twitter-logo-100x100Are you a Twitter user? Or are you a registered user who rarely uses this microblogging service that seems to be mentioned everywhere these days? If you use Twitter, what do you use it for, and if you click on links, why? Are you more likely to click on links that a friend a shared on Facebook or on Twitter? You’d think that the answer to the last question would be “Facebook,” since you’re more likely to know your “friends” there than in your Twitter network, but according to findings by marketing firm SocialTwist, Twitter is the clear winner at present. But this might be one of those “lying with statistics” situations.

Let’s look at this from the all sides. All indications in the past year are that a lot of people sign up for Twitter but rarely or never use it. Even a relatively early adopter such as myself who signed up in early 2007 didn’t use Twitter regularly until late 2008. Even still, I go through periods where I don’t use it all, despite the fact that I’m actually working on some Twitter analysis tools for the iPad, as well as work in social media quite regularly. (The main reason is that if I am tweeting, it’s often for clients, not for myself — just like how when I’m busy, I don’t have time to blog here on this site.)

So if I’m not microblogging on Twitter regularly on my personal account, why would anyone who isn’t in some way involved in online marketing and social media tweet daily? How then are SocialTwist’s findings, as reported by Fast Company, showing that content links (for articles, blog posts, video, Web presentations, ebooks, etc.) on Twitter are clicked more than six times as often as content links shared on Facebook? Personally, I’d think the situation would be quite the opposite for several reasons:

  1. Facebook streams (i.e., your profile Wall) are more visual, thanks to content snapshots.
  2. Twitter stream items are limited to 140 characters of text. Only. (Though Twitter is trying to make it easier to share images.)
  3. Twitter links are typically cryptic, thanks to “URL shorteners” such as bit.ly, ow.ly, goo.gl and so on. You’d think people would be less likely to click on a link when they don’t necessarily know where it leads — especially with all the computer viruses Windows-based PCs tend to suffer.

With a clickthrough rate six times that of Facebook, Twitter is now commanding $100K per day for their Promoted Tweet ads. That’s $100K for roughly 140 characters of advertising text. But exactly who is clicking links in tweets? Between the time I signed up and when I really got into tweeting, Twitter maybe had 25-50M registered users — not active users. They now have about 165M users and handle close to 100M tweets per day — a frequency their infrastructure definitely cannot handle. Compare this to Facebook’s 500M+ users.

So what’s going on? (Since Twitter users are more likely to follow celebrity Twitter accounts than be followed, maybe that’s a factor?) I’m going to make an educated guess, based on my background in math, statistics, computing and, more recently, social media. I haven’t done the math, but instead of boring you, I suggest you trust me on this. Comparing clickthrough rates between Facebook and Twitter users really makes no sense for now. When you average out daily clickthrough rates for Facebook’s very large and broad user base, it’s not mathematically surprising that it’s overall rate is lower. It’s like comparing apples and oranges, since Twitter users are probably more likely be involved in social marketing — my feeling — and are still in the early-adopter category, whereas Facebook users are not. The two Web services in general have very different purposes, with some overlap, as pointed out in a Web slideshow presentation over at Mashable, which discusses the differences between Twitter and Facebook.

However, if Twitter reaches its goal of pushing for a billion users — as pointed out in a Bloomberg article — before Facebook does (really quite unlikely, given FB is at over 500M users already and Twitter has a third of that, but never say never), then let’s see if Twitter’s overall clickthrough rate still maintains its lead. I say not, unless Twitter becomes more of a social network than it is now — where it’s more like a social news service. Twitter is overhauling their infrastructure and allowing for more information to be carried per tweet, so it’s possible that 3rd-party developers might start building desktop, Web or Mobile interfaces that give Twitter a similar look and feel and usages as Facebook. But if that happens, the Twitter of tomorrow will have transformed from its current purposes, and so I think it’s unfair to currently compare clickthrough rates.

Links: Fast Company, Social Twist, Mashable, Bloomberg.

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