How to reply to comments on social media

I want to tell you a story about how I really messed up when replying to a comment on Facebook recently. In the past I’ve not been a shining example of how to reply to comments on social media, though I’m getting better (and still slipping up on occasion). I want to share with you some tips on how to reply to comments on social media (like Facebook, Twitter, Blogs etc.), though admittedly I’m still working on these disciplines myself.

Recently I shared a controversial video on Facebook and included my own equally controversial 2 cents. My cousin (who I consider a friend) replied with a sharp and dismissive comment. I felt the sting and though I tried to resist the urge to reply immediately, I gave in and fumbled through a response. He then followed up with a further response of his own (and so did someone else, I think), but I didn’t read them because I already made up my mind to just deleted the post.

I deleted the post because first I’m trying to move away from getting into social media debates (they rarely produce anything positive or almost never have their desired outcome – whatever that may be) and because Facebook now moves posts with fresh comments to the top of everybody’s news feed which in essence gives all of my Facebook Friends a front row seat to our not-well articulated discussion.

But by deleting the post I essentially communicated that I don’t respect my cousin, his words or his opinion. No matter what I might say about his first comment, erasing another persons words should be a last and extreme resort. And we were nowhere near that place. I shouldn’t have done it. Period.

Not my best moment on social media.

Now, almost every day since then my mind goes back to the moment just before typing my first response and plays over and over how I should have handled the thread.

The truth is, I’ve been so burned by social media comments in the past that I’ve become overly sensitive. I’ve taken everything way too personally. And it doesn’t help that in social media it is difficult to sense what tone people are writing with. And while some people have a skill to communicate tone through a keyboard, most people do not have that skill. And even still, it can be difficult to discern tone from a great writer if the recipient is too sensitive.

So here are 6 disciplines for replying to comments on social media. I’ve written these out for my own benefit and now I’m in the habit of looking at them often. At the bottom of this post you can click the “print” icon in the share bar to have a copy on hand as a reminder for when you’re replying to a comment on social media.

1. Stop and clear your mind.

Just stop. You’ve read someone’s comment. It could be good, it could be bad. It could be intentionally mean or dismissive or it could be unintentionally mean or dismissive. No matter what, just stop and do nothing at first. In fact, read it and then walk away and forget about it for a few minutes. In the past I’ve read comments that I’ve obsessed about. They were all I could think of until I got a moment to “respond.” Let me tell you (and my wife can attest to this), that is not healthy. So just clear your mind of the comment and don’t reply right away.

2. Comments are made by people.

Frankly, it is so easy to forget that a comment is left by a real person. So easy in fact, that most of us type things on a keyboard that we’d never say to others (at least not that way) when face to face. This is so common that the person who left the first comment probably forgot that you are a real person. As probable as that is, our challenge is not to forget that. When you reply to a person’s comment, you’re not replying to a comment, you’re replying to a person.

3. Ask, don’t tell.

This is the most powerful way to reply to a comment. Ask, don’t tell. Social media threads are filled with people telling other people how stupid or ridiculous or wrong they are. That is the fastest way to get a discussion going on the wrong foot. Not to mention how arrogant it is to just “tell” people how wrong they are. Doing that assumes we know so much about the information that informs the other person’s comment and thought process, information we can’t possibly know without asking them. Somehow we place ourselves in some lofty position to simply say “you’re wrong” without asking for clarification and finding out what’s going on in their head.

Asking is the antitheses of “telling.” My greatest regret in the way I handled the conversation was that I “replied” with statements and a fumbling defence rather than taking the time to ask a question.

When we choose to reply with a question rather than a statement:

  • we cause the person we are replying to to think more carefully about their comment
  • we challenge their comment in a humble fashion rather than the usual arrogant “you’re wrong”
  • we allow ourselves to see more clearly where they are coming from
  • we show interest and respect for their comment (even if we disagree)
  • we exhibit wisdom
  • we turn the thread into a discussion rather than an argument
  • we show the other person that we are open-minded (a close-minded person simply says “you’re wrong”)
  • we establish credibility not just with the person we are replying to, but with others who might see the discussion

4. It’s not about winning

When comment threads turn into debates (and it only takes two comments to be a debate), that’s when things become about winning and losing. Nobody likes to lose, especially when our own opinions are on the line. But here’s the thing to remember: while debates are often about winning and losing, to win or lose a debate doesn’t make you right or wrong. Here’s what people forget: You can win a debate and still be wrong. And you can lose a debate and still be right. Debating is often about who is more articulate. That’s why professional orators exist. That’s why in ancient Greece being a skilled orator was prestigious. Because if you were skilled at communication and reasoning you could convince almost any crowd to agree with you. But that didn’t mean the orator was always right. It often simply meant that they were able to convince the crowd to follow them down the wrong path (and in the context of ancient Greece, this often meant the cost of lives).

Likewise the person who lost the debate may have been right all along, but simply wasn’t as good of a communicator. So don’t place the worth of your opinion upon your ability to win a debate. When replying to someone’s comment, resist to urge to “win.”

5. Consider and refine

When we engage in comments on social media more is at stake than meets the eye. This is because most of the time our comments are not private or even semi-private. Usually social media comments are public for all (or at least a lot) of people to see. And when we’re on public display we tend to have an “image” to keep up. And frankly “I’m sorry” or “I may be wrong” or “let me give that some thought” are all comments that are not the kind of image our pride lets us give into often. But they are the kind of comments that can go a long way to maintaining a relationship while building credibility. You don’t have to sell out your entire belief system, all you need to do is see the other person’s point and, if there’s a place that needs to be refined in your comment, say so.

6. Sometimes say nothing

Some comments don’t call for a reply. And some are just not worth your time or energy to reply. It’s sad but true. You want to respect people whenever and wherever you can. But that doesn’t mean you have to reply to every comment. Sometimes people want to shout “you’re wrong!” and you just need to leave them to their opinion. You are not obligated to reply to every comment. In fact there’s an element of maturity that shines through when you choose to not reply to some comments. This is really about setting up boundaries. Your time is valuable and it should be one of your goals to distribute your time where you can have the most positive impact. Sometimes you have to deal with unpleasant comments. But often you can just let them go. It will take wisdom to discern when that time is right.

By the way…

So that’s six tips to replying to comments on social media. There are way more and I’m sure you’ve got some tips to offer from your own experience. So go ahead and share in the comments below what you would add to my list. By the way, a seventh tip I’d add is prayer. Prayer is really important because it’s an act of spiritual meditation that helps to put things into perspective. “God, give me wisdom. Help me to see the other person’s perspective. Guide my response. Show me where I’m wrong. Help me to keep this conversation positive.”

Question: What comment tips would you add to my list? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Thanks for helping to keep the conversation focused and for being courteous.