Home Twitter Can’t Beat Facebook

Twitter Can’t Beat Facebook

Hardcore Twitter users, I know you’re a loyal bunch (in fact, I consider myself one of you). So don’t take this personally.

This article is about Facebook and how it is either going to destroy Twitter, force the microblogging service to change or make it an aquisition target by a rival, such as Apple or Google.

Or so says David Clarke, CEO of BGT Partners, an independent digital agency. Clarke says Facebook exposes key flaws with Twitter, including its 140-character limit on messages, as well as Twitter’s own trouble generating consistent revenue streams, which we previously reported on.

In Clarke’s world, the pure scale of Facebook and the limitations of Twitter make the beloved service “obsolete.”

“This character limit is wearing thin as consumers expect richer and more robust content that’s easy to access,” Clarke said. “Twitter existing by itself and generating enough revenue to become a substantial business model will be a struggle. It’s much more likely that ultimately Twitter will be taken over by Google, Apple or Facebook.”

This isn’t to say that Twitter isn’t likable: As Arianna Huffington has said, Facebook and Twitter and other social networks have created a new trend, where “self-expression has become the new entertainment.”

This is about Twitter not being profitable, a prospect that probably won’t change as long as it keeps getting lumped in the same sentence (and same realm of competition) as Facebook.

And, sure, Facebook is trying to mimic Twitter’s success with advertisement click-through rates, but brands are still struggling to monetize Twitter pages and most of the potential revenue-generating ideas are being seized by third-party companies.

Twitter made a few key fumbles along the way, including its well-intentioned move of opening up its API to third-party developers. The end result has been that those developers are making money off of doing everything, from developing apps for posting tweets that work better than Twitter’s own interface to analyzing data and tweets around big news events.

But perhaps Twitter’s biggest challenge is that it doesn’t encourage interaction the way Facebook and Pinterest do. If you look at the average Twitter user, according to a 2011 study by Duncan Watts, about half of the tweets they see are coming from one of 20,000 users.

What that means, Watts told Felix Salmon of Reuters, is “a lot of people do a lot more reading than writing, while a very small group of people are responsible for a huge proportion of what is read” on Twitter.

That’s not to say Twitter’s numbers aren’t impressive. Or, as Salmon noted, Twitter “has actually been astonishingly good at getting people to write anything at all.” When the service passed the 200 million user mark in June 2011, the company noted on its blog that “the world writes the equivalent of a 10 million-page book in Tweets or 8,163 copies of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.”

“The biggest story out of Twitter right now is the lack of people with accounts who are actually active users,” Clark said. “Twitter has plenty of sign-ups, but a very small portion [comprises] engaged users.”

And that is the challenge for Twitter, or as Clarke predicts, whoever takes it over: Active users, in the still-developing economics of social media, are lucrative users. Twitter needs to find lucrative users, or all of us Twitter lovers are going to have to find a new microblogging service.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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