The social media sites we all know and love (or perhaps loathe) are notorious for ‘borrowing’ features from one another in an effort to stay ahead of the game. But recently, this flow of innovation is pouring with earnest from one particular area of the social media community: Twitter.
If you use Facebook or LinkedIn perhaps you’ll have noticed the recent prominence of new (or revamped) features such as the real-time newsfeed, hashtags and most notably; ‘follow’ suggestions.
Unsurprisingly, the social media giants are a little shifty when it comes to exact user numbers, but let us take a look at the estimates: Facebook has around 1 billion active users and LinkedIn 240 million. Although Twitter has around 500 million registered users, only 200+ million of these actively use the site. So why are big-wigs like Facebook and LinkedIn stealing features from the (relative) underdog?
The answer to this question lies not in the user numbers but another set of statistics –Twitter’s growth rate. While Twitter may have less active users than the others, it is also growing faster. In fact, earlier this year it was reported to be growing even faster than Facebook, with 21% of global Internet users now using Twitter on a monthly basis. And so we have our answer; the top dogs are copying Twitter because if it carries on growing the way it is, it will overtake them. But this poses another question: why is Twitter growing so fast?
A changing landscape
When LinkedIn and Facebook were founded (in 2002 and 2004, respectively) the Internet was a very different place. Internet users weren’t nearly so willing to share their private information publicly. That made private social networking sites – based on people’s trusted, real-world connections – the only feasible option. Even when Twitter launched in 2006, people were still watchful of their privacy, which is part of the reason it took so long (in Internet terms at least) for the micro-blogging site to get a foothold in mainstream social media.
Things have changed drastically since then. We now have a new generation of users for whom publicity on the Internet is as commonplace as any form of real world interaction. In addition, a huge number of businesses now use Twitter to promote themselves. This makes Twitter’s unique difference – its openness – exactly what individuals and businesses need.
And let’s face it; Twitter rocks.
Whether you’re an individual or a business, you have the ability to create far-reaching social networks that go way beyond friends, family and colleagues, exposing you to all kinds of perspectives you might otherwise never happen across. You are privy to breaking news directly from eye witnesses, and if you’re a business you can interact directly (and informally) with your audience. Ironically, the fact that open networks are largely virtual also means we can maintain our anonymity if we so wish. These are all reasons why Twitter’s growth rates are exploding. Everyone’s a winner… everyone but Facebook and LinkedIn, that is.
The thing that made Facebook and LinkedIn popular in the first place is now binding them. User information is not shared as broadly, people (and crucially, businesses) aren’t receiving the same kind of exposure, and because – all those years ago – users opted in for privacy, Facebook and LinkedIn can’t open themselves up like Twitter without explicit permission. And that’s exactly why they are desperately pushing Twitter-like features in an attempt to keep up with the times.
Is the mental shift too great?
In the past week, LinkedIn and Facebook have both casually suggested that I ‘allow following’. Even though I’m an avid Twitter user, these suggestions had me recoiling in horror. Why? Well, I’m not against public sharing any more, not by any means. But like many people, that doesn’t change the fact that I would prefer to keep my Facebook and LinkedIn history private.
Of course, LinkedIn and Facebook aren’t about to disappear overnight, but unless they can convince users to open the floodgates, their long-term future doesn’t look too bright. Perhaps opening up these sites publicly is too great a mental shift for many users. Only time will tell. But what I can say for sure is this: if you aren’t on Twitter yet, well… there’s no time like the present.