Twitter Networks are Different than Social Networks

Posted on Mar 15, 2010 | 124 comments


coffeehouse meetingIf you use Twitter and think it is a valuable service then you’re probably tired of the steady stream of your friends who tell you it’s just a fad and they don’t feel compelled to join.  They “don’t care what people ate for lunch.”  They’re fine on their existing social networks, which these days mostly means they’re happy with Facebook.  I think they’re missing something.

I’ve covered Twitter topics much in the past.  I’ve talked about how Twitter is a new form of RSS (curated RSS), it’s a a new form of IM / SMS, it’s a place where business is conducted and it’s a place where advertising will drive leads due to the link sharing nature of Twitter.

But Twitter is different than Facebook because it’s more open and it’s asymmetric.  Traditional social networks are more restricted to people whom I already know and information and updates are less discoverable.  And as a result Twitter Networks are currently different in my mind than many other social networks.  Twitter Networks allow you to build open and serendipitous relationships with new people where social networks do not.

Let me give you some examples:

Tristan Walker: I first met Tristan online when he was merely human (e.g. before having 300k followers!).  He had followed me on Twitter and sent me a nice message about my blog.   I always look at who follows me on Twitter.  I can’t follow everybody back because I feel that this would clutter my Twitter stream and make it harder to hear from people I really know or from whom I want to learn.  But I do like to follow some random people that I don’t yet know.  Usually people that I think I might someday get to know.   I tend to to look at their bios, sometimes click on their links, read a bit of their Tweet stream and make a quick decision whether or not to follow.  If over time I don’t find any value in what they say I just unfollow in the future.  So when I saw the merely mortal Tristan with a normal sized Twitter following I clicked through to his link, saw his blog, saw that he was a second year at Stanford and just thought, “hey, he seems like an interesting guy.  Maybe I’ll follow him for a bit.”

The day after I first heard from Tristan I was coincidentally in Palo Alto and had a series of back-to-back meetings in one day.  I had a lunch meeting scheduled with Gadi Shamia, whom I love spending time with, at Shabuway on Castro Street in Mountain View (I only mention it because if, like me, you enjoy Shabu Shabu it’s a great place to go).

But I had an hour to kill before lunch and I was on California Street in Palo Alto.  I sent out a Tweet saying, “I’m in Palo Alto for an hour, anyone want to grab coffee?”  Within 2 minutes I had 5 responses to meet me for coffee.  One of them was Tristan.  So I agreed to meet him at Printer’s Cafe.  We spent an hour together.  I instantly loved the guy.  Great life story.  Energetic.  Ambitious but not too full of himself.  He had just finished a project for Twitter and was doing some side work for a small 5 person company called FourSquare.  If you follow them you’ll know that they’re now on fire and Tristan is now VP Business Development.  It wasn’t always so.  We’ve talked on the phone a few times and trade Tweets but we still only met that one time in person.  Somehow he still feels like an old friend.  Strange, huh?

Brad Feld: I first learned of Brad Feld like many of you – through his blog.  I was raising money for my second company and having been burned by term sheets on my first company I was eager to get myself knowledgeable before signing up to take VC again.  I started reading Brad’s “term sheet” series.  If you haven’t read it and you’re thinking about raising money, it’s a must read.  So when I first signed up for Twitter I naturally subscribed to Brad’s feed.

One day Brad Tweeted he was going to be in LA with his dad.  I generally try not to stalk people I don’t know when they announce they’re in town, but as a fellow VC (and a partner in Southern California’s largest fund), I felt we had a legitimate reason to connect.  As he wasn’t following me at the time I wrote to him with the @ sign as you can do in Twitter.  His father, Dr. Stanley Feld, who writes his own blog and covered the encounter in this post,

Mark Suster twittered Brad on Saturday and asked if he could meet us for breakfast on Sunday. Brad did not know Mark. Brad googled him on his Iphone. He then twittered him a yes at the Mondrian Asia Cuba at 8.30 a.m. It is an instant world out there folks.

The breakfast meeting was wonderful. Again I learned how things are done in the New World.”

