Social Media: Why Facebook; Why Twitter?

As either a younger member of the boomer generation, or an older member of Gen-X, I’m a member of a big demographic that seems to have a hard time understanding social media. The most common reaction I get to mentioning something on Facebook is “I will never have a Facebook account!”

I realize now that part of the bad reputation that social media has with middle-aged adults is due to the fact that most of these people are parents, and everything they know about social media sites has come from their kids.

This led me to a great insight. Good social media sites are malleable to individual users, and that’s what makes them so powerful. I am certain that my Facebook experience is vastly different from that of your average teenager’s, and that’s a good thing.

A middle-aged friend recently asked me about Facebook and Twitter, with the subtext “I don’t ‘get’ either of them.” I’ve reworked my response a bit in hope that it will be helpful to others:

The main purpose of Facebook is to get found by people you already know but have lost touch with, think of the people you would invite to a high school reunion. Simple as that. It’s also good for keeping up on the big stream of small things that winds up being news in a nominally mundane life. It works well if you’re not “always on” the net. You can pop in every week or so and catch up. If you ignore the clever little time-wasting applications and notification noise, it’s a useful tool. In short, Facebook is good at making an electronic link to people you already know.

Twitter is much more geared to making new connections and is really something for those of us who are “on the ‘net” most of the time. What it’s best at is finding new clever people, and getting breaking news. Information travels very quickly in Twitter, and to a large extent it’s filtered to the interests of the people you follow, which means you get more information about the things you care about. As a writer, it’s also superb at making you edit things down. The 140 character limit is brutal, but it enforces the practice of a clarity that can carry into other writing.

So how did I do? Is there anything else that “defines” these sites?