On Facebook Reply Etiquette

Life used to be simple: if someone wrote on your Facebook wall, all you ever had to do to appropriately respond was click the “Wall-to-Wall” button and write on the other person’s wall. It was beautifully uncomplicated.

But then things changed.

Somewhere along the road, Facebook decided that it should be possible to “Like” or comment on any post on Facebook.

post: A piece of content that is generated (directly or indirectly) by the actions of a Facebook user and associated with — and subsequently displayed on — his or her profile. Any post is fair-game to appear in the News Feed or Highlights section. Posts include Wall posts, photo uploads, shared links, notes, and custom posts generated by Facebook Applications. (definition mine)

Personally, I think it’s great that any post on Facebook is subject to your myriad displays of affection, but it does present a small problem: when someone writes on your wall (as in the above scenario), do you write back on their wall, or do you comment on their Wall post?

The answer is not the same for every case, and deserves careful consideration (here, careful means “up to but not exceeding 4 seconds;” if you spend more time than that deciding how to reply to someone, you spend too much time on Facebook). However, things can be made easier if you consider the purpose of each reply mechanism: commenting is to share your thoughts or opinions on a particular post, while Wall-to-Wall is a mechanism for dialogue across profiles. Keeping this in mind, you can pretty much boil down your action into two simple rules:

  • You should comment on a Wall post if your dialogue with the poster is (a) short and (b) directly related to the subject of the initial Wall post; or else, if (c) you do not intend to start a lengthy dialogue, but simply share a reaction (eg, “Ha ha, that’s funny”).
  • You should use Wall-to-Wall when responding to a Wall post if your dialogue with the poster is (a) likely to be lengthy, (b) largely based on small-talk or a non-immediate purpose,  or (c) in response to a question the original poster asked; don’t answer questions in a comment unless they’re incredibly specific and objective, a question implies the start of a dialogue, which is what Wall-to-Wall is for.

Now obviously there will be certain exceptions to these rules, but in general, following these guidelines will save you headaches and ensure that Facebook’s communication mechanisms are used as intended.

Examples

So I was walking through Stop & Shop today, and I saw this mom call her son a butt face. Repeatedly. It kind of made me laugh?

Chances are you aren’t going to start a meaningful discussion about this, so if you feel a need to respond beyond clicking “Like,” the most appropriate action here would be to comment on it (since it’s reactionary in nature).

OMG Twilight was *SO AWESOME* last night! What’d you think?

Here, the original poster asks a question that has the potential to start a discussion, so the appropriate response would be to click that Wall-to-Wall button and share just how much you think vampire foreplay sucks.

Hey, what time are you going to be at Beth’s party tonight?

This one’s tricky. The original poster does ask a question; however, your response is likely to be very purpose-driven and objective, and there is next to no chance that this is going to start a lengthy discussion, so believe it or not, the appropriate action here would be to comment your reply, especially since that will also make your response easier to find for the original poster.

Why does it matter?

It may seem silly to put this much thought into communication on Facebook, but more than anything its value boils down to convenience, both for you, and for other people who are reading the content that you post.

Comments are considered non-essential information: I should be able to read and understand any post on Facebook without considering it in context of the comments associated. Facebook demonstrates this intention clearly, by limiting the number of comments shown on the Wall and in the News Feed to two or three, before you have to click the “View more comments” button. Therefore, comments should be used for short, reactionary purposes, which are inessential to understanding and appreciating the meaning of the original post.

If you’re having a conversation, however, all of the content (one would hope) is meaningful, so it shouldn’t be subject to automatic hiding on the part of Facebook. Beyond that, comments on Facebook (because of their intended purpose) are displayed in such a way that reading conversations in them isn’t very enjoyable: comments take up (comparatively) a very narrow section of the page, in a small font, with very little whitespace. The Wall-to-Wall display, however, is designed for the express purpose of making conversations easy to read: it takes up a very wide section of the page (wider than even on profiles), with a large font and a good use of padding. Reading a conversation in Wall-to-Wall mode after reading the same conversation in comments would feel like a breath of fresh air.

