Why Facebook wants you to friend Mom and Dad

By Erin Griffith , written on December 7, 2012

From The News Desk

When Facebook opened up its social network to non-college users, plenty of the site's early members -- those of us who first joined while in college -- were initially terrified by the idea. Mostly because it meant one thing: eventually we'd have to accept a friend request from our parents, aunts, uncles, maybe even grandmothers.

As baby boomers flocked to the site, I panicked, thinking about Mom and Dad pouring over regrettable party pics and inappropriate wall posts from 2005. Who cares if it was almost a decade ago? I didn't need Facebook reminding my folks of past rebellions and youthful idiocy. Facebook was a place for my peers, I thought. I even wrote a six-word poem about it for a New York Times Mother's Day contest:

Friends finally, but not on Facebook.
But that was then. It's time to get over that sentiment because -- lucky for Facebook -- it's no longer true. Facebook is a place for families, and the company made abundantly clear in an interesting data dump released yesterday afternoon. Dave Morin, I know you believe Path has the market cornered on familial social networking, but I think Facebook just proved it's a strong contender.

424844_10151288999363415_1016963757_nThe most interesting stat the company shared was related to initiation of friendships. Just as in real life, college-aged users are least likely to initiate friendship with their parents. Young teens are most likely to friend request their parents, with a steep decline in requests that goes through their mid-20s. The older you get, the more okay you are with adding your mom and dad on Facebook.

Daughters are less likely to comment on their parents walls than sons. In both genders, wall posts from offspring increase as they get older. They commonly use phrases like "I'm so proud," "all my heart," and "love you."

"We are happy to see that our data surfaces the affection, care, and closeness of family ties," Facebook's data team wrote. Indeed, it's powerful stuff (see the whole breakdown here).

While that data is nice and cuddly, it does tie back to a cold business reality. Facebook needs marketers to buy into the emotional connections it's making between people. Remember that ridiculously bad abstract chair commercial? Yeahhhh. If there is a meaning to be extracted from it, it's about emotional connections on Facebook. It's called "The Things That Connect Us," after all.

The message is also reflected in every pitch Sheryl Sandberg has made to the ad industry. She loves the anecdotes about the woman who crowd-sourced the diagnosis of her child's disease, or the estranged mother and daughter who reconnected after all those years. They never fail to tug on heartstrings. Like consumers, marketers are suckers for an emotional story. (Don Draper's carousel, anyone?).

That message is important because Facebook is trying to get marketers to look at the site the same way they look at TV advertising. And the biggest pro-TV argument is about the emotional power of the 30 second spot.

The problem with translating the emotion of TV advertising to Facebook is that it's difficult to see how exactly marketers can insert themselves into these emotional connections. As Google+ head Bradley Horowitz pointed out last week, Facebook marketing is interruptive to one's typical experience on the site. (Conveniently, he argued, Google+ advertising is helpful when you need it, meaning, when you're searching for something. It's also the only thing Google+ is beating Facebook on.) Emotional connections are Facebook's big hope for ad dollars.

[Original image courtesy trialsanderrors]