As Facebook Looks to Beat Twitter at its Own Game, Media Companies Benefit

As Facebook Looks to Beat Twitter at its Own Game, Media Companies Benefit

September 19, 2013

Facebook wants to set the record straight.

For years Twitter has been seen as the best companion to TV, where people talk publicly about live events and news. But although Twitter has gotten all the attention, Facebook has always been a platform where people talk about pop culture and current events. Now it’s raising the profile of those conversations — while becoming more useful for users, media companies, and brands.

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Last week Facebook announced the Public Feed API and Keyword Insights API. The Public Feed API allows select partners to access a real-time stream of public posts across Facebook, and search for public mentions of a specific word. The social network offered something similar in 2010, but it wasn’t used on a broad scale. This time, Facebook has partnered with Buzzfeed, CNN, NBC’s Today Show, Slate, and others to get this technology in the hands of outlets that can make use of it right away. There’s also a lot more public conversations happening on Facebook now with people enabling followers on their profiles (and not just friends).

The second half of Facebook’s announcement, the Keyword Insights API, lets partners anonymously aggregate all the mentions of a given keyword over time. They can also layer on gender, age, and location filters to understand how different demographics are talking about an issue or trend. Facebook used to have a service called Lexicon, which did something similar, but not many people were aware of it, and it was shut down in 2010.

These two new APIs give Facebook an entry into an area that was previously dominated by Twitter. Increasingly, news outlets and television programs will incorporate public Facebook posts and aggregated keyword trends to tell stories and engage viewers. These are important products along with verified accounts, hashtags, embedded posts, and trending topics — features typically associated with Twitter, but which Facebook launched this year to close the gap between their services.

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Twitter might have had a head start in this area, but Facebook has a few advantages that media companies will benefit from. First is Facebook’s scale. The social network has 1.15 billion monthly active users compared to Twitter, which has closer to 200 million. That means there are not only several times more conversations happening on Facebook, but it is likely they are more representative of the population overall since Twitter users are still a minority.

Facebook also strives to have users operating only one account and using their real name. Twitter is home to many parody accounts, as well as many accounts that represent businesses or entities rather than individual people. Those that are the voice of a real person often do not include that person’s name or anything to prove their identity.

Another major benefit of Facebook making advancements in the area of real-time and public conversations is that the new competition could push Twitter to innovate and offer new products or analytics to businesses who want to keep a pulse on what people are talking about.

Whether Facebook can out-Twitter the microblogging service or whether Twitter can protect its position as the “global town square” is unclear, but one thing is certain — media companies will benefit from the new insights they can gain and new experiences they can create as a result of more accessible conversations on these platforms.

To see examples of the type of information available through the Public Feed API and Keyword Insights API, check out Mass Relevance and Buzzfeed.