If Facebook is akin to the local coffee shop where people stop and chat with others on the way to work, then Twitter is the daily commute — the subway ride, or the walk to the office where people have a split second to share very short conversations. So, which of these social media platforms is best for your small business — Facebook or Twitter?

Consider the similarities and differences between these two applications, as well as the target audiences that you’re trying to reach. Take both platforms for a test drive, and take into account the following before making your final decision.

Compare Environments

Facebook vs Twitter for Small Business - Environment

Twitter and Facebook both enable people to share information, hold discussions, and build relationships, but they offer those activities in two very different environments. You need to determine where your target audience spends time online.

Are your ideal customers on Twitter or Facebook? Where are your competitors? Do your market research first and determine if there is a specific social media destination where your business needs to have a presence. A little upfront research can help you to be more competitive and seize opportunities.

At the same time, you need to understand how the Twitter and Facebook environments differ. For simplicity, think of Facebook as a news program that you can watch at your local coffee shop and discuss with your friends and other patrons.

Twitter is more like a news ticker that flies across the bottom of the screen. You might stop to acknowledge a specific piece of news that passes by on the ticker. You might share that piece of news with others, and you might even talk about it with a few people.

The difference is that Facebook offers an inherently communal environment that invites deep engagement with threaded conversations, company pages that fully integrate varied types of content, and a long list of apps that can turn a Facebook Page into a marketing tool and revenue-generator. Twitter can be used as a marketing tool, too, but its strength is far more focused on real-time information sharing and conversation than deep engagement.

There is a place for both Twitter and Facebook in a fully developed marketing plan, but for many small business owners, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all. Pay attention to the distinct differences between the two sites to determine which platform warrants the most time and attention.

Define Audience Expectations

Facebook vs Twitter for Small Business - Expectations

You must also consider your audience’s needs, wants, and expectations. For the majority of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who have Facebook profiles, Facebook offers a very personal experience. Members communicate with friends and family around the world through personal updates, photos, videos, games, and more.

Facebook members have also come to expect brands and businesses on Facebook to provide useful, meaningful, and entertaining experiences that enhance their time on the site. They expect those experiences to be personalized and tailored to their interests. It’s about community building and providing value that means something to individuals on a personal level.

Twitter is also a social tool, but it’s much more open. There is no need to friend other people. As long as a Twitter profile is public, anyone can read it and follow it. Twitter updates are limited to 140 characters, so messages have to be short and sweet. Twitter timelines move extremely quickly; a typical tweet can be buried within minutes.

People on Twitter also expect useful, meaningful, and entertaining Twitter updates that enhance their social experience. It’s still about providing value, albeit much more quickly!

Make Your Decision

Facebook vs Twitter for Small Business - Evaluation
So which option is better for small businesses – Facebook or Twitter? There really isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question. Businesses of all types and sizes have found great success on both Twitter and Facebook.

Due to its more personal nature, Facebook is typically the “it” site for business-to-consumer marketing, while Twitter is preferred for business-to-business marketing. Consumer product companies tend to favor Facebook because of the many available Facebook apps that enable brands to showcase their products and promotions in creative ways.

Nonprofits also like Facebook because it enables them to connect donation tools to Facebook Pages, announce events, sell tickets for those events, and more.

For individuals trying to build their personal brands as subject matter experts, Twitter provides the perfect place to share your thoughts, your content (such as your blog posts), and useful information you find across the web.

Start by creating accounts on both Facebook and Twitter, and play around with the tools and features. Get a feel for how they function before you make any strategic decisions about where your business’ focus should be.

[Image credits: Anita K Hart, Infrogmation, Gene Han, Colin Harris]