His father wasn't too thrilled to learn this had been posted on Facebook before he had a chance to let family and friends know what was going on. He was fairly upset that another family member put it out on Facebook but concluded, due to her age, "That's just this generation, I guess."
We are living in a time where generations are divided about what constitutes too much information, or "TMI." To younger generations, putting the word out about significant life events through social media is a quick way to keep friends and loved ones informed. It helps avoid the hassle of individual phone calls, text messages, or emails -- and helps keep attention on the task at hand, in this case, helping care for my cousin.
Now that this situation is known, the family is less sensitive to using Facebook to stay on top of the situation. Why? First, because it's not private anymore. Second, because the updates are relevant and important for those of us following his progress.
The question of brands over-sharing on Facebook is a bit different. The dynamics of what should and what shouldn't be shared are very different. But there are similarities, too. Posts need to be relevant and they need to come at the right pace. Not surprisingly, there is a direct relationship between the two. The better the posts, the more often people will want to see them.
In focus groups conducted earlier this week as part of ExactTarget's Subscribers, Fans and Followers research series, we heard Gen Y consumers talk about how often they want to see brands in their news feed. Here are just a few of the things we heard:
"There's a fine line between being informative and being spammy. If a single brand becomes really trigger-happy with status updates, I get annoyed."
"Brands that post constantly are part of the reason I'm not a Fan of too many pages on Facebook. Facebook is my personal network and I don't really want to willingly submit to seeing more ads by 'Liking' something."
"I used to see posts every day, but over time I got sick of so many unimportant updates. I didn't want my feed filled with a company's page asking what my favorite food was or whatever. So over time, I hid most of them."
Then there was a woman who likes nearly 200 brands. When asked if she read the status updates from all of those companies, she responded, "No. I'm lazy, I only read them if they are on the front page of my news feed."
The fact is, the majority of Gen Yers are using Facebook to communicate with friends and family first and foremost. More often than not, hearing about your brand is a tertiary activity. If your Facebook posts are interfering with, instead of enhancing, their primary purpose of connecting with friends, then you may be over-sharing.
But how does this mesh with the reality that many consumers initially Like your page because of the opportunities to receive coupons, deals, sales and other promotional news? That's where moderation comes in. Post too often and you risk turning your Fans off. Don't post often enough and you risk being unseen.
Moreover, unlike email -- where messages can be highly personalized -- your Facebook posts are a one-size-fits-all proposition. So, deciding not only when to post, but what to post is a challenge. Based on what we heard, there are a few things to consider:
1) Focus on the "New" -- the people we talked to like to hear about things that are new. New promotions, new products, new information. If you don't have something new, don't feel compelled to share.
2) Be fun, but not too fun -- some Gen Y consumers really like when brands ask fun questions. Others could not care less. Regardless, they seem to agree that too much of this is a real turn-off.
3) Be honest -- consumers are growing increasingly sensitive to "sneaky" tactics from companies. They know brands want them to "like" them, and they get it. But they are also catching onto brands that are using pushy or gimmicky marketing tactics on Facebook. For example, "It drives me nuts when they leave off information like the price or have hidden terms/conditions."
Gen Y is fully aware that marketers are stampeding toward Facebook. As marketers try to figure out the best way to connect with them, it turns out that tried-and-true marketing principles are just as important on Facebook as they are anywhere else. Provide value. Be relevant. And treat them with respect.