Twitter is overrated, you should switch to Facebook

It turns out that, when you dig through the stats, Twitter is grossly overrated as a platform. It is useful, for sure, but the numbers Silicon Alley Insider published about a month ago reveal a very different picture to the one we perhaps have at the moment. These numbers also suggest that you should be looking seriously at Facebook as your preferred platform instead.

Twitter pushes its registered users figures but the key figures are not how many people are registered to use the service but rather how many people are engaging with each other on Twitter. While there are roughly 175 million registered users, the data used to create this chart suggests that the number of users who are likely to be engaged on Twitter is closer to about 15 million users or so. This is based on the assumption that more engaged people probably follow at least 50 people.

Here are some interesting figures from the Silicon Alley Insider post:

Using data that is now just one month old, he found out that…

  • There were 119 million Twitter accounts following one or more other accounts.
  • There were 85 million accounts with one or more followers.

With these figures, and Twitter’s claim of 175 million accounts, a little subtraction shows us that there are 56 million Twitter accounts following zero other accounts, and 90 million Twitter accounts with zero followers.

The estimates used to determine active users are a bit of a thumbsuck based on information from Facebook that users tend not to stick around unless they have at least 10 friends. Assuming the same principle applies, SAI looked at how many Twitter users follow at least 8 users and found that number to be 56 million people. Roughly 12 million Twitter users follow 64 users.

Compare that to Facebook and you begin to see that my blog post title isn’t that much of an exaggeration. Facebook has 600+ million active monthly users. About half of those users return every day. Add to this the estimated 250 million Facebook users who use Facebook Connect each month.

Its almost common knowledge that there are a lot of people on Facebook and yet Twitter seems to be the platform of choice for the digerati. That has a lot to do with the tools available to use Twitter. It is simple, constrained and pretty easy to share stuff using @-reply conventions and hashtags. It is definitely a useful service and services like Hashable will probably spread quite nicely using Twitter as their underlying platform.

On the other hand, Facebook has implemented a number of features which bring Facebook into parity with Twitter on many of these fronts and without the code-like jargon we see in tweets. Using the @-reply convention, you can now invoke other Facebook users in status updates and comments and, subject to the other party’s settings (probably more so in individual users’ cases), your posts will appear in their stream and link back to your post. Here is an example:

FB post to DA 1

I published this post to my Facebook Page and this is what appeared on the DA’s Group Wall:

FB post to DA 2

Facebook updates are varied. You can publish longer status updates, questions, links, photos and videos (not to mention longer form notes) and this additional complexity may dissuade some users. On the other hand, the posts are cleaner and are not packed with hashtags and @-replies (one of the reasons I have held off syncing my Facebook Page with my Twitter stream is that I don’t want hashtags and other Twitter conventions to pollute Facebook updates).

Facebook’s variable privacy levels allow users to publish public and restricted updates to their Walls or user could create public Facebook Pages as their public profile pages on Facebook and keep their personal profiles private and restricted to friends and family. This is pretty much what I have done and I think there are some real benefits there are more and more engage with me on the Page. The challenge is getting the word out, attracting new fans to the Page and establishing the Page as a hub.

Going beyond the merits of each platform from a usability and accessibility perspective, the sheer numbers involved can’t be ignored. There are far more engaged people using Facebook every day than Twitter has total registered users. When you start whittling the registered users numbers down to something more accurately approximating active users or even engaged users, Twitter becomes a drop in the ocean compared to Facebook.






  1. anib avatar

    sneaky way to get politicians off twitter. i like.

  2. Rob Wingader avatar

    Hmmm. I can’t argue with your arithmetic, Paul, but there’s a LOT you haven’t addressed, and I’m not sure how to address…but I am sure that your argument is the analog to LeBron James is the MVP because his stats are better than Derrick Rose’s stats. It’s stats vs. ecosystem. Stats: Facebook. Ecosystem: Twitter in a landslide. Same with LBJ and DRose. If you look past the numbers (and Facebook’s numbers ARE gaudy!) Twitter’s openness and the ability it affords its users to self organize make it a better platform in many ways. As Roger Ebert might tweet, “It’s not what the [platform] is about, it’s about how it is about it.”

    A few things:

    Point 1: I personally only follow about 215 people and I’m starting to feel as though it’s really too many. Even at that relatively tame number, there’s no way I can keep up with everyone’s tweets. Following 500 accounts? 1000? 524,000?!?! Unless you’re a bot or you literally only sit in front of your TweetDeck all day, you can’t do it. In the last case, only a bot could garner any meaning from the tweet stream. Point being this: it’s much more important to follow a few people, so your tweet feed is manageable, than to follow thousands of users.

    Point 2: If I’m interested in information, I can search for it on twitter. Trending topics, hashtags, #usguys,…lots of ways to find what’s going on and what’s important to me. On facebook, I don’t even know how to do that unless one of my friends posts something on my wall or sends me a message about it. FBook FAIL, in my opinion. WooHOOO that there are more readers on Facebook.

    Point 3: Twitter has lists which allow users to “follow” other users’ tweets without actually following them. This is actually a great way to “extract meaning” from the flood of tweets that would otherwise be impossible to follow, as the tweets can grouped by a topic, a geography, a graduating class from one’s high school or college, a group of like-minded (or differently-minded) political pundits, etc. I know plenty of people who technically follow almost no twitter accounts, preferring to make extensive use of lists in stead. Unless a person’s “Listed” count is included in his/her “Followers” count, this isn’t even close to an accurate analysis. Furthermore, even if “Listed” IS included, that’s still potentially misleading because I 1000 people can follow a list that follows me, but no one might follow me individually. In that case, i would have 0 followers and be listed 1 time, but I’d have 1000 people who were reading my tweets. And that’s without my…

    Point 4: Retweets (both the “new” official retweet and the old (better) RT method can greatly increase the readership of a good tweet I post, regardless of the number of followers I have.

    Point 5: Facebook requires, for the most part, that you already know the people with whom you’re interacting. Facebook Pages, Sharing, and the ubiquitous “Like” button do somewhat enable self-organization, but for the most part, Twitter (in my opinion) is about 10,000x better for finding and considering the opinions of people you don’t already know. The abilities within twitter to hashtag important keywords or buzzwords, easily retweet and comment on others’ tweets, and to follow another person or organization’s tweets without necessarily having that party’s express consent are very powerful tools for idea/thought/information dissemination. Facebook’s structure just can’t hang with that.

    I’m going to stop here. My keyboard and monitor are running out of ink. 😉

    Edit: P.S. a few more things I just thought of:

    1. When I tweet something it gets posted to facebook, too if I want.
    2. I can follow twitter accounts using an RSS feed like Google Reader. I’m not sure facebook allows outgoing RSS feeds.
    3. Twitter DOESN’T try to get ALL of my personal information so it can sell it to someone, which makes me feel a lot warmer and fuzzier than the crap facebook is CONSTANTLY in the news for trying to pull.

    Goodbye, again.

  3. pauljacobson avatar

    Rob, thanks for the terrific and well thought out reply to my Facebook/Twitter post. I’ve had a really interesting debate with @shiraabel on my Facebook page too at about whether Facebook is even architected for what people use Twitter for. Reading your and Shira’s comments, its clear that numbers aren’t everything. Its also about culture and architecture.

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