Where do you publish first if you have more Facebook subscribers than Twitter followers? That’s a question more and more journalists are going to be asking themselves. This is just 3.5 months after the launch of Facebook’s late entry into asymmetrical following (I follow you, you don’t have to follow me back). Many individual content producers including TechCrunch / CrunchFund’s MG Siegler, The New York Times’ Nick Bilton, and myself have have seen our subscriber counts surpass our follower tallies. How? Because Facebook’s larger user count makes it easier to amass subscribers.
This is why I think Facebook has a real chance to beat, or at least severely reduce the value of Twitter. For the mainstream internet user, the barrier to following someone on Twitter is high because, well, they have to sign up for Twitter. Most people already have Facebook, so subscribing to someone doesn’t require additional work. They’re just rolled into your existing news feed. You don’t have to make any conscious entry into interest graph networking.
Over time, the sheer popularity of Facebook could lead many to have a larger public audience there. If publishers prioritize by audience size, the shift could jeopardize Twitter’s prowess as the source for breaking news.
Some caveats. Facebook may have taken the lead so quickly for some journalists because they appear more often on its dynamic suggested subscribe list. However, people are gaining lots of subscribers through links on the comments they leave through Facebook’s Comments Box widget for websites.
Yes, the big influencers are on Twitter, and reaching them is important. And yes, Twitter is more reliable for breaking news because the unpredictable nature of the news feed and EdgeRank mean updates aren’t always delivered immediately. But for publishers, reaching the long tail is important too, especially from a money-making perspective.
All Facebook has to do is expose subscribe links to its huge user base. Eventually publishers will gain enough subscribers that they consistently post publicly there. Then, people on the fence about whether to join or invest time in Twitter may not bother. Facebook will be good enough.
There’s still a big problem with Subscribe in that you can’t post separately to subscribers vs friends. And there’ll always be unique use cases for the rapid consumption, 140-character format. Not enough to win over the mainstream, though. Turns out it’s not easy for a little bird to fight an 800 million user gorilla.