One of the simplest things to assume when you realise that there is a huge number of social networking sites, is that they’re all the same. Twitter is just like Facebook, but shorter, right?
There are hundreds of social networking sites. I’m not going to talk about them all, because we’d be here all week.
You can categorise them by their content – e.g. blogging (blogger); micro blogging (twitter); specific interests (ShareTheMusic); business (Linkedin); etc. Or by popularity – Orkut is probably the biggest social network, with Facebook not far behind and much more dominant in the UK. You could also look at national popularity – e.g. Brazil (Orkut); UK (FriendsReunited); Spain (Tuenti). Or really, by any other more or less random allocation. When you look at social networks like this, it’s easy to think “I’ll just use Facebook, because that’s international, really popular, and I use it already”.
That is, at one level, a rational response to a huge amount of information. But it misses out the crucial categorisation question of social networking: is it a search engine? Your (reasonable) response may be, no, it’s a social network. But you might be wrong. The question ‘is it a search engine’ tells you who you are targeting when you use that network. Does it basically tick through search? I’ll explain.
So – on facebook, you get to know people in a number of ways. You can search for their email address; invite them via email; search for their name (but they might be hidden); or most importantly, you will find one friend, then become friends with one of their friends, then recognise another friend… and so on. Facebook is not a search engine. It really only functions within the scope of people who you already know, or who already know you. In commercial terms – Facebook targets the customers you already have – the people who already know about you, or you know about them. This is super important – because these people already know you, maybe they already like you and have bought from you. Existing customers are important – they’re the easiest ones to keep. But they’re also the worst to upset.
Twitter, by comparison, is a search engine. You probably will find people you already know via email, or username. But twitter has an important facility which Facebook doesn’t have: search. You can search people’s tweets for phrases and words, and unlike Facebook, most people don’t protect their profiles or tweets. That is to say – you can reach out to people who you don’t already know. You can search for people who are interested in the same things you are – who don’t yet know about you – and tell them about yourself.
Why is this important? Well, a new customer has different needs to an existing customer, and should be targeted accordingly. So next time you look at YouTube, Orkut, or Linkedin, ask yourself: is this a search engine?