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The Important Feature Facebook Should Copy From Twitter

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB  ) isn't ashamed to copy a good idea. The biggest target of this tactic has been Twitter (NYSE: TWTR  ) , which, most notably, saw its hashtag and trending topics copied. Additionally, Facebook copied Twitter's Vine with Instagram videos, and it added verified profiles last year.

Twitter's done its fair share of copying, as well... notably, its updated profile pages, which look rather similar to Facebook. As a result, the social media platforms are increasingly homogeneous.

Nonetheless, there's a clear distinction between how people use the two networks. Facebook is a social network; Twitter is a real-time news network. With that in mind, journalists and analysts are engaged on Twitter much more than on Facebook. This is despite the fact that Facebook is often readers' preferred sharing platform. (Just look at any of the Fool's most-shared stories for proof.)

Publishers are hanging out on Twitter more than Facebook because Twitter has made it extremely easy to connect with readers, while Facebook makes it just about impossible. With Facebook's focus on content curation and consumption, Twitter's search function may be the next feature it copies.

More people on Facebook means more sharing
It's no wonder that nearly every popular article receives more "Likes" on Facebook than it gets linked to on Twitter. After all, Facebook has almost five times as many users. But if you look at the top publishers on Twitter, their engagement on Facebook is signicantly higher.

Data from Spike via NewsWhip | Create Infographics.

Even the most popular publishers on Twitter see much more engagement from Facebook. Comparatively, Facebook's most popular publishers -- Huffington Post is No. 1 -- see engagement levels well over 10 times that of Twitter.

It's not like Facebook doesn't know
The amount of content shared on Facebook vastly outnumbers that on Twitter, and Facebook has taken steps to improve the user experience when it comes to content. Tweaks to the newsfeed, trending topics, the Paper app, and the ability to save stories to read later all made it easier for users to discover and read the stories they're interested in.

It's missing Twitter's simplicity, however, when it comes to finding and joining global conversations about a particular article you just read. More often, Facebook fosters small conversations among closed networks. Publishers don't have the ability to jump into these conversations and contribute.

As a result, online authors hang out on Twitter, making conversations with readers (but mostly each other). They get to track how their articles are doing in real time and see who, exactly, is interested in them. It's a lot more interesting than watching the number of likes on your article.

The comments section is dying
Although comments are encouraged on most websites -- (Go ahead... leave me one!) -- most conversations regarding online articles live on social media. Here is where Facebook is missing out on a big opportunity. It's sending traffic away to the publishers, forcing users to leave the site in order to engage with the author and have a broader conversation.

One of the first things Mark Zuckerberg mentioned on Facebook's second-quarter earnings call was that there's a lot of room to improve engagement. On average, a Facebook user in the U.S. spends 40 minutes per day on the platform. Comparatively, the average American spends nine hours consuming digital content on TVs, phones, and computers.

Facebook recently made it easier for public figures to engage with fans with its "mentions" feature. But if it really wants to increase engagement, it ought to extend that feature to online publishers. The easiest way to do that is with its Graph Search, which would allow anyone to type in "people who liked [article x]," and populate a list of people and what they're saying about that article.

Moving the conversation onto Facebook instead of Twitter or the publisher's site will help increase engagement, as users are continually drawn back to Facebook to keep up the conversation. More engagement means more advertising opportunities and more revenue for Facebook.

It's only a matter of time
Facebook has certainly made efforts to create more global conversations with trending topics and hashtags, both of which it copied from Twitter. It seems like it's only a matter of time before it copies another Twitter feature to improve public conversations. When it does, watch to see how it affects user engagement, and see if online authors start hanging out on Facebook more often.

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Adam Levy

Adam has been writing for The Motley Fool since 2012 covering consumer goods and technology companies. He spends about as much time thinking about Facebook and Twitter's businesses as he does using their products. For some lighthearted stock commentary and occasional St. Louis Cardinal mania

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