social media showdown: facebook vs. linkedin vs. twitter (an unofficial test)

i recently had the opportunity to do a (highly unscientific) study around the business efficacy of three popular social networking sites, namely facebook, linkedin and twitter.  most people have at least heard of these sites, but here’s a run-down of how i use each:

facebook — i mainly use this for extracurricular activity, that is, communicating with friends and family about my personal, non-work, non-professional interests. i do have a lot of current and former co-workers in my “friends” list here and belong to several professional groups, but my primary reason for logging onto the site is to interact and communicate with friends about personal topics and goings on.

number of facebook contacts: approx. 270

linkedin — i use this site exclusively for professional networking. my resume (“CV” for the non-american or snooty reader) is on the site, and the majority of my contacts are people with whom i’ve worked. i don’t share anything about my non-work life on this site, and use it to keep updated on the work-lives of friends and coworkers.

number of linkedin contacts: approx. 200

twitter — i use this site to communicate from both a professional and personal perspective. there are a lot of journalists on twitter, and as a PR practitioner, it helps a lot to know what they like and dislike to make sure you’re providing them with news and information that’s of interest to them and their readers.  following their “tweets” gives you insight you can’t get from just reading what they’ve published or meeting them at briefings, tradeshows or other events. more importantly, it provides an opportunity to build a stronger relationship around shared interests. i follow other “thought leaders” on twitter to get smarter about fun topics as varied as PR/mktg/advertising, media, t-shirts, space exploration, music and more. i also follow the few real-life friends i have that are actually on the site to see what they’re doing. 

number of twitter contacts (that are “following” me): approx. 70

situation

so, here’s the chance i was afforded by a friend to test the three networking sites, and see once and for all, which was really the best for business.   below is the message i posted on the three sites.  with linkedin, i sent an email to approx. 50 of my contacts in advertising and PR. on facebook, i updated the “status” section and left it there for three days (so the message was at least visible to all 270+ contacts). on twitter, my next tweet came about an hour later but obviously remained in my feed for as long as anyone wanted to go back to see. also, i don’t lock my tweets, so they’re visible to anyone.  note that since i posted the message a few weeks ago, the number of contacts was a little less on each site than it is today, and on twitter, i was only around 40 “followers” at the time. 

here’s the email i sent through linkedin:

hi pr and advertising colleagues — a friend of mine that works for a company that throws house parties around the country for big brands launching new products asked me a question and i wanted to get your input.

Q: do large brands that have an AOR (either PR or ADV) usually work through them to target the gay community or do they hire boutique agencies?

i handled outreach to the gay media for golinharris when we managed Levi’s 150th anniversary, so i know that in many cases it’s through the AOR, but would love to hear your insight. if you know of agencies that target minorities and the gay community, please let me know who they are.

thanks. — keith

here’s the status update i posted on facebook (i added a comment to the status note below letting my friends know they could disregard it if they had seen the linkedin or twitter messages):

Q: for adv/pr peeps: when big brands target LGBT’s, do they use AOR or small boutiques? at GH we did this, but looking for other input.

and on twitter:

Q: for adv/pr peeps: when big brands target LGBT’s, do they use AOR or small boutiques? at golin we did this, but looking for other input.

measurement

measurement is always an important part of any test…even this one!  the “winning” site would be the one that delivered the most high-quality responses. by “high-quality,” i mean the ones that actually helped answer the question i posed and that helped my friend make new contacts in the industry.

results

drumroll, please.  the overwhelming winner in this (again, extremely unscientific) study was linkedin.  i received about a dozen really thoughtful emails from friends with experience working in PR and advertising agencies of all sizes.  on facebook, on the other hand, the only response i got was from a mexican friend of mine in guadalajara thanking me that he could disregard the message since it had so many acronyms.  on twitter? not one reply. not one DM (direct message). fail whale.

analysis

the reasons for these results seem pretty obvious, but maybe not, so here’s what i think.  

quantity of contacts — since i only had around 40 followers on twitter at the time — many of whom haven’t worked in the agency world — the number of responses was bound to be far fewer than the other two sites. i’m sure if i had hundreds or thousands of followers on twitter, the results would have been much different. on facebook i have a lot of PR/ad agency contacts (around 60 or 70), but the site didn’t yield results for other reasons.

quality of relationships — the majority of contacts on linkedin i sent the question to were people i’ve worked with in the past, who i know have been in agencies and where a mutual trust has been built. my relationships on twitter are younger and  based more on shared interests and less around working or personal relationships. (i’ve only been on twitter since april ’08.) on facebook, many of the relationships are high-quality (for the purpose of this “study,”) but again had other over-riding reasons for not being of benefit.

nature of the site  — i think other people use these sites for similar reasons i do. facebook = personal life, linkedin = professional life and twitter = a hybrid of the two. if you see a business question on facebook, you may be less inclined to answer it. the virtual world can be like the real one in this regard — some people don’t like to talk shop when hangin’ at the bar, unless they’re the type that likes to wine & whine.

how the message is communicated — on facebook and twitter, your friends or contacts may miss your update if it gets pushed out by their other friends’ updates and feeds, so it’s very possible a lot of people just missed this question. on linkedin, your email goes to someone’s inbox and waits there until it’s acted upon.  granted, on facebook you can send an email, but it’s not as easy to target the email to a particular industry as it is on linkedin.  twitter doesn’t have this functionality (from what i know).

conclusion

none of this is really that shocking, but it was enlightening and confirmed what i thought going in: for me, linkedin is an extremely beneficial site for professional networking. my friend who works with the house party company has made a number of new business contacts and has been extremely thankful to me for putting him in touch (and i thanked him for giving me something to blog about on my xmas vacation). i’m curious to hear if your experience with these sites or the way you use them is much different, so let me know in the comments if so. PR/adv people who didn’t answer my original status update, tweet or email, here’s your chance to redeem yourself.

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5 Responses to “social media showdown: facebook vs. linkedin vs. twitter (an unofficial test)”

  1. Social Media Showdown - Facebook vs LinkedIn vs Twitter « NetWorks! Boise Says:

    […] been discussing bits and pieces here and there about this exact topic. Please follow this link to read about this “unofficial test”.  This showed up as an automatically generated […]

  2. Craig M. Jamieson Says:

    Howdy, I am quite new to social media. I started a blog about a month ago which is pretty much about me trying to figure all of this out. About an hour ago I posted a page and asked the question as to why everybody was talking about Twitter and Facebook so much when LinkedIn appeared to me to be the superior business platform and, for reasons you suggest. WordPress generated your article as suggested reading. Thank you for confirming my suspicions (smile). This may be unofficial but this has also been exactly what I have been seeing in the short time I have been investigating social media. I just posted again and this time with a link to you. Hope that is ok?

    Thanks!

    Craig

  3. Internet Strategist Says:

    If you’re interested in making business contacts, hiring consultants or employees, or networking to find a new position LinkedIn would probably work best. It is also a good place to ask questions and get expert answers.

    Twitter is different. It is more useful for research, communicating, and you CAN find a lot more people interested in specific subjects if you use the search functions and third party tools such as Twellow.

    The post I linked from this comment offers more detail on using Twitter and also on FriendFeed which is a newer Social Networking site particularly useful to bloggers.

  4. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    Not that I’m totally impressed, but this is more than I expected when I stumpled upon a link on Digg telling that the info here is awesome. Thanks.

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