Social Media Oversharing: Why People Do It, Its Implications, and How To Prevent It

15 Feb

Social media is an outstanding tool when you want to communicate and spread the good word about anything, whether it be personal or about your business. Unfortunately, it can also be a platform which opens you and/or your business up to a plethora of potential security and reputation problems. There are plenty of incidents of people losing their jobs, business clients and relationships as a result of posting comments or pictures on different social networks.

Why Do People Do Overshare?

Several researchers have shown that heightened emotions drive people to share information. One such piece of research was conducted by Jonah Berger, Assistant Professor in Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania, in 2011, which concluded that people primarily overshare and pass on information because of their emotional state at the time of posting the information. The research paper analysed social media oversharing with a focus on Facebook, and whilst oversharing on Facebook is usually only content which can be seen by your friends (as long as you have adjusted your privacy settings properly), Twitter is not the same, as anybody can see your updates, without having to follow you and without even having a Twitter account! (To read Jonah’s research paper, click here).

When sharing information on social networks, it’s vital to be fully conscious of the implications and potential risks it can involve. It’s extremely important to be aware of privacy settings, to control the reach your messages might have across the web. What you decide to share on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks is a personal choice and as a result, different people have different ideas over what constitutes oversharing. Nevertheless, be mindful that you have to be willing to live with the consequences.

A study by Retrovo, asked people if they had ever posted on anything online about themselves that they regretted. This graph shows the results, which speak volumes.

Examples of Oversharing

  • Posting your complete date of birth
  • Announcing vacations or when you’re away from home
  • Sharing hate messages
  • Posting your every move including what you had for breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • Sharing pictures of inappropriate situations such as being intoxicated, showing too much “skin”, being with people or places you shouldn’t be, etc.
  • Posting your home phone number or address
  • Sharing your family battles including marital arguments
  • Posting about your financial situation
  • Sharing every little accomplishment your children have achieved
  • Posting the same content over and over 50 times per day
  • Posting personal information or pictures about your friends and family

A lot of the above examples may seem like obvious things not to share on social networks, but go through them again one more time, and ask yourself how many of them you may have seen on somebody’s profile in the past, or even on your own profile. What could happen as a result of publishing some of this information on a social network?

The Consequences Of Oversharing

Well, where do I start? Here’s a list of a few ways in which you could suffer from oversharing on social networks.

REPUTATION – To quote Warren Buffett, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and only five minutes to ruin it”, and with the rise of social media it feels like it could take a lot less than than five minutes to potentially damage your online reputation. People often base their opinion of your or your business on what they see and read online, even if they might not know you personally. If you care about your personal and professional reputation, try not to cross the line of privacy and watch what you share and how people might perceive it. Remember that the way people may perceive you is the way they will perceive also your business and/or employer if your account outlines that you work for them.

GETTING CAUGHT RED-HANDED – Government departments can look at social networks for a wide range of publicly posted personal information about yourself, such as financially-related information. If you haven’t been totally honest about something, such as your taxes, you might not want to say too much on social networks about your financial situation, or post pictures of that brand new car you just bought. The same applies for anything “illegal” you might have done. Another example of getting caught red-handed is releasing confidential business information through an account before it is public knowledge. What effect could that have if the information got into the wrong hands?

BREAK-IN’S – There’s some evidence to support the belief that burglars are turning to social media to find their targets. Broadcasting the dates of your next family holiday on social networks may sound innocent enough, but bear in mind that you are letting people know the dates you are away from your home. If that information got into the wrong hands, what could some of the implications be? Furthermore, some services like Foursquare and other location base tools may also put you at risk if you publicly check-in everywhere you go.

EMPLOYERS – Many employers use social networks to investigate candidates for positions in their companies before they decide whether to officially offer you the job. Whether this is morally right is a debate for another day, but the bottom line is that there are instances of it occurring and you could be ruining your chances of being hired for your dream job by oversharing information about yourself.

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS – How many times have you heard about Facebook causing a divorce because people got caught having an online romance? Not much remains private when you share on social media sites. Also remember that whenever you include other people in your posts on social networks, these people might not be as willing as you are to share their private lives. Don’t ruin your personal relationships by oversharing!

And that’s just naming a few of the consequences of oversharing on social media! If you’re still skeptical about oversharing, or don’t think it’s something people really do, here’s a great list of real life examples of the ‘Top 10 people who got caught on Facebook’ put together by Time Magazine.

A further breakdown of the results in the study by Retrovo highlights the impact oversharing had on a couple of the examples mentioned above.

Here’s a nice infograph designed by Whitefire SEO which looks at ‘Twitter Psychology’ but highlights some great facts about oversharing, including the fact that 66% of people who unfollowed people on Twitter was because they were oversharing and posting too much.

So How Can I Stop Oversharing?

Before going on social media sites, set limits for yourself and think twice before you post those personal pictures or you start bad-mouthing your boss or mother in-law! Posting a picture of your last wild party night might seem innocent but you never know who’s going to use it against you in the future.

If you’re feeling angry or sad, it might be a good idea to step away from your computer for a few hours until you can think logically and have a better state of mind. You might be surprised of what seemed to be a good idea a few hours before is not such a good idea anymore.

My personal mantra when posting anything on a social network is:
“If you wouldn’t openly say it to a roomful of people, don’t say it on a social network!”

Have you ever posted personal information on social networks that you have regretted later on? Or had employees that have over-shared information on social networks which has affected the business?


4 Responses to “Social Media Oversharing: Why People Do It, Its Implications, and How To Prevent It”

  1. Liz Christopher (@LizCpher) February 18, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    There are two issues here, dangerous over sharing and boring over sharing. It is the dangerous over sharing that is of most concern, especially for the younger generation who think nothing of sharing everything.

    Boring over sharing is more tricky. For a personal Facebook account, sharing every milestone of your kids is expected. Even on a business account, you need to be human. Working out how much is just right is the hard part.

    • SocialAxis February 20, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      Hi Liz, thanks for your comment. I completely agree with you.

      For a personal Facebook account, sharing every milestone of your kids is expected, as long as the user ensures that their privacy settings are updated so that only their Facebook friends can see their photos and updates. I see many instances of parents wanting to share milestones with relatives who are all over the world, which is brilliant, but they have made the common mistake of not realising that their privacy settings at the time mean that anybody can see their photos and updates without them even realising, and that’s when genuine sharing could become dangerous if that information falls into the wrong hands.

  2. thomasjamesmitchell April 19, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Great article, I am currently writing a piece for The Retailer magazine about this issue in retail, and you have pointed me in the right directions for what research to look for! Keep uo the good work.

    • Kunal Gandhi April 19, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

      Hi Thomas, thank you for your positive comments, they’re much appreciated!

      I’m delighted to hear that my post has helped you, and I wish you the best of luck on finishing the piece you are writing for The Retailer magazine, I’d love to see a copy of it once it’s published!

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