Social Enterprise

Facebook and Twitter: Treat them like your kids

Just as parents need to treat their various kids differently, but fairly, so do professionals need to deal with Twitter and Facebook using a separate but equal approach. Here are some suggestions.

Almost everyone who has ever had a brother or sister has complained about them getting favoritism from mom and dad. However, once you become a parent, it doesn't take long to realize that you have to treat every kid a little differently because they have different strengths and weaknesses and different things that motivate them. You ultimately try to be fair and equitable because there's no way you could treat them exactly the same, even if you wanted to.

It's the same way with social media. Or, at least that's my conclusion this week.

While social media remains one of the most powerful and fastest growing trends in tech, communications, and culture, there are instances where social media is being painted with too broad of a brush. The way many of the social media "experts" talk, you'd think social media was a single platform with a single set of best practices. It's not. It is a barely-connected set of sites and services with different audiences and different expectations.

Those of us who have tried to be efficient by cross-posting social media streams between different services — Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Foursquare, etc. — are often doing as much harm as good to the brands that we represent (even if it's just our own personal brand and online reputation).

I've come to this conclusion recently as I've been thinking about making a change in the way that I handle social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook.

As far as social networks go, I've always been most active in Twitter. I have a lot of technophiles that follow me there and I post a daily stream of links to the top tech stories, instant analysis of tech news, and updates on my work at TechRepublic. For the past several years, I've also had my Twitter account connected to Facebook and have simply fed all of my tweets into my Facebook stream.

However, I've recently realized that's not working very well. The stuff that I post on Twitter is perfect for Twitter and for the audience that follows me there. However, it is highly technical stuff and I'll sometimes post a flurry of links (four or five in an hour). Over on Facebook, the friends that I'm connected to are not nearly as technical. My Facebook friends are mostly family, high school and college friends, non-technical colleagues, and local community connections. I've had several of them tell me that the stuff I post on Facebook is "neat" but that they can barely understand any of it since the tech world has so many acronyms and so much jargon. It's also not kosher to post as much on Facebook as it is on Twitter, so people have remarked about how a string of updates from me will end up overtaking their whole Facebook feed for a short period of time.

As a result, this week I decided to disconnect my Twitter feed from my Facebook account and treat Facebook differently than Twitter. That includes showing up on Facebook a little more often and tailoring what I do there to the audience. Since some of my TechRepublic readers on Facebook have said that they'd like to continue to get my daily updates on tech news, I've decided to set up an official page for that (sometimes called a "fan page"). Here is a quick summary of how I plan to handle these three different social pages:

  • Twitter - Continue to post primarily tech news, commentary, and instant analysis in short bites. Anyone can follow.
  • Official Facebook page - This one is focused on tech and is very similar to my Twitter stream, but not quite as many posts and more multimedia posts. Also, I use the opportunity to engage in semi-threaded conversations with the audience right there on Facebook. Anyone can follow.
  • Facebook personal account - I use this page for more general updates and posting links to broader tech stories that have a wider appeal and are easier to understand. Only post 2-3 times per day. on average. I limit connections to family, friends, and professional colleagues and direct everyone else to my official page.

While I realize that most people aren't going to need to set up an official page (a.k.a. fan page), a lot of you will be setting up and managing Facebook pages for the businesses and organizations that you work with, so you can apply this line of thinking to that model.

The bottom line is to think about the different social networks differently, whether it's Twitter or Facebook or Linkedin or gdgt or Gowalla or Quora. Figure out their strengths and weaknesses and then match up a strategy for how you can best develop and serve an audience there. Also, avoid automatically importing updates from other social networks whenever possible. It's better to post less but post good stuff that people find useful.

That said, this isn't necessarily the approach everyone should take. If you only post occasionally (up to 3-4 updates per day) and you mix personal and professional updates and avoid jargon, then it might not hurt to keep posting your updates in multiple accounts, especially if splitting the accounts would mean one of the accounts is likely to get neglected.

Just keep in mind that it's still very early in the game for social media. There are a lot of tips and best practices that need to be developed, and the conventional wisdom is likely to remain in flux over the next several years. TechRepublic will continue to offer assistance and guidance to help IT and business professionals get optimized with their social media experience.

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Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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