I’m inspired by this YouTube video, which Google posted to its new “hey, waste your time on this” BoingBoing imitation, currently featured at the bottom of www.google.com. (Actual quote from a Google staff meeting: “You know our nice, clean search page? Let’s ruin it!”) It’s a video about having better conversations. (Or having them at all. I love the implied threat that if you don’t follow the rules you’ll end up talking to nobody — terribly, terribly alone, with your crosswords and your senseless subscriptions to crafting zines.) Interestingly, this is also the first video ever made where all of the participants were on the same high — extreme, even — doses of lithium and Xanax.
This is a post about how to Facebook better. You can try it yourself. All you need is a Facebook page and some life events. If you don’t have any life events, that’s fine, you can substitute other things.
True fact: most of these are based on posts of mine that I regretted, either because I should never have posted about X thing at all, or because I could have done so much better.
One other caveat: if you hit upon a good joke, or a poetic image, then you can bend most rules. In creating these, I’ve gone ahead and assumed that most Facebook posts aren’t trying to be art.
1. We need to know where you are!
For example, if you’re on vacation, you need to explain that. Give us a one or two sentence summary. Don’t just post a picture of a tuna sandwich shaded by palm trees and expect us to hire a private investigator to find out how and where the sandwich happened.
2. Never post facts unless you’re certain they’re exotic.
Did you know that Twin Peaks has returned to TV? Of course you do! Even my pet ocelot knows that Twin Peaks has returned to TV, thanks to a big marketing campaign by Showtime. Individual posts confirming this fact are not interesting at all. Instead, watch the show and make some kind of observation about it.
3. Caption everything.
Your friends did not become friends with you because of your media curation skills; they like your personality. A raw, unannotated “Share” gives us nothing to work with.
4. Avoid subtweeting. Also, don’t verbally exclude people.
Even on Twitter, subtweeting rarely works, but on Facebook it’s a disaster. Do not expressed veiled resentment; nobody will have a clue what you’re talking about. Instead, express open resentment and exclude your target using the privacy settings. Now you’re getting somewhere! That’s one spicy meatball! A similar rule applies to verbal exclusions. If you have a post “for academics,” or “for people in Manhattan,” or “for scuba enthusiasts,” spend two minutes picking a few relevant friends who read you actively. Limit the post to them. Don’t just spam everyone on your friends list. The stakes here are real. Being verbally excluded makes people feel bad. In a better world, where everyone worked the privacy settings instead, the negative psychological effects of using Facebook would be greatly reduced.
5. Tell a story.
When you post about your young child, or pet, or dinner party, tell us a story. Little playlets work very well, as do paragraphs. The story should either be humorous or make a point. If you do this, or even try to do it, your personal life will be worth reading about. Which is cool because, in the grand scheme of things, it is insignificant. The opposite of this, naturally, is a picture of everyone at your house eating dinner. I mean, right. It was <I>a dinner party</I>. Telling your friends what happened, by giving an anecdote, <I>includes</I> them rather than noisily summing up what they missed.
6. Avoid hyperbole unless you are being witty.
For example, do not say that you are moving to Canada if Trump is elected President, unless you are going to blow everyone’s mind by actually moving to Canada. (Hear that? That, just now, was the sound of you not moving to Canada.) The same goes for things you intend to do. The road to hyperbole is paved with good intentions. Don’t post about intentions; instead, record the things you actually did, and reflect on them. Small, real things are better than overreaches, by a lot.
(Ignore the newspaper columns urging you to publicly announce things “so that you’ll hold yourself accountable to your stated intention.” These columns exist solely to sell newspapers during the holiday periods, when there is less actual news.)
7. Post content you create.
iPhone snaps of amateur paintings are way, way more interesting than the majority of Facebook posts. If you write, sing karaoke, dance, fingerpaint with your kids, complete long footraces, write Yelp reviews, or do anything else that can be digitized, post it. Celebrate what makes you genuinely special. Even photo apps like Prisma can get you to something vaguely worth uploading. A friend of mine recently started using Prisma to create Impressionist paintings of Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and while it wasn’t earth-shaking, it worked. The opposite of this is posting content you DIDN’T create, such as content your family members created, articles from the Huffington Post, or any sort of wry cartoon whatsoever. It’s entirely possible that the creators of The Oatmeal should be in jail.
8. Update your banner and profile picture occasionally.
Like rearranging CDs, this takes identical subject matter (you) and suddenly makes it seem new. The illusion of novelty goes a long, long way in this world.
9. Don’t ask questions.
Don’t ask your friends for factual information. Don’t even ask them for lifestyle updates (“hey, what are you guys into lately?”). Instead, post a controversial opinion and let other people comment on it, if they are so inclined. Never ask “the hivemind” anything. It’s dishonest. A Google search works equally well — or better — most of the time. If Google searching fails, ask somebody relevant, either in-person or by e-mail. Whenever somebody asks “the hivemind” a question, what they’re really saying is, “HEY! LOOK AT ME! I’M ENGAGED IN THE FOLLOWING ACTIVITY, AND IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT AND STUFF!”
Facebook is a scrapbook. It’s not a site where posters can say “Hip” and everyone must respond, “Hop!”
10. Post about religion often. (Likewise philosophy and other big questions.) Post about politics rarely. Post about money never.
Everything the Romantics liked to write about — Nature, God, the meaning of poetry, old ruined churches — looks terrific on Facebook. Does this mean it’s a new age, and the old rules about polite conversation don’t apply? Well…no. It’s still a bad idea to post about politics or money. Political posts are usually wastes of time: your ideas aren’t new, and your friends already know where you stand. Financial posts are just awkward and anxiety-inducing for everyone, no matter what news (good or bad) you might have to share.
AND NOW, TWO BONUS RULES!
Appendix A: Lean in to discomfort.
Trust me, your employer does not care about your Facebook posts as much as you think. Be honest and vulnerable. As long as you’re not breaking the law or giving the lie to something you’ve already said, testing the boundaries a little is how great Facebooking comes about.
Appendix B: React to comments.
If somebody took the time to respond to your post, react. It’s effortless and socially constructive.
…That’s all, folks! Good luck in Zuckerberg’s labyrinth.