Debunking Yet Another Twitter Vs. Facebook Study

Awhile back, I pointed out what Mashable wasn’t telling you about Facebook.  Now Compete is getting in on the action with a comprehensive data analysis of the qualitative differences between Twitter and Facebook.

Which would be great… except it makes broad statements without explaining why it came to those conclusions.

Here are the study’s four public claims, and why they’re less useful than they may seem.

1: Twitter users are more likely to engage with the service through a mobile device than are users of other social media platforms.

Great.  But why?

Is it because Twitter was initially designed for a mobile interface to begin with?  Or because Twitter app makers do a better job of UI than Facebook or LinkedIn app makers do?  Or because Facebook and LinkedIn are more nuanced platforms that require a different hands-on approach than Twitter does?

Compete Social Media Survey - Usage by Location

According to the graphic for that finding, you could have just as easily said “Twitter is the least popular desktop social media platform,” and you’d be just as factually correct.  And then the same people who are even now overinflating their mobile marketing budget would have slashed their desktop offerings instead because… well, because Compete said so.

Didn’t they?

2. 17% of Twitter users tweet about a TV show while watching the show.

According to their chart, this is true.  It is also the last item on the list, behind such other ghettoized activities (all sub-20% responses) as “‘Tweet Photos,” “Find Brands to Follow” and “Visit Brand Pages.”

Compete Twitter Survey Infographic - Twitter Usage Data

If I were a skeptic, I could say this finding proves Twitter is less valuable as a marketing tool than it is as virtually anything else.  But Compete are optimists — and their target audience is primarily marketers — so they accentuated the upside.

3. Twitter is more effective at driving purchase activity than Facebook.

That’s because, according to the numbers, “56% of those who follow a brand on Twitter indicated they are “more likely” to make a purchase of that brand’s products compared to a 47% lift for those who “Like” a brand on Facebook.”

Compete Social Media Survey - Twitter Usage vs. Facebook

But this headline confuses “intent to purchase” with “actually purchasing.”  Can we see the numbers on how many direct sales result from Twitter vs. Facebook?  Because then I’ll believe that Twitter is the more powerful sales tool.

4. Twitter is the preferred platform for learning about new product updates.

According to Compete’s survey data, 84% of Twitter users cite “Updates on Future Products” as a reason to follow a brand; only 60% of Facebook users agreed.  That much makes sense.

But, again… why?

Compete Social Media Survey - Reasons for Liking a Brand

Is it because Facebook users are more passive than Twitter users?  Is it because Twitter users are actively seeking information, while Facebook users are seeking experiences?  Is it because Facebook is more graphic-driven, while Twitter is more info-driven?

We have no idea.

We also don’t know why 87% of Twitter users cited “Fun / Entertainment” as a reason to follow a brand, while only 63% of Facebook users did.  Look at those numbers.  They’re each exactly 3% higher than the previous comparison, which could be interpreted as “Twitter Users Are More Carefree,” or “Facebook Is No Place for Fun.”  But that’s not the headline.  That’s not the takeaway.  That’s not how the data was framed, even though it’s equally valid.

Conclusion About Conclusions

I think Compete’s survey was more interesting for what it didn’t ask, and the conclusions it failed to highlight, than for the ones it did.

And, as always, people are going to skim the numbers and jump to the conclusion they want to reach — which, in most cases, will be, “Hi, I’m a guru, and here’s why your company should invest in social media.  And we have data.”

(“Not that we understand the data, or what it means, or what else it could mean.  But by god, do we have charts.”)

So yes, please, do conduct qualitative studies of social media usage.  Scour the data.  Form conclusions.

But, as a reader and utilizer of such data, make sure you know how the results are being framed, and then ask yourself… why?

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  • Anonymous

    Perception is reality. nnPeople would never lie on surveys, I know I have never given crazy answers just to screw up the results! ;P

  • Jeff Kryger

    I like your analysis better

  • Shonali Burke

    Love it! You’re exactly right – you can make numbers “mean” anything you want them to, by highlighting what you want.

  • Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    My blog is filled with this stuff. Facebook is dying. The Brand pages are a failure. Open Graph a failure. Per person based on Facebook’s own stats use per day per user is down over 30% since April 2010. They took big money and the pressure is to prove their inflated on paper value. The problem with Mashable is if Facebook fails they could fail. They are the worst source for Social Media technology, Marketing and Business news of anywhere I have seen. They refuse to ever publish anything that makes social look bad for marketers and the fact is Marketers have forced their way in. We don’t care or want marketing in our private communication platforms even if the platforms aren’t fully private.nnWhile I agree with Twitter being better than Facebook even Twitter performs poorly because just like with the Facebook feed the Twitter feed is the same. We see maybe 1-3% of what flies through. Good luck getting seen.nnGreat post btw thank you @Shonali:disqus

  • Farrell

    I just wonder who all these people are who are connecting with brands on Facebook. I use Facebook to keep up with my friends, mostly, and have no use or no need for “connecting with a brand.”

  • Yael K. Miller

    #2 is the best. Compete said “17% of Twitter users tweet about a TV show while watching the show. Clearly this illustrates that many consumers interact with multiple forms of media at the same time.”u00a0 I love the word “clearly” here because it’s absolutely not clear.u00a0 nnDoes it count as “interact[ing] with multiple forms of media at the same time” when people only tweet during the commercials?u00a0 What about if they tweet during the commercials which are on mute?u00a0 Did they match up tweet time stamp with when commercials were shown?nnI still like social media metrics because they are much closer to counting every eyeball than tv watching metrics.