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Marks My Words: “Post” game analysis

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Even as I write this column, my first since the poignant close of Volume 239 in June 2011, I am exceedingly nervous. I had a good run at that time: I wrote a few good columns, a few mediocre ones and some that I dared not take the initiative to show anyone.  When I was proud of a column, I would take extra steps to spread my messages across cyberspace and, in addition to my typical posting in the Daily, I would post my article to my Facebook wall. Once I had copied and pasted the link, hit the return key and confirmed that the link was visible on my wall, I would sit and wait.

 

Each minute was always more agonizing than the last. Each time I was at a moment of my greatest vulnerability. How long before the first “like” would surface? How long until a comment? In an ideal world, did I want more likes than comments, or vice versa? Every time I saw someone else with a post — whether of a cute kitten video or interesting news article — that had garnered some couple dozen likes, I panicked. Was my column no better than the latest Morgan Freeman meme? No more likeable than a picture of a sunset that was probably photo-shopped?

 

I’ll be honest. The thought of a link on my wall, posted by me, that was naked, bare and devoid of likes or comments terrified me to the core. And this insecurity is not limited to my column, but extends to most of what I choose to put on Facebook — pictures, posts, check-ins, you name it. As a result of my paranoia, I have thought long and carefully about how to garner more feedback. Perhaps you have too. And while we are not necessarily in control of others’ opinions regarding our content, we can at least make sure that our friends see our posts, our uploads, our tags. In other words, we are in control of only one thing: when to post.

 

So, when do you post? Vast amounts of information flood Facebook newsfeeds at every hour of the day, and yet all you want is to make sure that your friends see your link. You want to post at an hour when people are on Facebook so they can see what you’re doing. But you also want to catch them at a time when they’re busy and hopefully not posting their own things, because your mobile upload of a pizza covered in garlic cloves (but really, have you ever seen garlic pizza?!) should not have to compete with some picture about how to make a panda cake. You matter, and your friends had better acknowledge that by liking your Facebook activity.

 

I consulted with several others and decided to post more strategically. At first I assumed Sunday morning would be best: very few people are usually awake, and if I were to wake up just ahead of the larger student body and edge my material onto Facebook, my post would be the first thing that my friends see when they log on. I could almost imagine their thought processes: “Oh, look, the only thing on my newsfeed is something Miriam just posted! LIKE.”

 

Unfortunately, my empirical tests showed that students will wake up anywhere from 10 am to about 5 pm on Sundays, and newsfeeds are packed by noon.

 

Rather than have my posts jostle for space with others, I turned to Sunday evening, when students are usually panic-stricken and doing their homework after a weekend of procrastination. As a result, while they are still likely to browse their newsfeeds, they’re less likely to post things. For my own posts and uploads, this means a bigger audience and less competition. Success…for now. But this doesn’t even begin to take into account time zones, three-day weekends and the post-college lifestyle (when there is no homework on Sunday nights).

 

Sometimes I wonder if my obsession is unique. I see statuses and posts that no one has deigned to like, and I wonder if the poster of such items is mildly disappointed. I browse past a new profile picture that remains unacknowledged, or a mobile upload left without comments, and I feel pity for the poster. Then I remind myself that I’m the exception to the norm, and I feel just a bit better.

 

Miriam hopes you won’t email her at melloram “at” stanford “dot” edu until you’ve “liked” this article on the Daily page and, if possible, on her Facebook. You can comment too.