It was a great breakfast.  I obviously enjoyed meeting Brad, but I also really enjoyed meeting his father.  Brad was originally from Dallas and his father is still a practicing doctor there.  So is my uncle, Dr. Neal Sklaver.  So I played the usual game of “do you know” and it turns out that they used to have practices in the same building and knew each other well!  Small world.

A few weeks later I was in the Bay Area and  I saw another Tweet from Brad that says that he’s traveling with the governor of Colorado who’s in town to meet with VCs.  I sent a message to Brad saying that I was in town and he invited me to the meeting.  This is back when Brad wasn’t disappointed with the governor ;-)  Anyway, another nice, serendipitous encounter.

Ozumo Sushi:  Final story – a few weeks ago I was traveling to San Francisco and had pre-booked every imaginable hour of every day for the full 5 days I was there.  But I was flying in late on a Sunday night and never like to overbook the first night in case the plane isn’t on time.  So when I arrived late at my hotel I decided to try an experiment.  I sent out a Tweet that I was going to Ozumo Sushi in San Fran and if anyone was around they were willing to join me.  This was obviously more open than my Palo Alto Tweet because I actually named the location.

What a pleasure the night was.  It was late but three people still turned up: Justyn Howard (founder & CEO of Sprout Social), Jamie Quint (founder of a YCombinator company), Saumil Mehta (product lead at Kosmix).  I had known Justyn for a while and he was fortuitously in town from Chicago but I had never met Saumil or Jamie.  We (I?) had a great evening talking tech and startup.  We even had a pretty funny end to the night.  I just spoke with Jamie again today on the phone, which is what made me think to write this post.

The world is now wired, connected and open.  I believe you need to be careful with your public whereabouts more than many other people seem to feel.  But in a controlled way I like to get to know people through my Twitter Network in ways that other social networks don’t do it for me.  I get @ replies from many people I don’t know and I try my best to answer most of them.  If people have meaningful things to say, share good links, participate in the comments in my blog and introduce themselves at events, I look forward to getting to know them over time.  It’s the aspect of my job I love the most – meeting new people, hearing their stories, learning and building enduring relationships.  I find this new, open world very encouraging indeed.

  • shafqat

    This is a really good point. While Twitter allows people to get to know others and build relationships without meeting physically, we've actually always had this option through blogs.

    But what's really interesting to me is that it took Twitter to come along before I started building relationships through blog discussions. It's almost as if Twitter showed that it's possible, and people started become more accustomed to the idea of building relationships with “strangers.” Not sure if this is just me, but when it comes to blogs, I've definately found a huge change in my own behavior post-Twitter.

  • http://asable.com/ Giang Biscan

    Obviously, as a fan, I checked out ad.ly a while back since it's your portfolio company. I also checked out about 20 others – Klout, graph edge, gravity, twitalyzer,…

    I think ad.ly analytic is not very clear in term of who it targets, it is sort of targeting publishers and brands in combined. A few degree tweak will make this clearer.

    IMHO, if it is to be successful with publishers, it needs a twitter app that is an integrated UI (like Hootsuite). It is not natural for publishers to log in to ad.ly, then log out, log in to twitter to carry on with their normal conversation, then log back into ad.ly later.

    One night this week I will email you something that I use in a different industry to evaluate trends in technology. I think you may find it interesting and can be useful for social network analytics. I hope my email doesn't get blocked because of the attachment. (Yes, I have your email addresses.)

  • http://asable.com/ Giang Biscan

    Twitter.com is probably the hardest way to use Twitter.

  • http://keithbnowak.com/ Keith B. Nowak

    I have to admit that at first I was a Twitter skeptic as well. I didn't “get it”. However, once I understood I could follow incredibly interesting people who I would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet Twitter instantly became much more valuable and worthwhile than any other social network. It all comes down to who you follow. Of course there are people posting what they ate for lunch but I don't follow them. I use Twitter as a learning resource and follow people who are doing amazing things, running and funding cool startups, and generally awesome. I have essentially stopped using Facebook because little to no learning takes place there for me. What my friends post on Facebook is exactly the useless information that people assume is all over Twitter. I think they have it backwards.

