By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer
In early April 2009, we witnessed a social media milestone: Ashton Kutcher collected 1,000,000 followers on Twitter. Since then, Oprah has begun tweeting and the microblogging site has been the social network darling of the mainstream media.
What does it mean to have a network on Twitter? Could Ashton Kutcher ever collect 1,000,000 connections on LinkedIn? Probably not. But why?
As Ashton demonstrated, Twitter can be a numbers game, whereas LinkedIn is more about the value of each connection. While both social networks value “friends,” Twitter “followers” mean something completely different than LinkedIn “connections.”
This discussion of Twitter has been a hot topic in many business circles. More and more, business people are testing the tweeting waters and wondering where their time can be spent most effectively. We are intrigued by the relative value of connections within the Twitter and LinkedIn networks. Ultimately, which is more valuable: thousands of followers or a dozen meaningful connections?
There are four main components to relationships on the web: identity (i.e. who are you and what is your place in the community), value of relationships (i.e. are they deep or surface-level), content value (what perspective can you offer the community) and measure of influence (i.e. your offline relationships can influence your online clout).
To understand the core of a social network and the connections within them, you must look at how user identity is defined. Twitter versus LinkedIn is very much the same debate as MySpace versus Facebook. Where Twitter and MySpace allows for pseudonyms, Facebook and LinkedIn require authentic identities. It is the fundamental element that drives the attitudes of those operating within each social network.
Essentially, it’s about the many hats we wear. Do you talk the same way to your boss, clients and peer group as you do your inner circle of friends? Probably not. If you’re using Twitter for personal reasons, would you share the same information as you would on LinkedIn?
A pseudonym can give you level of anonymity, whereas your true identity reflects on your personal reputation. In essence, pseudonyms give you a veil with which to conceal your true identity. It’s about accountability. Accountability decreases as you can mask your real name. Hence, the incredible army of spammers on Twitter.
Consider the social network-building strategies for Twitter VS LinkedIn. Friending everyone in hopes of gleaning several followers isn’t a problem on Twitter, whereas LinkedIn requires you have an established relationship with a prospective connection, or request an introduction. LinkedIn has built in several barriers to screen an spamming or excessive “friending” activity.
Value of Relationships
As aforementioned, Twitter is a numbers game. The more followers you collect, the larger your megaphone becomes. How can you have a meaningful network of 1,000,000 users? What percentage actually matter and make-up a meaningful core network? Zeroes of a percent for people like Ashton Kutcher.
LinkedIn has a rigid screening process that deters excessive “friending” behavior. You must know the person in some professional or personal capacity before friending them. Or, you may request an introduction. Therefore, the value of each connection means much more because the effort and screen process makes it more difficult to connect with users. If Twitter is a loudspeaker, LinkedIn would be a phone call.
It can take seconds to post a tweet. Essentially, give your two cents, paste your link and blast it to your followers. How long does it take to answer a question in LinkedIn answers? Maybe an average of five to 10 minutes. However, if I want to have a pulse on the collective attitude of a mass audience, would I go to LinkedIn answers? No. Twitter would be the best use of my time. If I wanted to have in-depth analysis within a social network, I would most certainly choose LinkedIn.
Essentially, thousands of three-second tweets would give me a pulse on the collective attitudes of a mass user-base (a horizontal approach), whereas LinkedIn would give me in-depth, meaningful insights (a vertical approach). A valuable resource for measuring consensus are hashtags. Twitter hashtags and search can be a gateway into the real-time pulse of a large audience, which can be incredibly important if you’ve just launched a product or posted on a blog.
Measure of Influence
No doubt, Ashton Kutcher has a lot of influence. Within the Twitter community, he can exert a lot of influence. Even if only half of his Twitter followers actually pay attention to his tweets, that’s 500,000 people that listen. If he denounces a product, you should bet there is going to be a buzz about it–a buzz that goes beyond the walls of the Twitter community.
LinkedIn, however, has a different measure. How many quality answers have you given? Or, what invite-only groups are you a member of? What is your position in your company? Are you a copywriter or the creative director? Titles, associations, internal networks matter.
The title of this post begs the question, which is more important: followers or connections? As we’ve argued, LinkedIn and Twitter serve very different purposes. Both social networks can stretch your digital marketing efforts of you or your company. Where LinkedIn is a vertical site (five minutes of attention from two people), Twitter is a horizontal site (two seconds from 300 hundred people). Do you want a mic and a loud speaker or do you want to sit down for a cup of coffee and chat?
It comes down to: where can you most effectively use your time? Depending on your professional, personal or business-related goals, you can find value in both social networks.
Image by Flavio Takemoto from Stock.Xchng