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Facebook and Twitter, hand in hand in the news

Twitter and FacebookWe wanted to share an interesting observation about the two social networks that are dominating our collective mindshare these days: Facebook and Twitter.

Both get their fair share of attention from the media, but a very interesting pattern has emerged over the last year that we will reveal here below.

Twitter and Facebook, hand in hand

The Google Trends tool has something Google calls ”News reference volume” which lets you see how frequently a term is mentioned in the news. You can think of it basically as the level of media attention something is getting .

First, let’s look at the last 12 months, comparing Facebook (the blue line) and Twitter (the red line):

Facebook and Twitter news reference volume

This is definitely interesting; you can see how Twitter and Facebook have received very similar amounts of media attention over the last year, showing up in the news roughly the same amount of times. It also shows that for a while during mid 2009, Twitter had the upper hand.

But that is not what we wanted to show you. Instead, let’s zoom in to show just the last 30 days, and an even more interesting pattern emerges:

Facebook and Twitter news reference volume

Here we can see the results for each day and week, which reveals two patterns we couldn’t see earlier: For one, there is less news on weekends, but that’s no big surprise. The really interesting thing here is how the curves for Twitter and Facebook overlap.

And just to prove this isn’t a fluke, here’s what the news reference volume looked like two months ago, in January:

Facebook and Twitter news reference volume

Just look at that overlap. It’s very, very close.

And to be clear, that overlap is not there if you compare Facebook or Twitter with other social network sites (we tried several).

So…

What does it mean?

We can draw two conclusions from this overlap:

  1. The amount of news mentioning Twitter or Facebook is about the same.
  2. But above all: News mentioning Twitter is very likely to also mention Facebook, and vice versa.

There really is no other way to interpret this. Both the amount of news references and the actual patterns match too perfectly.

When did Facebook and Twitter become so intertwined in the eyes of the media? Yes, they are at the top of the food chain in the social network race, but they are two very different services.

When did this start?

Let’s examine a longer time period to get a clue as to when this started. Here below is the news reference volume from 2004, the year Facebook got started (Twitter started in 2006), all the way up until today.

Facebook and Twitter news reference volume

Facebook was clearly ahead of Twitter in terms of media attention until 2009, when something happened (well, Twitter’s user explosion is what happened).

To be fair to Facebook, they had an exceptional 2009, growing by more than 200 million users, but this is the year when Twitter caught up to Facebook in terms of media attention. The graph even shows that for a while, Twitter overtook Facebook.

Judging by the above graph, they have been very, very close since the 4th quarter of 2009.

For example, here is the news reference volume for November 2009:

Facebook and Twitter news reference volume

This pattern of togetherness became gradually clearer during 2009, although at times, as we mentioned, Twitter’s news volume surpassed Facebook’s.

To see this pattern really start to break you have to back up over a year.

Here is January 2009:

Facebook and Twitter news reference volume

Go back any more than that and the correlation stops completely.

Conclusion

We have established that during 2009, the coupling of Facebook and Twitter has become extremely strong in the eyes of the media. One is rarely mentioned without the other, in spite of being very different types of social networks and services. They have become the two faces of the social networking coin.

We’ll see how long this balance lasts.

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