  • sherrykumar

    I think that Twitter has its benefits, but neither the media nor the marketers can agree on how to effectively utilize it. In my quest for learning how to effectively use it as a marketing tool, I made many mistakes mostly because I used it for social connections while at the same time building a business presence.
    I finally learned to separate the two and so an immediate benefit. I think when it comes to Twitter, the biggest challenge is to stay focused on your audience and what they want to hear: http://ebiznow.wordpress.com/?p=45&preview=true

  • sherrykumar

    I think that Twitter has its benefits, but neither the media nor the marketers can agree on how to effectively utilize it. In my quest for learning how to effectively use it as a marketing tool, I made many mistakes mostly because I used it for social connections while at the same time building a business presence.
    I finally learned to separate the two and so an immediate benefit. I think when it comes to Twitter, the biggest challenge is to stay focused on your audience and what they want to hear: http://ebiznow.wordpress.com/?p=45&preview=true

  • http://easisell.com/ Clement Yeung

    Twitter alone has transformed my life by simply putting me in touch. The assymetrical nature of Twitter will always put it above the other networks because to me, social networking isn't just about doing so within my network of already-existing friends – it's about meeting new and valuable people.

    The most important thing to me when I use a social network is feedback. I don't really need the frills such as having a nice photo album or video album – I can put those on pages that I link to from my Twitter account.

    In this case, what Roy Rodenstein says is true – we've been communicating like this for years. However, Twitter has simplified the process (now we don't need to connect to servers and configure bots).

    Here's a statement from @WarrenWhitlock that describes what I'm saying: http://twitter.com/WarrenWhitlock/status/107866

    I'm not sure what a perfect social networking platform looks like and I don't think anyone else does either, but Twitter is the closest one to that perfection as far as I'm concerned.

  • http://easisell.com/ Clement Yeung

    Twitter alone has transformed my life by simply putting me in touch. The assymetrical nature of Twitter will always put it above the other networks because to me, social networking isn't just about doing so within my network of already-existing friends – it's about meeting new and valuable people.

    The most important thing to me when I use a social network is feedback. I don't really need the frills such as having a nice photo album or video album – I can put those on pages that I link to from my Twitter account.

    In this case, what Roy Rodenstein says is true – we've been communicating like this for years. However, Twitter has simplified the process (now we don't need to connect to servers and configure bots).

    Here's a statement from @WarrenWhitlock that describes what I'm saying: http://twitter.com/WarrenWhitlock/status/107866

    I'm not sure what a perfect social networking platform looks like and I don't think anyone else does either, but Twitter is the closest one to that perfection as far as I'm concerned.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Great points. People in Silicon Valley are too quick to assume that all other startups are in the Valley. Technology like Twitter closes the gap. Good luck with the move.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    thanks for leaving a comment, Steven. re: facebook's walled garden – I'll save my comment for a future post. been meaning to write it for a while!

  • fionacowan

    I really enjoyed this, Mark. I was a real Twit-sceptic at first but now rely on it heavily for work, and use Facebook just for keeping up with friends or music ventures. Through Twitter I became a script consultant for the BBC's longest running radio drama!

    Some of the best friends I have were met through the blog linked to BBC Radio 4's evening news magazine programme 'PM'. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/pm … we meet up 3 or 4 times a year, and only our grownup children seem to think it's weird.

    There's a social study to be done on social networking. Wish I had the skills to do it!

    Fiona Cowan
    @Fiona_WordsBird

  • fionacowan

    I was such a Twitter-sceptic at first. But now, I wouldn't be without it for work contacts and information gathering. Through Twitter I became a script consultant for The Archers on BBC Radio 4. And featured in a UK-wide booklet promoting volunteering as a local councillor to those who don't fit the volunteer stereotype. And never have to scrape around for material for the website I host for the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Facebook can't do all that!

