To deal with the barrage, some users have hidden brands from their feeds, some have "unliked" brands, and some have started using different social networking platforms more or even altogether. Each scenario is a marketing nightmare, of course, but organizations have to ask themselves: Has Facebook become too commercialized? And, if so, how can the balance be tilted so that users and brands alike continue to gain value by spending time (and money) on the platform?
"No doubt, Facebook fatigue is occurring," said W. P. Carey School of Business associate professor Marilyn Prosch.
Liking a brand or person or organization on Facebook, by default, means seeing their updates in your news feed. In some cases, this means getting interesting or useful updates, coupons, and exclusive offers; in other cases it means getting batches of updates all at once, updates all day long, or simply generic messaging. The difference between the two can be the difference between staying liked and getting unliked.
"The general public is now aware their likes are becoming a currency, and that companies are looking for ways to profit from users' clicks," said Charles Palmer, executive director of the Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
[ Concepts, not technologies, of social business pave the road to success. Read Choose Your Social Business Strategy Before Your Tools. ]
So, how do you prevent users from doing the equivalent of showing you the hand on Facebook?
"Businesses, in whatever form of marketing they use, should always be careful to only send out meaningful messages and advertisements. Information overload can happen rapidly, and then all messages become diluted and even ignored," said Prosch. "The key to successful social media marketing on pages that people like is to carefully vet and internally filter posts that ultimately end up in the news feeds. 'Less is more' applies, and when that nugget of a news feed is periodic and enticing, even better."
Palmer suggested that promotions and exclusive offers are another good way to maintain user affinity. "One way to keep from being a nuisance is to provide real-world value to online fans," he said. "Many companies are using discounts and coupons to keep their fans happy, which is a good model."
Some marketers blame changes in Facebook's user interface that were introduced with the Timeline format for whatever user dissatisfaction they are seeing.
"I believe that Facebook fan page changes have created the current problem of 'news feed vomit,'" said Jamie Rowe, marketing director for Visual Sound, a guitar pedal effects company.
With the Timeline Pages redesign, Pages can no longer display a custom app as a dafault landing page. There are tabs on Timeline pages, but they are not as obvious and require fans to click through them.
"Six or seven months ago, we could set our default landing tab to point to our current promotion," continued Rowe. "Now ... one of the only ways to communicate our promotions with our customers who like us is to use the news feed. When tabs and tab applications were the norm, we were assured that anyone who stopped by our page would see the latest and greatest; now they only see the latest post on the page, which also shows in the news feed. If Facebook would ... let us set our default landing page again, there would be a lot less news feed pollution and, I believe, more interesting pages for all businesses."
Palmer said there is an "ebb and flow" to Facebook usage. "Some people use it as their primary social outlet, and they will continue to do so," he said. "Others go through a cycle of usage--friending and liking for a while, then cutting back when the chatter gets to loud."
The volume of the chatter could be turned down a notch or two if Facebook's rumored Want button becomes a reality. One of the problems with the like button is that its meaning and purpose have become diluted. There would be far less interpretation needed--and far more potential for targeted ads, promotions, and so on--for a user who "wants" something.
Has your news feed become so filled with marketing that you have trouble finding your actual friends' updates? Have you stopped liking brands in order to stanch the flow? Are you hiding or unliking brands to clean house? How has your organization overcome the problem of news feed vomit? Please comment below or write me at email@example.com.
Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.
Every company needs a social networking policy, but don't stifle creativity and productivity with too much formality. Also in the debut, all-digital Social Media For Grownups issue of The BrainYard: The proper tools help in setting social networking policy for your company and ensure that you'll be able to follow through. (Free with registration.)