It’s very much subconscious, but whether you realize it or not, following implied or explicitly specified purposes of the tools you use makes using them easier, both for you, and for those who have to see what you produce.

What about “Like”-ing?

Generally, it’s bad form to click “Like” on any content that you produce (ie, your own statuses, your own Wall posts, your own posted photos), the notable exception being if you produced the content but it’s not about you (ie, it’s acceptable to “Like” a photo that you took and uploaded, but that’s of your best friend’s puppy). Beyond that, “Like” whatever you want: everyone who uses Facebook is in some way a Facebook stalker, so don’t feel creepy about “Like”-ing your friend’s posts, that’s what the button’s there for. You should even consider the “Like” button as a possible alternative to a comment, not something to always be used in tandem with commenting, it helps to keep things cleaner and faster for everyone.

Conclusion

You’ve got a lot of options when it comes to responding to a post that your friend makes on Facebook. Take a few seconds to decide what the appropriate option is, and you make everyone’s life easier. Really. You’ll thank me later.

I know what you’re thinking: “He can’t be serious, is this guy really that much of a geek? Does he have any semblance of a life whatsoever?” Let’s be real, a lot of this post is facetious, and even a little satirical, but it’s actually an interesting discussion of purpose. Take it with a grain of salt, but don’t immediately write off all my blabbering nonsense. ;)

Comments

  1. Tom

    Tom said…

    Matt, I was actually thinking about this the other day, when trying to reply to multiple Wall posts. Another thing to consider is that comments show up on your wall, not the other person’s. Therefore, when someone visits your profile, they will see your back-and-forth conversation in one location. But comments also collapse. So what’s better — several wall posts from the same person, representing one side of a conversation, which may quickly dominate a wall? Or a lengthy comment thread on a single post which, while breaking the flow of the wall, hides the info that your visitor likely doesn’t care to read?

    19 Oct 2009 at 3:02pm
  2. Matt Patenaude

    Matt Patenaude said…

    @Tom: I get what you’re saying, and it’s definitely a valid point, and part of an angle I hadn’t considered. However, I’m still sticking with my original philosophy for two reasons.

    First of all, as you alluded, they only show up on one person’s wall, which in and of itself isn’t awful, but you also have to keep in mind that it’s the wall of the non-initiator. It breaks the clear association of a conversation with two people, two profiles, and can make said conversation harder to find.

    Second though, and while I agree with the annoyance of the fact that a person’s wall can easily be overrun during the progress of a conversation, comments are not intended to be a conversation tool, while Wall-to-Wall is. If anything, the burden should be on Facebook to make sure that wall posts from the same conversation collapse together more efficiently, not on us to shoehorn our ideas of what’s “easier” into tools that were not designed for the purposes for which we’re using them.

    Definitely good points, though, always good to have other perspectives. ;)

    19 Oct 2009 at 3:20pm
  3. R.

    R. said…

    Found this blogpost through Google and have to say: you’re sort of right. But most people don’t seem to understand and to be honest I think we shouldn’t blame them because it’s kinda complicated.

    The great thing of wall-to-wall replying is the conversation gets shown on both walls. Bad thing it’s hard to follow unless you press the wall-to-wall button.

    The commenting is great because it’s easy to understands and puts a reply directly under the message you’re replying on, which makes sense. But then again: it’s only shown on one persons wall.

    Think we need to ask Facebook for a reply button, so we’d have the option between like, comment and reply. Commenting remains the same, liking remains the same too and replying about the same as wall-to-wall but with references on each wall (a short mention above each wall post ‘As reply to NAME’s wallpost’ linking to the other wall post), to make clear what wall post was a reply on what other wall post. Think that would make sense to everybody!

    9 Nov 2009 at 6:58am
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