Larry Brauner

When Twitter, Ning and Facebook Compete

Major social networking sites are constantly competing for new users and for a greater share of each user’s networking time.

When Twitter, Facebook and Ning social networks compete, you and I win. Social networking sites are forced to keep improving in order to keep us as members.

Competing Isn’t Easy

However, competing isn’t easy. Simply adding more features will not always produce better results. Added features might make a site slower, harder to comprehend or more difficult to navigate.

There are very many factors that social networking site owners need to consider and to balance when making site improvements. For example:

  1. Competitive Environment - What is the competition doing and not doing? How well is it working for them? Who are they targeting? How are they positioning and marketing themselves? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can we neutralize their strengths and exploit their weaknesses?
  2. Functionality - What capabilities does our target market want? What can we offer? How will product enhancements be perceived?
  3. Design Consistency - How can we add capabilities while preserving our site’s overall look, feel and philosophy? What synergies can we achieve between new and existing functionality?
  4. Cost vs. Benefit - Social network owners must consider the trade off between benefit and cost of each potential site modification?
  5. Timing - How long will it take to roll out site modifications? Faster is generally better than slower when facing competition. Windows of opportunity can sometimes be very small.
  6. Monetization Strategies - How will changes affect the income social network owners derive from the site?
  7. Anticipating the Future - What is needed down the road? How will changes made now interact will future ones?
  8. Legal Issues - Any patents, trademarks, compliance, disclosures or other legal constraints to reckon with?
  9. Site Responsiveness - Are site response times acceptable? Can responsiveness be improved? How will social networking site modification affect responsiveness?
  10. Simplicity - Social networking sites and their features must be easy for members and prospective members to understand.
  11. Ease of Use - Sites must be easy and intuitive to navigate. Members need simple ways to achieve their online social networking objectives.
  12. Visual Appeal - Social networking sites need to look and feel right to members.
  13. Buzz - Social networking sites grow virally when members invite their friends to join. They need compelling reasons to reach out to their friends and easy-to-use mechanisms that automate the inviting process.
  14. Fun Factor - Members will not hang out at a site if it isn’t enjoyable. A positive user experience is critical to online social network success.

Twitter, Ning and Facebook are continually evolving. However, recent changes to Facebook seem to have been the most far reaching.

Recent Facebook Developments

Facebook changed the look and feel of the pages used by businesses, organizations and celebrities to make them more similar to personal profiles. As a result, overall Facebook design is simpler and perhaps a bit more intimate.

Furthermore, the way businesses and individuals can now both use the Facebook News Feed seems to more closely follow the Twitter model. This is especially good news for businesses, organizations and celebrities trying to communicate with their “fans” and acquire new ones.

My main Facebook complaints are: its persistent sluggishness, the deluge of quaint applications and requests, and the steep learning curve.

Recent Ning Developments

The way I see it, Ning takes the Web 2.0 concept a step farther than any of their competitors. That’s what makes Ning unique.

Not only do users create site content, they even create the individual Ning social networks themselves.

Ning encourages people to become members of multiple social networks. What has been sorely needed is a way to manage participation across these multiple networks from a central control panel. Ning has recently filled this need by creating a new super meta network at Ning.com that’s conceptually a network of networks.

I applaud Ning’s latest effort, but noticed couple of problems with the new meta social networking site:

  • There isn’t yet a capability to manage outstanding friend requests across networks.
  • The recent friends list isn’t correctly sorted.

Like Facebook, Ning social networks tend to be slow and quirky.

Recent Twitter Developments

The main thing I see at Twitter is a cleaner web interface with fewer rough edges.

Twitter like Facebook and Ning is doing its share to combat spam. Spam in social media is an ongoing problem.

Twitter is much faster than Facebook or Ning. I would however like to see better performance of the Twitter API as it affects the consistency of Twitter tools running on top of it. I can run Twitter Karma many times and get as many different results!

For me and others site performance can be an overriding issue. When a site is too slow, it can be emotionally too painful to endure. For that reason I spend most of my networking time on Twitter, even though conceptually I like Ning and Facebook about as much.

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16 Responses to “When Social Networking Sites Compete”

  1. Karen McGreevey on March 15th, 2009 7:37 pm

    Larry,

    Thank you once again for a terrific post.

    I especially like that you’ve taken the time to put such detailed information about these social networking sites into one place.

    As you’ve said, each has its good and better features. Sometimes, we just have to decide what works best for us. With your details, it makes the decision easier…for me anyway.

    It is interesting how Facebook is making changes leaning to Twitter’s side.

  2. GoEverywhere Team on March 15th, 2009 7:57 pm

    There are definitely different uses for the various social networking websites. I use them all daily on my webtop, but have different followings and colleagues for each. What’s interesting is how Ning is a resource for those on Twitter looking for groups to join. There’s one for moms, one for professionals, one for dating - and so much more. I’ll be curious to see what they come up with next!

  3. Larry Brauner on March 16th, 2009 12:39 am

    I have also created Ning social networking sites:

    1. Outside the Box
    2. Let’s Follow Each Other

    You are welcome to visit and join.

  4. Debbie Morgan on March 16th, 2009 1:52 am

    Hi Larry!

    Thanks for taking the time to break this down for us. I like Facebook, am new to Twitter and have enjoyed Ning over the last year.

    I like sending my friends on Facebook a birthday message but the new homepage seems to have taken away my ability to easily locate my friends birthdays. The old home page used to have a “Birthdays” link where I could go and all of my friends birthdays were listed by month and day. Can’t seem to find it now.

    Anyway, thanks, Larry, for another great post.

    Deb

  5. DeskAway on March 16th, 2009 3:21 am

    DeskAway is on Twitter and Facebook. Good post!

