Note from Jimmy Hua: Everyone believes that they know what social media means and what that consist of. However, there are differences between different types of social media outlets. Each one gets to your users in a different way and can be leverage differently to get the maximum effect.
This post is shared through my Google Reader from another source. All credit of the post belongs to them which you can access by going to Facebook, Twitter and The Two Branches of Social Media [OP-ED]
There’s no disputing that Facebook is the poster child for social networking. It is the platform for building social connections online and keeping up to date with what’s happening in your social circle. It is one of the two most important platforms in social media.
The other one is Twitter. However, if you try to describe Twitter as a “social network” to anyone who works at the company, they’ll quickly correct you. Internally and externally, Twitter describes itself as an “information network.”
What exactly is the difference? And is there one?
People have used the terms “social media” and “social network” almost interchangeably over the years. It’s inaccurate to say that they’re the same thing, though. In fact, I argue that social networking is a branch of social media, and can itself be further broken down into two distinct branches — the social network and the information network.
It’s with this distinction that I attempt to explain the relationship between Facebook and Twitter, and why I believe they are not destined for a clash of the titans. Instead, they represent two different sides of the same coin.
The Difference Between Facebook and Twitter
It’s easy to see why most people think Facebook and Twitter are essentially the same. The core of their experiences focuses around profiles, relationships and a newsfeed. But if you dig a bit deeper, you realize that people use each platform for different purposes.
On Facebook, you’re supposed to connect with close friends. Becoming friends with someone means he or she gets to see your content, but you also get to see his or her content in return. On Twitter, that’s not the case: you choose what information you want to receive, and you have no obligation to follow anybody. Facebook emphasizes profiles and people, while Twitter emphasizes the actual content (in its case, tweets).
The result is that the stream of information is simply different on both services. You’re more likely to talk about personal issues, happy birthday wishes, gossip about a changed Facebook relationship status, and postings about parties on your Facebook News Feed. On Twitter, you’re more likely to find links and news, and you’re more likely to follow brands, news sources and other entities outside of your social graph. In fact, Twitter tells me that one out of every four tweets includes a link to some form of content.
There’s also interesting data from a team of Korean researchers suggesting that information sharing is fundamentally different on Twitter when compared to social networks. Their conclusion was that Twitter has “characteristics of news media” rather than characteristics of a social network.
In other words, Facebook and Twitter are different once you look past their social media roots. Now it’s time to define the difference between a social network and an information network.
Social Networks vs. Information Networks
This may seem obvious, but social networks are about your social networks. Specifically, the focus is on your friends, colleagues and personal connections. They are about sharing personal or professional experiences together. They are about keeping in touch with friends rather than discovering news or content. Facebook, LinkedIn, Bebo, MySpace, hi5 and Orkut clearly fall under the “social networking” branch of social media.
The concept of an information network is a more recent phenomenon. Information networks are about leveraging different networks to distribute and consume information. While they may utilize an array social media tools in order to find, curate or deliver content, they focus less on what’s happening in your social graph and more on information you want. Twitter may be the best example of an information network, but YouTube (video), Flickr (photos) and Digg (news) are information networks as well.
Pretty much every social media platform has aspects of both types of networks, but they tend to fall into one category or the other. I contend that Foursquare is a social network because it utilizes Facebook’s friend model instead of Twitter’s follow model, but you might have a different opinion.
In fact, that may be the biggest differentiating point between social networks and information networks. For the most part, content on Flickr, YouTube or Twitter is public, while content on MySpace, Facebook or Bebo is private. A big reason for that is that the former services utilize the follow or subscription model, while the latter ones utilize the friend model.
I consider this article to be the start, not the end, of an exploration of how we define social media and the services that comprise it. We tend to group Facebook, Twitter and an array of other web tools into one giant pile, when in fact they’re vastly different tools with vastly different applications and uses.
Facebook, with its mutual friend connections and college-exclusive beginnings, is better suited for keeping in touch with friends. For most people, it is indeed a network of your social graph, all in one place. Twitter, on the other hand, is all about the stream of information coming from people and organizations all across the world. That’s why there’s room for both: they simply provide different functions.
If we are to take social media further and further change the world with social technologies, we need to better understand how we use these technologies. The first step is understanding how we as a society currently utilize social networks and information networks in our daily lives. There are many intricacies that underlie social and information networks, most of which we don’t yet understand.
More Social Media Resources from Mashable:
– 5 Fun and Safe Social Networks for Children
– New Facebook Groups Designed to Change the Way You Use Facebook [VIDEO]
– “SNL” Spoofs Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg [VIDEO]
– HOW TO: Customize Your Background for the New Twitter
– Top 10 Twitter Tips for Bands, By Bands
Reviews: Bebo, Digg, Facebook, Flickr, Foursquare, Hi5, LinkedIn, MySpace, Orkut, Twitter, YouTube, iStockphoto
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