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Twitter vs. Facebook for Nonprofits: How Do They Compare?

Submitted Friday, February 7th 2014 3:13 pm by Timothy S. Jacobson
in   Twitter    Facebook    social media    marketing    nonprofit    charity    fundraising    communications    ROI    CTR    CPM  

Twitter vs. Facebook for Nonprofits:

How Do They Compare?

By Timothy S. Jacobson

~The Nonprofit Provocateur~

Twitter vs. Facebook

Twitter and Facebook are punching and kicking their way through a knock-down, drag-out fight. Which one is a winner for nonprofit organizations looking to market themselves or raise funds through social media? Which site is going to give you the biggest bang?

On February 7, 2014, CBS News reported that Facebook had 1.2 billion users, whereas Twitter had a mere 241 million (numbers through December 2013). Also, Facebook users share 4.75 billion items daily, in contrast with Twitter users tweet 500 million items per day. From these numbers, it would appear that Facebook is kicking butt.

But there’s more to it than simply looking at the total number of users or the amount of activity on these sites.

There are strengths and weaknesses of both platforms that charities need to understand in order to maximize their effectiveness in networking online. These differences include audience demographics, advertising platform differences, and the difference in effectiveness of these tools when prospects are using mobile devices instead of desktop or laptop computers.  Nonprofits also need to examine the internal goals of the organization as it seeks to use social media and the time it has available for this work.

Clearly, the size of Facebook’s audience is larger. But it’s important to understand that people use Facebook in a substantially different way than Twitter. Facebook essentially has become a scrapbooking site for people to chronicle the highlights of their lives and to share that information with friends and relatives. In contrast, Twitter is where people head to catch the latest news, trends, and links to what’s happening and what’s being written about in the world.

Also, the shelf life of a post on Facebook tends to be significantly longer than a Tweet. According to a 2013 study from Wisemetrics, 75% of engagement on a Facebook post occurs within the first five hours, and 75% of its impressions occur within the first two and a half hours. On the other hand, the shelf life of the average tweet hovers around a single hour. These differences can be good or bad. While long shelf life seems like a good thing, it can mean that you’ll annoy your audience if you post to Facebook too often—much less of a problem on Twitter, especially since Twitter users don’t sit in a tight circle of a couple hundred friends and relatives like Facebook users.

Advertising on Facebook and Twitter: The Matchup

Again, there are significant differences in the effectiveness of advertising through Twitter and Facebook, but these differences are affected by the way in which an organization uses each medium and by the demographics of the intended audience. Differences involve network reach, general ad performance and mobile ad performance.

As stated above, Facebook clearly wins in terms of general reach—both total number of users and the number of actions they take. But how do ads perform?

There are a lot of statistics out there, and they’re difficult to sort through, especially for nonprofit organizations that typically don’t have in-house marketing departments. Nevertheless, here’s a few numbers to chew on. According to AdWeek, engagement rates for Twitter ads can be as high as 1-3%, which is a lot higher than Facebook’s average click-through rate (CTR) of 0.119%. A benefit of Twitter ads is that they appear in-stream, rather than pushed off to the margin of the screen. However, average CPM (cost per thousand impressions) seems to be significantly higher on Twitter, at up to $3.50 compared to an average CPM of $0.59 on Facebook.

As for performance of ads on mobile devices, Twitter is the clear winner. Twitter ads show up in the timeline instead of off to the side. Facebook ads sit on the right rail, which doesn’t even exist on the Facebook mobile app. Consequently, Facebook is failing its mobile advertisers.

From my personal experience, the vast majority of engagements with Twitter ads are happening with iOS (Apple mobile) devices. Because of that, Twitter is positioned to dominate with advertising.

And remember, it’s not all about Twitter and Facebook when it comes to ads. An AdAge survey ranked five online advertising platforms in terms of importance by return on investment (ROI). Google AdWords was the big winner, followed by Facebook, and then Twitter. Explore multiple platforms.

Which Platform to Use if You’re Not Paying for Ads?

Most charitable organizations are not using paid advertisements on social media most of the time. They may use ads to build an initial following and then use ads sporadically thereafter to generate attention for a special fundraising campaign or event. So, which platform is better for nonprofits looking to use social media without paying for ads?

As with advertising, it’s not simply a matter of looking at the total number of users or the amount of activity on Twitter and Facebook. Figure out where your target demographic is hanging out. Determine which strategies work best for each medium. Use social media sites for content marketing or inbound marketing (in other words, give away free information to attract people to the organization’s website or blog, and try to hook them there). And definitely use both Facebook and Twitter. They don’t cost money to have accounts in place. Use Twitter to get people to your Facebook page and vice versa. Recognize the differences in the shelf life of your posts on these sites, and tweet more often than you post to Facebook. Use the longer post-length of Facebook to get more information in front of people (but don’t get too wordy—shorter posts tend to perform better).

There are some circumstances in which Twitter is going to blow away Facebook. For example, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street are two notable movements that had their start on Twitter. Facebook is not the best forum for quickly building and sharing that kind of social movement or advocacy. However, if you have a tight-knit community of supporters already in place, Facebook might way outperform Twitter in terms of keeping them engaged.

Conclusion: No Clear Winner

Neither Facebook nor Twitter is a great advertising option for direct response (lead generation) marketing. But both are good for the soft sells of content marketing that nonprofits are well positioned to engage in.

In a world of limited resources and vast numbers of people connected through online social networks, nonprofit organizations cannot afford to stand along the shoulder of the social media superhighway. These online tools are free to use and low-cost for dabbling in advertising, they provide a potential reach unparalleled in the history of mankind, and they’re easy enough to use that children can provide technical assistance to accompany your strategic marketing knowledge.

I recommend integrating your organization’s social media activity across several online platforms (use both Facebook and Twitter, at a minimum), and couple it with an earned media strategy for a true multichannel approach to marketing. In doing so, you will open up new avenues of funding and support for your charity.

Check out the author's Facebook page at and follow him on Twitter at .

Like’ and/or 'Share' this article below if you use social media for nonprofit marketing or fundraising. What has been your experience with nonprofits efforts to use social media? Share your insight and help others!

Tim Jacobson photo

Tim Jacobson, CEO of Visjonær Consulting & Communications, has served as a board member and executive of a variety of nonprofit and for-profit organizations over the past two decades. He's author of the book Explosive Marketing for Nonprofits: Trajectory for Success, to be released in 2014, the executive producer of a documentary film, Mysteries of the Driftless, broadcast on PBS, and author of Amazon best-selling thriller The Kurchatov Penetration. He has been featured dozens-upon-dozens of times by TV and radio stations, magazines and newspapers for his organizational consulting, filmmaking, writing, conservation and legal work and for his exploration of international justice and peace issues.

This article is copyright (c) 2014, Timothy S. Jacobson. All rights reserved.


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