Of course, the medium matters

06 March 2013

In a post on Techcrunch a few days ago Michael Arrington posted his epiphanous realization that posting content to Twitter that gets auto-posted to Facebook garners less feedback on Facebook.

Um, duh?

He goes on at length about how Facebook might be gaming his views by interfering with how many people view his content on their news feeds. Facebook has almost certainly been disenfranchising someone or another since they started displaying status updates, Arrington’s gripes notwithstanding.

For all of his analysis (counting the likes he gets on status updates), Arrington completely overlooks some of the most obvious factors of engagement. For one thing, seeing that a Facebook status is the scrap food of another service suggests that it’s not worth engaging on Facebook. Why would it be? The user posted on Twitter. He’s not on Facebook, or he would have written the status there.

But there’s a more significant, underlying issue here: the medium matters. If you have several social networking accounts, you may be familiar with the effect keeping them active has on your ability to partition your social life. At least in my observations, people form subtly different identities depending on the medium they’re using. I’m not talking about radically different personalities, but subtly different tone, word choice, and even different foci on content.

Arrington’s post was short and we can only assume hastily written, but he neglects to consider the reasons behind his decision to use Twitter and Facebook for posting statuses in any different way in the first place. He points out that sometimes he posts to Facebook, and sometimes he posts to Twitter, and sometimes he’ll post to both. Why? This matters. The tone, word choice, average length, and content of a status update on Twitter are all decidedly different from a status update on Facebook. There are different expectations of the post, and the expectations of responses (whether they be comments, retweets, or something else) are different too.

It’s ironic that Arrington is (supposedly?) so savvy about tech industry startups but seemingly almost naive to the nuanced differences of (for lack of a better word) “culture” between two major social networking platforms. The point, for anyone who reads these posts, is that you pick your words differently if you’re chatting with friends, conversing with a doctor, or speaking to a dining hall full of world leaders. You’re still speaking the same language, you just “code-switch”, as it were. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Quora, etc… are all the same way. You show a different facet of yourself in each arena. Different style, diction, tone, etc… you even talk about different things in different arenas.

So yes, these things matter. Your perceptions and expectations of feedback on posts on various media might change and differ, and knowing those changes and differences is a good first step toward being a cognizant web citizen the same way that becoming aware of yourself socially is part of what becoming an adult in society involves.

[I didn’t really take much offense or disdain for anything Arrington brought up, except for the obviousness of his observation; I just found this point interesting and wanted to raise it formally.]

You can find me on Twitter at @[email protected]; Facebook at /Ali.Alkhatib; and I’m somewhere between the two.

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