The Social Media Spectrum

We’ve all seen the warnings about keeping your personal information safe in a social media world. But security issues aside, where do Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (the Big Three of social media, as far as I’m concerend) rank on the spectrum of private vs. public communication — specifically as it applies to marketing applications?

I didn’t think there was much debate about this until I got into a debate about this with a friend. So for the record, here are my thoughts in graph form:

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter ranked for privacy and reach

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter ranked for privacy and reach

What does this mean?

I have two scales: the horizontal measures how private a medium is, from “only open with a password” to “come on in, one and all.” The vertical scale measures how large your potential audience is, or how loud your voice can be, from “one-on-one conversation” at the bottom to “yell if from the mountaintop” at the top.

Facebook as an application is the most private of the three, since most people lock down their profiles to some degree. Businesses Pages on Facebook are public (and therefore technically all the way to the right of the graph) , but the nature of the medium still gives a business Page on Facebook the whiff of being in an enclosed space. In terms of its reach, with Facebook you can send alerts to your Fans, or even to a specific segment of your Fans, but not to a specific individual, so the nature of the conversations is right in the middle of the intimate/broadcast continuum. For better and for worse, your reach is likely to be smaller on Facebook. On the down side, smaller reach is seldom the goal of marketers. But on the upside, the conversations do feel more intimate. On Facebook, people are in what they consider to be a safe space. So when they do engage with you here, the trust level is higher, and your brand’s connection with the users is more intense.

YouTube is out at the extreme end of both spectrums: in general, it’s a medium where you throw something on your channel and the world will come and consume it at its own leisure. So that makes it more purely broadcast. Yes, people can and do subscribe, and yes, you can post messages and address people’s comments, but most interactions on YouTube are anonymous and mass-scale.

As for Twitter, it’s out there like YouTube, but behaves as if it’s not. Leaving aside those who lock down their Twitter accounts (from a marketing perspective, this wouldn’t make any sense), anything you Tweet can be seen by anyone who happens to stumble by, or who does a search that matches the content of your Tweets. And in general, anything you say on Twitter is shouted out into space, to be heard (or not) by whoever may be listening at that moment. So it’s pure broadcast in that way.

But because Twitter is really about people following you (as opposed to finding you accidentally), it feels and acts less like broadcast.  Also, unwritten Twitter protocols dictate that a good Twitter-er will engage one-on-one with her/his followers, rather than just spouting off a one-way stream of updates, so in practice, the communications tend to feel more personal than they do on YouTube.

Give me a shout if you have any questions.


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