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Twitter vs. Facebook: Who's the Copycat?

Twitter's Latest Mobile App Update Smells a Bit Like Facebook -- So What?

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Twitter headquarters.
Twitter headquarters. Credit: Marisa Allegra Williams for Twitter

In the mid- to late-1990s, I was infatuated with Netscape Navigator. Through the eyes of that seemingly magical web browser, I experienced the world wide web for the very first time. I quickly learned HTML. The combination of Notepad + Netscape became my two-tiered arsenal of simple yet powerful web-design weapons.

But then Microsoft's Internet Explorer launched. And the two browsers battled for market share supremacy -- competing on features, user experience design and partnerships. At times, it felt like the two were copying each other. And while imitation is supposedly a form of flattery, we all know how this particular story ends. We've seen it many times, from search engines, apps, games, operating systems, TVs, smartphones and everything in between. This kind of feature copycatting is also true in the world of social networks.

On Wednesday evening, Twitter announced two big feature changes to photos on its mobile app: The ability to tag up to 10 people within an embedded photo and include up to four photos in a single tweet.

This, of course, caused a bunch of knee-jerk reactions from people accusing Twitter of copying (or becoming more like) Facebook. Not so fast. When it comes to features, let's remember that Facebook has been aggressively riding Twitter's coattails. Let's take a walk down Facebook memory lane…

1. Follow
From its earliest days, Twitter was designed around non-mutual followership. In September 2011, Facebook launched the ability to "subscribe" to an individual's public posts. And in December 2012, it changed the name of this feature from "subscribe" to "follow" -- the exact term Twitter uses.

2. Hashtags
For years, hashtags and Twitter were essentially synonymous. When you saw a hashtag, you immediately thought of Twitter. But then Instagram adopted the familiar tagging lexicon, and last June, Facebook began supporting hashtags.

3. Instagram video
In January 2013, Twitter's Vine app launched, bringing embedded short social video directly to the Twitter platform. Six months later, Facebook-owned Instagram began supporting video.

4. Verified accounts
In 2009, Twitter launched its Verified Accounts program so that the general public could ensure that celebrities and other public figures are who they say they are. In May 2013, Facebook did the same thing -- even making its icon (a small checkmark in a blue circle) eerily similar to Twitter's.

5. Embeddable posts
In May 2010, Twitter launched the ability to embed tweets into third-party web properties. Eight months ago, Facebook launched "embeddable posts."

6. contests/promotions
As a marketer, I can say it's much easier to run a contest on Twitter than it is on Facebook. Historically, the only way to execute promotions on Facebook was on a separate tab, and at times a lot of red tape. Last September, Facebook loosened the reigns on promotions by allowing the use of its main platform functionality for contests.

7. Trending topics
One of the most powerful features on Twitter is the ability to see "Trending Topics" -- which have been credited for breaking news stories. In January, Facebook launched its own version of "Trending Topics."

8. Social TV
While Twitter gets most of the credit and attention when it comes to the mashup of social media and live television, Facebook's been trying to increase its piece of the social TV pie. Last September, it released tools to help TV networks integrate Facebook conversations into their live broadcasts. Have you watched American Idol recently?

In the end, who cares?

Whether you feel Twitter's copying Facebook or the other way around, the fact is that Twitter's latest update is a big deal for brands. Multiple photo embeds give brands a more flexible canvas on which to share impactful "now moments" with their Twitter communities.

Brands can also give their advocates a powerful form of social currency. Tagging a brand's community members in (relevant) photos is yet another way to recognize, connect and share. Isn't this the essence of what social media is all about? In a time when it feels like social is getting sucked out of "social media," this is a step in the right direction.

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