    The 'real life'/online nature of friendships is fascinating. My other half and I meet up 3 or 4 times a year with a bunch of mates I met on the blog linked to Radio 4's evening news programme, PM. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/pm. They are real, intelligent, varied, fascinating people … and their grown up kids are the only ones who think any of this is weird!

    Thanks for sharing, Mark. Loved this article and will RT it widely on Twitter. (Thanks to whoever it was originally RT'd it to me.)

    Fiona Cowan
    @Fiona_WordsBird

    Facebook is great for

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Great points. People in Silicon Valley are too quick to assume that all other startups are in the Valley. Technology like Twitter closes the gap. Good luck with the move.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    thanks for leaving a comment, Steven. re: facebook's walled garden – I'll save my comment for a future post. been meaning to write it for a while!

  • fionacowan

    I really enjoyed this, Mark. I was a real Twit-sceptic at first but now rely on it heavily for work, and use Facebook just for keeping up with friends or music ventures. Through Twitter I became a script consultant for the BBC's longest running radio drama!

    Some of the best friends I have were met through the blog linked to BBC Radio 4's evening news magazine programme 'PM'. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/pm … we meet up 3 or 4 times a year, and only our grownup children seem to think it's weird.

    There's a social study to be done on social networking. Wish I had the skills to do it!

    Fiona Cowan
    @Fiona_WordsBird

  • fionacowan

    I was such a Twitter-sceptic at first. But now, I wouldn't be without it for work contacts and information gathering. Through Twitter I became a script consultant for The Archers on BBC Radio 4. And featured in a UK-wide booklet promoting volunteering as a local councillor to those who don't fit the volunteer stereotype. And never have to scrape around for material for the website I host for the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Facebook can't do all that!

    The 'real life'/online nature of friendships is fascinating. My other half and I meet up 3 or 4 times a year with a bunch of mates I met on the blog linked to Radio 4's evening news programme, PM. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/pm. They are real, intelligent, varied, fascinating people … and their grown up kids are the only ones who think any of this is weird!

    Thanks for sharing, Mark. Loved this article and will RT it widely on Twitter. (Thanks to whoever it was originally RT'd it to me.)

    Fiona Cowan
    @Fiona_WordsBird

    Facebook is great for

  • http://twitter.com/mattamyers Matthew A Myers

    Without having read your full post yet I will say this: I find myself currently using Twitter to get a feel for people, to see what they're interested in, to see their intelligence and understanding of things, to see their personality – to see if I like them and would want to do business with them and be associated further. I'm doing this with blogs I'm reading and participating in too. On the other side of things, I hope people will be using it the same way to get a feel for me. You don't really get the same real personality from reading static information on someone's profile.

  • http://twitter.com/mattamyers Matthew A Myers

    Without having read your full post yet I will say this: I find myself currently using Twitter to get a feel for people, to see what they're interested in, to see their intelligence and understanding of things, to see their personality – to see if I like them and would want to do business with them and be associated further. I'm doing this with blogs I'm reading and participating in too. On the other side of things, I hope people will be using it the same way to get a feel for me. You don't really get the same real personality from reading static information on someone's profile.

  • http://twitter.com/WaymonWilkerson Waymon Wilkerson

    I never was a big fan of Facebook or hardly use it. So I've decided to give this a shot after hearing the constant praises of the social and professional benefits it can yield. But so far I'm finding it to be extremely frustrating. I realize the openness of Twitter allows for more scalability than the socially confined FB. Most of my friends use Twitter as an extension of FB. But than I ask myseld: why am I doing this? What's my purpose? And as a result, makes me question who to follow? The ambiguity and overload of information is almost overbearing to me. For example, if I were to use this to find a job or try to break into a new industry, do you refine your posts to just contacting individuals in those areas and type of conversations? Or would people find you to be too socially inept? On the flip side, if your profile is scattered with social chatter with friends, would others see this as someone not too concerned with their professional outlook? And that's not scratching the iceberg, what's the deal with lists? If I create lists for 5 or so new sources, I still have to scour 100+ headlines in a day. How am I supposed to parse out the articles that really matter or are of interest to me?

