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Musings & Rumblings on Twitter vs. Facebook

Idealware recently introduced a great tool for nonprofits thinking about using Twitter and Facebook for organizational communications. The tool is a great introduction to some of the differences between the two services and where they may be useful. I wanted to pile onto that conversation with some thoughts that I always share with nonprofits considering the two tools.

I generally say that Twitter is a tool to reach new people and spread an announcement or link far and quickly while Facebook acts as a gathering place for your community; those who are already fans or committed to your cause. This is in contrast to your website which is generally the official place to get information about your organization. In other words, a place primarily for people who don’t know about you yet. Check out Aspiration’s Spectrums of Engagement slidedeck (PDF) for more info.

This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive list. Just some important differences to consider when comparing Facebook and Twitter as online communications channels.


  • Twitter

    In Twitter, by default anyone can follow anyone, meaning that if I want to “follow” Shaq, all I have to do is find out his username and hit follow. To “follow” someone simply means that I’ll start seeing his tweets in my “stream.” A Twitter user can make his or her tweets private, but this is not the norm and few people do it.

  • Facebook

    Facebook is built on the idea that a person has to accept you as a “friend” in order for you to follow them (see their posts and profile). They recently implemented a way to follow someone’s status posts, similar to Twitter, without having to be accepted as a friend by that person.

Character limits

  • Twitter

    Twitter, intended to be used by anyone with a mobile phone has a character limit of 140 characters to allow a tweet to be sent as a text which themselves are limited to 160 characters. This gives Twitter 20 characters to include a username if someone is getting tweet updates on their phone through text. e.g. mattgar: I found the BEST blog today!

    URL shorteners, like, have blown up in popularity because of this character limit. A URL shortener will shorten a long URL into a short one, taking up less characters and thus allowing Twitter users to share links without taking up an entire tweet.

  • Facebook

    Facebook, not originally connected to SMS, has a character limit of 420 characters.

@ Functionality

  • Twitter

    In Twitter, you can “mention” someone in a tweet and the person who you mentioned is automatically notified (it shows up in a separate @ section when they log in). All you have to do to mention another user is type “@” and then their username (e.g. @aspirationtech). This means that if I want, I can “mention” Obama or Cher or any other person I want and they’ll be auto-notified.

    If you put @username at the very beginning of a tweet, that tweet only shows up in the stream of that username and to those following both the sender and the receiver. For instance, if I follow both Bob and Jim and Bob sends a tweet: @Jim Are you going to the party tonight? I would see that tweet in my stream because I follow both Bob and Jim, however if I didn’t follow one of them, the tweet wouldn’t show up in my stream. The tweet is still public though so I could see it on Bob’s Twitter page or by searching Twitter. In contrast, if Bob were to tweet: Are you going to the party tonight, @Jim? Everyone following Bob would see it because the mention wasn’t at the very beginning. However, Jim would still be notified that he was “mentioned.” Confused yet?

  • Facebook

    In Facebook, you can also “mention” a person or an account. In a status update, if you type “@”, and then start typing a friend’s name or an organization that you “like” on Facebook, a drop down menu will pop up with people/orgs associated with you from which you can choose who you want to mention. When you choose someone to mention this way, the status post that you are writing will also show up on the wall of whoever you mentioned. So, if I write a status post saying that my friend Bob and I went to the movies, mentioning Bob with the @ functionality, that status post will show up on Bob’s wall as well. The post on Bob’s wall, however, will be attributed to me.


  • Twitter

    A Twitter user has two streams. One, the posts (or “Tweets”) that he or she has posted herself. And Two, the tweets of those Twitter users that she follows. The posts that show up in this second stream are anything that the person she is following has posted (unless the poster is using the @ functionality for a specific person she doesn’t follow).

  • Facebook

    Facebook on the other hand has two streams for a user to see the posts of people they follow. “Top News” and “Most Recent.” “Most Recent” works similar to Twitter’s stream. Unless you’ve explicited told Facebook to hide someone’s post, it will show up on “Most Recent” in chronological order of posting date. However, by default, “Top News” is displayed when you log into Facebook. “Top News” is a collection of posts that Facebook thinks you will be interested in. How Facebook determines this is secret but we do know that the more interaction a post gets (likes, comments, shares), the more likely it is to show up in your Top News. This is important to know because unlike Twitter where every post is on an even playing field, Facebook posts are weighted. This means that you may post something on Facebook as an organization and someone you were trying to target doesn’t even see it because they either choose to “hide” your status posts or your post didn’t cut muster enough to show up in the “Top News”

Additional Content

  • Twitter

    Twitter is all text. You can link to additional content through a URL, but things like Photos and Videos are not integrated into Twitter.

  • Facebook

    Facebook however, will store a larger amount of content including photos, discussions and videos. This makes Facebook like a separate website for your community where they can interact, share photos, discussions and video.


  • Twitter

    In Twitter, because the vast majority of tweets are public, searches are a great resource to find out what is going on. Go to and you can search posts from most of the people on Twitter.

  • Facebook

    In Facebook, because of the privacy walls that are up (that they’re trying to take down), searches are a lot less useful and only search “public posts” by the people and orgs you follow. A little while back, Facebook tried to mitigate this by making status posts public by default but then people found out, were outraged and Facebook showed how to change it in your preferences. There are still sites that search public Facebook posts and pages but the results are usually dismal at best and you should expect poor results for any listening on Facebook.


  • Twitter

    Twitter does not thread conversations. If you were to ask a question, people can respond but an outside observer would have to search around to find out what people were saying because only the person that people are tweeting at sees a compiled list.

  • Facebook

    Facebook does thread conversations. This means that if you want to keep replies connected to the original post, Facebook is the way to go. This is a great way to have discussions around an issue in a more organized way that others can easily see the progression of. If I ask a question on our Facebook page, responses are grouped under that original question so you can maintain a discussion around an issue easily without having to search for responses like in Twitter.

Forwarding Content

  • Twitter

    In Twitter, a standard practice is to “retweet” or re-post a status update of someone you follow through your own Twitter account, kind of like forwarding an email. The convention was to type RT @username and then their tweet. This became such a standard behavior on Twitter, that Twitter introduced official “Retweet” functionality that worked the same way but simply displayed the tweet from the original poster. So let’s say I follow Bob but not his friend Jim who he follows on Twitter. If Bob uses the Retweet functionality to retweet one of Jim’s posts, I would see a post of Jim in my stream even though I don’t follow him. Underneath the post, it would say “retweeted by Bob.” Many people are old-school and simply type “RT @username” or “via @username” and then the status post to attribute tweets to other people. Because anyone can follow anyone without permission* on Twitter, retweeting is one way in which things can “go viral.” Let’s say that I post a video and one of my 1000 followers retweets it and one of their 1000 followers retweets it again and so on. You can imagine how a good piece of content can get super far super quickly.

  • Facebook

    Forwarding content in Facebook is a little more awkward and not done as often. When people post articles, photos or content (vs just a textual status post), there is an option to “Share” that content, which basically means to re-post that content through your own Facebook account and auto-attribute whoever originally posted it. In theory, this should work similarly to Retweeting, however in my experience, not many people “share” things on Facebook and therefore most content and messages stay within the same networks in which they were initially introduced.

Again, this is just some of the thoughts that I share to orgs who ask me about the differences between Facebook and Twitter as communications tools. I hope this helps you curious organizational social media beginners!

What are your tips for those checking out Twitter and Facebook as organizational tools?

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