    Will check out Ning.

  6. Theresa Smith on March 16th, 2009 10:30 am

    Larry,

    Thank you for this great information. I too believe in building multiple groups. I use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Plaxo on a daily schedule. Each does have their own target to users. I have different people in each depending on what I use each site for.

    The new face of Facebook I do NOT like. I can not find things as easy just like Debbie comments.

    Keep the information coming and thank you again.

  7. Patricia on March 16th, 2009 1:06 pm

    I’m a little slow at joining all of these. Just added Twitter yesterday. Haven’t tried Ning yet. Facebook overwhelms me with lots of games and junk. I’m not really sure how to use these sites (that is, what to post on them) to help my blog grow. Should, for example, I say on Twitter that I just posted something on my blog? Should I try to follow lots of people on Twitter, whether I know them or not, in hopes that they will follow me and find my blog along the way? You’re my favorite advice site and I read your suggestions, so I’m hoping you will be helping us all make sense out of coordinating all these sites together. Thanks!

  8. Larry Brauner on March 16th, 2009 2:11 pm

    Patricia,

    As you might expect, it’s difficult to answer all your questions in a blog comment but at the risk of over simplifying, I’ll try.

    I share your sentiments about Facebook. Of the three sites I discussed, Twitter, Ning and Facebook, it’s Facebook that’s my least favorite. Not only don’t I like all the bizarre invitations I receive, I don’t find it very congenial or easy to use.

    Nevertheless, Facebook cannot be ignored. It’s the hottest of all the social networking sites, and offers the largest potential audience for any marketing campaign based on wide appeal.

    As an expert on communication, your blog ought to have fairly wide appeal, so you need to keep Facebook on your radar.

    For now, you should gradually build your Facebook friend list. You should also create a Facebook fan page for your blog and gradually acquire fans. I don’t however recommend at this point that you jump into any serious marketing effort on Facebook.

    Twitter can be a great source of blog traffic and new readers. I have received more than 2,000 visits from Twitter and more than 150 new subscribers to my blog in the last two months.

    There are Twitter related articles on my blog and plenty of Twitter training resources. It’s worth the time to learn the basics before going too far.

    The strategy of following people and hoping they follow you back is basically a sound one. Follow those top Twitter members who tend to follow people back as well as the followers of Twitter members who share your niche or a related one.

    These three Twitter tools should help once you’ve completed your basic training:

    Twitterholic.com - Look for people who have about as many friends as followers. That means that they usually reciprocate.

    Twitter Grader - Search here to find people in your niche.

    Twitter Karma - Find and unfollow people who don’t follow you back or who later unfollow you.

    I suggest that you link to your blog in your profile. Use your profile description in a way that the people you want to attract will know that they’re in the right place when they visit your page. Keep in mind too that people can search for you using keywords.

    Ning can be a tremendous resource for you. To get a feel for Ning, you should sign up for both of my sites listed in a comment above and communicate with me and other members through he Ning sites.

    I have written a number of Ning articles. When the time will be right, you’ll be able to start your own Ning community.

    Hope this advice will help you a little to get going with your social networking.

  9. Morgan Mandel on March 16th, 2009 9:54 pm

    Although I have my own Ning network at bookplace.ning.com, I spend the most time on Twitter. That’s because it’s so fast and I have such little time.

    Facebook is okay, but I despise its silly apps. Also, it seems to be attacked by more viruses lately, which makes me uneasy about using it the way it should be used.

    MySpace used to be popular, but it takes too long to load because of the video commercials, so I don’t go on there as often any more.

    Morgan Mandel
    @morganmandel
    morganmandel.blogspot.com

  10. Steve on March 19th, 2009 11:49 pm

    Larry, using your 80/20 rule, which of these three sites do you spend most of your time on. Or are they, all together, the 20?

  11. Larry Brauner on March 20th, 2009 1:01 am

    In theory Steve I value all three about equally, so my actions are guided by the sites’ responsiveness.

    Since Twitter is the fastest, that’s where I spend most of my time, then Ning and then Facebook.

    However, this doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily the right strategy for you and other people.

  12. ACHoffman on May 14th, 2009 10:40 am

    Social networking sites are always helpful to increase Alexa traffic rankings, since it attracts lots of visitors to you. I use already eight social networks to express my thoughts, and I get a nice response from them.

  13. Dede on June 15th, 2009 1:12 pm

    Larry, really enjoyed your article. I have recently created a Ning community recently and am loving it. You are right about the invite feature as well. I have had over 585 invites to my site with fewer than 100 members. That tells me that people like the site and that the invite link really does work!

    I have found so far that the Ning platform is the best. You can create unique content and their platform encourages participation if the owner of the network does their job too!!

    Ning still has some quirks but I have found the Ning team to be quick to respond to my questions.

    I look forward to reading more of your post!

  14. Larry Brauner on June 15th, 2009 1:24 pm

    Dede,

    Ning is making progress. Their Ning site has improved since I wrote this post. It provides greater ability to manage friends. The still a few issues, but I can live with them.

    Please let me know if you need help with your singles site.

  15. Linda Clark on July 22nd, 2010 11:27 pm

    Very well said. Networking sites are like business that caters the same clients and audiences. They should be the best or nothing will happen. This is basically the same as blogging, you should be at the top- known by most users or else, there will be no business for you. Whatever it is and whatever we have, we should all keep the competition clean.

  16. Robert Lindsey on February 17th, 2011 1:44 am

    I think Ning is pretty much down for the count. Edgy stuff in ‘04 but old hat in ‘11.

    I think that if they could have made the switch to ROR and Node.js and the tag cloud databases over the last couple of years they could have evolved and prospered. I think it’s too late now though.

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