    Ideally, I would like to use this as a professional networking tool, but I'm not sure ''how”. Am I posting a tweet every hour or day? what am I supposed to tweet? who do I tweet directly? Should I be concerned about who's following me, etc. Despite this headache, I'm going to keep working at it and hopefully it'll 'click' someday.

  • julianhalevy

    Who cares about either twitter or “social networks” ? Not I! But I do find it grating that in your ignorance of English grammar, you use the nonsensical expression “different than,” and in your headline, no less. No doubt you received a vaulted degree from some baccalaureate-granting institution that taught you that the correct expression is “different from”, or at least exposed you to people who spoke correctly; but no doubt you were too busy texting or twittering or…whatever.

  • http://twitter.com/WaymonWilkerson Waymon Wilkerson

    I never was a big fan of Facebook or hardly use it. So I've decided to give this a shot after hearing the constant praises of the social and professional benefits it can yield. But so far I'm finding it to be extremely frustrating. I realize the openness of Twitter allows for more scalability than the socially confined FB. Most of my friends use Twitter as an extension of FB. But than I ask myseld: why am I doing this? What's my purpose? And as a result, makes me question who to follow? The ambiguity and overload of information is almost overbearing to me. For example, if I were to use this to find a job or try to break into a new industry, do you refine your posts to just contacting individuals in those areas and type of conversations? Or would people find you to be too socially inept? On the flip side, if your profile is scattered with social chatter with friends, would others see this as someone not too concerned with their professional outlook? And that's not scratching the iceberg, what's the deal with lists? If I create lists for 5 or so new sources, I still have to scour 100+ headlines in a day. How am I supposed to parse out the articles that really matter or are of interest to me?

    Ideally, I would like to use this as a professional networking tool, but I'm not sure ''how”. Am I posting a tweet every hour or day? what am I supposed to tweet? who do I tweet directly? Should I be concerned about who's following me, etc. Despite this headache, I'm going to keep working at it and hopefully it'll 'click' someday.

  • http://twitter.com/WaymonWilkerson Waymon Wilkerson

    I never was a big fan of Facebook or hardly use it. So I've decided to give this a shot after hearing the constant praises of the social and professional benefits it can yield. But so far I'm finding it to be extremely frustrating. I realize the openness of Twitter allows for more scalability than the socially confined FB. Most of my friends use Twitter as an extension of FB. But than I ask myseld: why am I doing this? What's my purpose? And as a result, makes me question who to follow? The ambiguity and overload of information is almost overbearing to me. For example, if I were to use this to find a job or try to break into a new industry, do you refine your posts to just contacting individuals in those areas and type of conversations? Or would people find you to be too socially inept? On the flip side, if your profile is scattered with social chatter with friends, would others see this as someone not too concerned with their professional outlook? And that's not scratching the iceberg, what's the deal with lists? If I create lists for 5 or so new sources, I still have to scour 100+ headlines in a day. How am I supposed to parse out the articles that really matter or are of interest to me?

    Ideally, I would like to use this as a professional networking tool, but I'm not sure ''how”. Am I posting a tweet every hour or day? what am I supposed to tweet? who do I tweet directly? Should I be concerned about who's following me, etc. Despite this headache, I'm going to keep working at it and hopefully it'll 'click' someday.

  • julianhalevy

    Who cares about either twitter or “social networks” ? Not I! But I do find it grating that in your ignorance of English grammar, you use the nonsensical expression “different than,” and in your headline, no less. No doubt you received a vaulted degree from some baccalaureate-granting institution that taught you that the correct expression is “different from”, or at least exposed you to people who spoke correctly; but no doubt you were too busy texting or twittering or…whatever.

  • julianhalevy

    Who cares about either twitter or “social networks” ? Not I! But I do find it grating that in your ignorance of English grammar, you use the nonsensical expression “different than,” and in your headline, no less. No doubt you received a vaulted degree from some baccalaureate-granting institution that taught you that the correct expression is “different from”, or at least exposed you to people who spoke correctly; but no doubt you were too busy texting or twittering or…whatever.