitation to the event.

Our project so far has also taught us some of the more successful promotion methods online to generate fans or followers for our Facebook or Twitter. For example, we need to continue to create unique and innovative ways to make our Facebook special. We must continue to offer dynamic services, which friends of friends see our fans using on their newsfeeds. As for Twitter, the best way to promote the account is to follow relevant users and make quality posts to those accounts that are interesting to those users. Yet, Twitter and Facebook are not completely different to promote. This method of following can emerge as productive for Facebook accounts as well. We have begun to look at other community pages that are appropriate for our library, such as posting quick bulletins on community pages such as the local community college. Finally, we plan on holding drawings for prizes for new fans or followers, which can be successful on both Facebook and Twitter.

And the Winner Is …

Now, what are we to make of all this social networking talk: Twitter or Facebook, Facebook or Twitter, Facebook and Twitter? Based on my library’s project results and what I have learned about Facebook and Twitter, I have chosen to try to make both a successful Facebook page and a Twitter profile. Social networking can come in many forms, and a user can pick the website or application that he or she prefers. Many choices are out there for everyone to pick from, and as promoters we must consider all of the social networks, not the ones we prefer as users. The library is now in the unique position to use the wide variety of social networks available to market everything good about our unique services. Before anything else, we must remember that each social networking tool has its own special value. If Facebook and Twitter were replicas of each other, then I would say that choosing one over the other would be appropriate. However, the two services communicate in different ways to different users with a different kind of impact. Finally, whether it be Facebook or Twitter, there is no overnight shortcut to creating a successful page or profile. Hard work and patience will always be a part of adding fans or followers. The critics out there may say that it is a wasted effort. My answer would be that the popularity of social networking does not seem to be fading at all, and you will never know its promotional value until you try for yourself.


Curt Tagtmeier (ctagtmeier@fremontlibrary.org) is a reference librarian at Fremont Public Library in Mundelein, Ill. He coordinates web services for the library, including its website, Facebook page, and Twitter profile. Curt graduated from Illinois State University in 2000 with an M.S. in history and from Dominican University in 2002 with an M.L.S.
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