In theory, all social networks — including Facebook, Twitter and Google+ — share a similar goal: To provide you with a platform to communicate online with your friends, followers, and encircled. In reality, each network has a considerably different culture, and as such, each is useful in very different ways. Here's a look at what each network does best.
Facebook made some compelling announcements today, and like the service or not, you can't deny that Facebook is building a powerful platform that extends far beyond what most of us think of when we're talking about social networks. For the purpose of this post, I'm going to ignore Facebook's massive platform and focus on direct, person-to-person interaction (where it's on the same basic playing field as Twitter and Google+).
Second, your experiences may vary. The different ways in which I've found each network useful clearly has a lot to do with how I use the different social networks. These results may not be typical of what you've experience; I'm just one user, and networks may behave entirely differently. (And I'm eager to hear your take in the comments.)
Google+ Is Like an Old-School Forum or Blog
Using Google+ feels to me a lot like I felt in the internet days of yore when I'd post questions to a forum. I mean this in the best possible way. I get more thoughtful, longer-form responses, and if I'm looking for help or advice on something, Google+ is the network that gives me the most and best responses. In many ways, it also feels like a blogging platform with a very active community. That causes some dissonance for people who want to own their content on their own blog, but it's also a testament to Google+ as a solid platform for deeper-than-normal interaction on social networks.
Twitter Is Great for Broadcasting, Taking the Temperature, and Starting Relationships
Twitter has done some incredible things in terms of tracking the cultural zeitgeist, but as an individual user interacting with people on Twitter, I've always found Twitter more useful for broadcasting and sharing links and other ephemera. As for harnessing the hive mind, Twitter's 140-character limit means you don't get a deep response (like you can on Google+) when you put a question, but it is really good for polling when the response is binary (yes/no) or multiple choice. Last, of all the social networks, Twitter is the one where I feel most comfortable approaching people I don't know and start building a new relationship — primarily because it's the service where I've had the most luck actually interacting with peers and colleagues I'm not already "friends" with.
Facebook Is Great for Friends
Like a lot of Lifehacker readers, I've never been a huge fan of Facebook. Privacy concerns notwithstanding, Facebook is currently without question the most massive and powerful social network for connecting with actual friends. For most of us, that's the entire purpose of a social network: To allow us to interact better with friends. Consequently, adoption is key to that interaction. I'd love it if all my IRL friends and family were on Twitter or Google+, for example, but they're not. They're on Facebook. They're not early adopters or Google lovers, and they're not likely to make the switch to Google+ any time soon.
While Twitter and Google+ are excellent platforms for people interested in reaching outside their social circles, Facebook is really good at reaching in and strengthening interaction within social circles that already exist outside of Facebook's database. Families; friends; co-workers. They're Facebook's bread and butter.
Three Social Networks, One Question
Yesterday I asked one simple question across Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ at the same time. The responses I received offer some interesting insight into the cultures of each network — or at least into how my friends, followers, and encircled interact.
Here was my question:
"Going to Santa Barbara wine country with my visiting parents this weekend. Any suggestions?"
Here were the results (as of a few hours after I'd posted):
This question by no means represents a scientific sample, study, poll, or inquiry. Still, these results provide a fairly accurate illustration of my experience with simple Q&A on each of these three social networks.
How About You?
Your experience may differ significantly based on the people you interact with on these networks, the way you've historically used them, how long you've been involved in each network, and lots of other factors. Tell us which networks work for you, and why, in the comments.