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Facebook vs. Twitter: The Real-Time Battle

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The power outage at Super Bowl 47 shined light on a growing issue for Facebook. Namely, its lack of relevancy during a live-event.

Super Bowl XLVII, the third most-watched program in television history, was accompanied by 52 national TV commercials, according to internet marketing site Marketing Land. Twitter was mentioned in 26 ads, or 50 percent, aired during CBS' game coverage. Facebook took home four mentions for eight percent, while Google was not touted at all. YouTube and Instagram were both shown once.

Facebook and Twitter each received eight mentions out of a total of 59 national commercials during Super Bowl 46 in 2012, wrote Marketing Land. That means Twitter received more than two times as many mentions this year, while Facebook saw a 50 percent drop in big game ad mentions year-over-year.

(Read More: Twitter, Washington Post Also Announce Hacks )

Why are brands, who shelled out an average of $3.8 million per 30 second spot, shying away from a social network that has 1.06 billion users for a micro-blogging platform that has just 200 million users?

(Read More: Advertisers Bet Big on the Super Bowl )

Location, Location, Location:

While Facebook may have an extreme edge over Twitter when it comes to the amount of monthly active users, advertisers want engagement on the platforms most inhabited during a live-event.

Asking social media users to interact with a brand's content on a platform other than the one they are currently on would lead to less than desirable results. Extreme case in point is the lack of a Google mention in a single Super Bowl ad. Brands feel that enough users simply aren't there.

(Read More: For Search, Facebook Had to Go Beyond 'Robospeak' )

Twitter released post-game social statistics that detailed the biggest peaks of Twitter conversation during the championship game. Measured in Tweets per minute, or TPM, the power outage at New Orleans' Superdome registered a game-high 231,500 TPM. A 108-yard kickoff return by the Ravens' Jacoby Jones was good for second place at 185,000 TPM. In total, more than 24 million game-related Tweets were posted.

"It took just four minutes for the first Promoted Tweet to appear against searches for [power outage] on Twitter," the company wrote, illustrating just how fast advertisers moved in to capitalize on the moment in real-time.

In fact, the blackout was the defining moment that portrayed the difference between Facebook and Twitter, said Craig Elimeliah, vice president and director of technology and digital solutions at Rapp.

"It was a small blip in the advertising continuum that I believe will impact the industry forever… I applaud those brands that chose to see that opportunity and seize it without over-examining the creative and testing ad nauseam. It showed that something like that can be done on an ongoing basis as part of a marketing strategy. And they chose to do it on Twitter and Vine. That says a lot."

As of Tuesday, Facebook had yet to release a post detailing any meaningful number-specific trends related to Super Bowl 47. In a few posts on the official "Sports on Facebook" page, the company merely mentioned the game's top moments and most mentioned terms on the site. Noticeably absent is a Posts Per Minute metric.

In a seemingly sponsored pre-game segment on CBS, analyst James Brown informed viewers of "what's been trending on Facebook" in the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLVII. A handful of comments on Twitter showed some were puzzled by the juxtaposition of "trending" and "Facebook."

Facebook's Real-Time Roadblocks

Facebook, which celebrated its nine year anniversary Monday, has multiple barriers to overcome if it would like to be real-time relevant.

1) Non-Chronological News Feed

In an effort to enhance user experience, Facebook will display interesting content to users upon sign-in. The news feed's algorithm, using several factors to determine top stories, ensures that its users have a pleasant experience in each visit to the site.

"The bigger Facebook gets the slower it becomes," Elimeliah said. "Facebook has been errant in the way it serves up stories. They choose what the Top Stories are rather than force you to look at what the recent stories are. It's antithetical to a live stream."

Because Facebook utilizes a Top Posts format and doesn't give its users the ability to view Most Recent Posts in chronological order, users have no reason to live inside the platform in real-time; a visit to Facebook the next morning will produce the previous day's most engaging content.

2) Walled Garden

Although Facebook recently added Subscribe/Follow buttons to give users access to content from those they may not be friends with, the social networking site is mostly used to connect with friends and family members. This means an interesting thought posted to Facebook by a friend of a friend or someone on the other side of the world has little chance of ever appearing in your news feed.

Tweets, on the other hand, by default, are published to the world. Twitter users are encouraged to follow and connect with those that share their interests, while meeting in real life is not a prerequisite. Facebook's mostly closed garden approach — while useful to create an intimate social setting — is a massive real-time barrier.

3) Lack of Brevity

Have you ever watched a movie with someone who makes long-winded points? It's not pleasant. Since Facebook's platform allows for a status of up to 63,206 characters, users aren't exactly focused on keeping it concise.

While not all Facebook posts are paragraphs long, it's hard to consume a stream of content that may require you to take your eyes off the first screen (your television) for more than a few seconds at a time.

"Facebook is an investment in time," Elimeliah said. "The Timeline itself tells us that Facebook is for collecting and scrapbooking your life so that one day, maybe, you will look back on those fond memories."

On the flipside, "Twitter is real-time. The speed of Twitter is what keeps it true. You can't polish your posts because there is no time to polish the post. You have to think fast and think smart. It challenges the way we communicate and is as real-time as real-time can possibly get."

If viewers already struggle reading 140-character Tweets in the vicious cycle of repeatedly checking the TV and their phone, longer status updates stand no chance. Facebook has also fostered a platform where most users share personal experiences and life events, not evoked thoughts while watching a Super Bowl.

4) Competition

Twitter could possibly be Facebook's biggest real-time roadblock. Users and brands recognize Twitter's platform as the current go-to second-screen. Even with a user gap of 800 million between Facebook and Twitter, the latter is clearly the more convenient medium on a companion device.


— Written by CNBC's Eli Langer. Follow him on Twitter at @EliLanger

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