In the social media world, arguably the two highest profile tools are Facebook and Twitter. Both have become powerful tools for nonprofits not only for fundraising, but also for posting relevant news and connecting to groups of people otherwise unreached. However, while the two are often used together in the same sentence, Twitter and Facebook have historically had different roles.
Twitter has always existed outside of a traditional “closed system” model. Users of Twitter, a real-time, “micro-blogging” service, post short 140 character messages that anyone (including the general public) can read and search. This means that non-Twitter users can search for information and see it in its entirety without setting up a Twitter account of their own. It also means that Twitter users can see information posted by any other Twitter user. Posts on Twitter range from people talking about their great scrambled eggs to being the first to break local and global news to cultivating surprisingly rich conversations about a variety of topics. With the rise of Twitter clients like Twitteriffic and Twirl, Twitter users are now able to send and receive updates without having to surf to the website. The Twitter website itself became unnecessary, leaving Tweets to thrive outside of their “home,” so to speak.
Facebook, on the other hand, has focused on providing that “home.” A place where people can find information about their contacts. The focus has been more about facts than conversation. Users create profile pages that present information about themselves. Organizations can also use pages to present their information, causes to raise money and groups for their supporters to join. In the past, Facebook has had a closed door where you not only had to have an account to view other facebook user data, but you actually had to be Facebook “friends” with that person, essentially limiting information viewing to your personal network. However, Facebook has had a steady evolution which has opened up more and more of its content. Pages from organizations are now viewable without a Facebook account and anyone can create a profile (originally it was limited to Harvard University students, then college students). Wall posts (one on one messages that are posted on your profile page) can now be viewed in wall-to-wall conversation style and with the introduction of the Newsfeed, Facebook users were suddenly able to get updates on their friends without having to look for them. On top of that, status messages became Facebook’s answer to Twitter’s updates. However, they remained private unless you were that person’s facebook friend.
Recently though, a major ripple has gone through the Tech blogosphere with the introduction of a few new features. First off, Facebook’s Stream feature has been added which provides real-time updates as to what a Facebook user is doing. Unlike Newsfeed, Stream is updated in real time so that, combined with a Facebook user’s status updates, it mimics Twitter’s real-time update feed. Second, Facebook has made a larger distinction between public and personal pages allowing public pages to be even more public catering to organization, celebrities and organizations. These two features combined are obviously a challenge to the model that Twitter is using as a provider of real time contact information which has gained increasing popularity among celebrities. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder has expressed his feeling that status updates are going to be very important in the future of community engagement and Facebook had even tried to buy Twitter in late 2008 but Twitter declined the offer.
Now that Facebook is diving into the same water that Twitter has doggie-paddled in for years, are we about to see a large shakeup in how people use each tool? While Facebook has far more users, are they really looking for the same functionality from FB as they would get from Twitter? And most importantly, what does this mean for nonprofit users?
Nonprofits have been using both Twitter and Facebook as effective (and free) ways to engage with their communities. A few good examples include:
- The American Red Cross on Twitter, which allows you follow both the national Red Cross as well as your local branch
- United Cerebral Palsy who have a fully fleshed out Facebook page complete with videos, news, information and followers.
- Athlete’s For a Cure was voted the best Twitter user in the nonprofit world
- Mashable’s Nonprofit Twitter List
The difference for nonprofits may or may not be negligible. Some may see it as another way in which to explore community engagement while others see another medium in which to re-acquaint themselves for little ROI.
What do you think? Do you think that organizations using Facebook are going to start paying more attention to the Stream rather than staying up to date with their Twitter contacts? Or are people going to reject having to stay in the Facebook framework to get real-time updates about the people they follow? Or will this affect nonprofits at all? Let us know your thoughts.