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Does Facebook Drive as much Traffic as Twitter?

I participated in a panel discussion put on by NextGenWeb last week on building communities online.  Over the course of the discussion, I mentioned that on the sites I manage Twitter generally drives more traffic than Facebook.  Adam Conner from Facebook was also on the panel, and quickly rattled off a few sites for which Facebook is a significant traffic referrer as a way of countering my argument. 

The fact that Twitter drives traffic is not news, but I figured I would do some quick research and share my experience as to how Twitter and Facebook compare as traffic drivers.  I looked at the May statistics for five sites Bivings’ manages that maintain active presences on both Facebook and Twitter.  On Facebook, in all cases the organization’s primary presence on Facebook was a Fan Page.  Here is what I found:

  • On average, Twitter was the fourth biggest referrer for the sites.  It ranged from the third to fifth most popular referrer. 
  • On average, Facebook was the tenth biggest referrer for the sites.  It ranged from sixth to fifteenth most popular referrer.
  • Twitter drove more traffic than Facebook on all the sites I looked at, despite the fact that on two of the sites the number of Facebook fans was far greater than the number of Twitter followers (a ratio of three to one).
  • Overall, Twitter was responsible for driving two times more traffic than Facebook. 

Note that these stats probably underestimate the traffic driven by Twitter, as it doesn’t take into account traffic coming from third party tools like Twhirl and Tweetdeck. 

Obviously, this is not a scientific study and the results are anecdotal.  Things may also change quickly.  But I’m not going to let that stop me from speculating as to why Twitter is driving more traffic on the sites we manage.

Twitter is all about links.  Facebook, less so.  While my personal Facebook stream is slowly being taken over by people cross publishing their Twitter feeds, the status updates of my friends on Facebook typically don’t include links.  And if they do, I typically don’t click on them.  On Facebook, I’m much more interested in looking at pictures and engaging in discussions with people than clicking on links to third party sites.  Finding and clicking on links is the thing I do most on Twitter.

The level of engagement people have with the pages they are fans of on Facebook is pretty low.  Facebook redesigned their pages feature a few months back, and the change definitely made pages more valuable by inserting page updates into users Facebook news feed.  But I think users still tend to tune these updates out, and are also pretty good at ignoring the mass messages page administrators can send out through Facebook. 

Indeed, last night Patrick Ruffini tweeted that for the projects he is working on he is seeing three times better results from regular Facebook profile pages as compared to fan pages.  I’ve seen similar results.  Despite Facebook attempts to blur the distinction between pages and profiles, I think users can tell the difference and are much more engaged with their friends on the network than the brands they are fans of. 

Ultimately, I think Facebook is still primarily about your friends, while Twitter is more about content discovery (and, increasingly, brands and celebrities).  I have no doubt this will change as Facebook continues to grow and tweaks its model further.  But for now the nature of Twitter makes it a better driver of traffic than Facebook, at least in my experience.

What has your experience been?