Americans are always on their phones. Even when we're watching TV for four hours a day, we're on our phones. And when we're on our phones, we're on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). Although Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) has worked hard to make its name synonymous with second-screen activity, most people who watch TV and browse social networks at the same time are on Facebook.
Facebook is taking more steps to help broadcasters make the most of that second-screen audience, something Twitter has been working on with broadcasters for years. But Twitter's lackluster user growth has made the social network less appealing than initially expected, especially as Facebook continues to grow. Facebook's new tools could attract more content to its platform and away from Twitter's.
A plethora of new tools that copy Twitter
To take advantage of the huge audience on Facebook during prime-time broadcasts, the company is offering resources in three broad categories: engage, decide, and display.
To help broadcasters engage with its audience, Facebook has released tools to allow fans to submit photos or videos. It gives the examples of audition tapes for those looking to join the cast, video questions for on-air reply, and shorts for consideration in film contests. Additionally, Facebook is enabling broadcasters to create custom icons. The feature apes Twitter's custom emoji feature, where it works with brands to develop a lightweight form for users to share what they're doing.
Facebook also highlighted its previous efforts with audience engagement, including the ability to solicit comments on a show's Facebook page, the option to upload and promote episode previews, and tools for actors to connect with fans such as Mentions, whose new live streaming feature competes directly with Twitter's Periscope.
Facebook also developed new tools for broadcasters to get simple feedback from their audiences. Shows can now poll their fans and ask them to vote for something (like the next American Idol). This makes it easier for broadcasters to reach their audiences where they already live, to provide the best results for their polls and contests. Twitter has been testing polling for a couple of weeks already.
On top of all that, Facebook has also recently released tools to help broadcasters display content from Facebook and Instagram. It created a content curation tool, Signal, that it released last month. Twitter released its own curation toolset earlier this year for journalists and broadcasters.
Additionally, its API allows access to public figures' posts similar to the ability to collect tweets from public figures. Facebook also highlighted a tool from Vizrt that allows broadcasters to make visual content like lower-thirds and over-the-shoulder displays from Facebook content.
Can Twitter answer the challenge?
Twitter still sees a lot of engagement around live television events, sports, and regular TV broadcasts and is making the most of its content and audience still. The newly released Moments feature has had several feeds focused on television broadcasts and sporting events.
Additionally, Twitter has made it easier for users to discover content about a particular show straight from their timelines. If a user sees a tweet about a show, there's a link to more tweets about it right below it.
But these new features don't address broadcasters' real problem with the social network. Twitter's user growth has slowed to a crawl in recent quarters. The company added just 2 million net new users on its main app and website last quarter.
While Twitter's new tools may help improve engagement from its existing users, broadcasters might need to wait and see if Moments, for example, increases the number of users on the platform. There are reasons to be optimistic that it will, but in the meantime Facebook's toolset for broadcasters has more than caught up with Twitter's.
Broadcasters could create a self-fulfilling prophecy if they believe prospects are low for Twitter engagement to pick up. They'll start producing more content for Facebook and less for Twitter, making Twitter less appealing to users as well. The end result could be Twitter users have less content to engage with on Twitter, which also means less ad revenue for the company.