What's in a Word? Plenty When It Comes to Facebook Status Updates

By Mikal E. Belicove

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

facebook-status.jpgWords are powerful things and Facebook status updates can prove to be equally powerful tools for those of us who use social media to promote our businesses. Because a major focus of social media-related marketing is on creating content that attracts attention and encourages readers to share with their own networks, our choice of words becomes paramount.

A couple of months ago I wrote an article based on a white paper entitled, "The Anatomy of a Facebook Post: Study on Post Performance by Type, Day of Week, and Time of Day." That 18-page report, published by Vitrue, an Atlanta-based social management company, outlined the best ways to reach an audience on a social media site, the best time of day to post an item on Facebook and the best day of the week to be most effective with your Facebook audience.

Among other things, that study claims marketers have three content options on Facebook -- text, image and video. And, it says, photos trump video and both trump text. The white paper also found that Friday is the best day to post and Sunday is the worst; and that morning posts get more traffic than evening posts.

Now, Facebook's data team has released some statistics of its own regarding Facebook status updates and the words that attract the most "likes" and comments from its members. This report, titled "What's on your mind?" can help entrepreneurs, start-ups and businesses of all shapes and sizes take advantage of particular word categories.

What the Facebook crew did was research the use of words in 68 different word categories provided by the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) dictionary. Among other categories, the words are organized by their emotional impact -- including positive and negative emotions like anger and joy. The data team collected and analyzed about a million of these status updates for its report.

Among the findings are some interesting factoids. This includes the finding that younger Facebook users express more negative emotions and use more pronouns such as "I" in their updates. Not surprising, many of them also swear a lot. Older Facebook users talk more about their families. "Popular" people (those with many "friends" on Facebook) tend to use the pronoun "you" and chat less about family. And status updates seem to contain more upbeat and positive word categories in the morning hours compared to those posted later in the day.

But what struck me most about the Facebook study was the fact that status updates that included positive emotional words attract more "likes," and words with negative connotations receive less "likes." That updates with an upbeat tone and positive emotions prompt fewer "comments" than those with a negative theme might just mean that those reading the positive updates do not feel the need to respond. Negative updates, on the other hand, often require feedback -- perhaps as consolation.

The report also shows that status updates that sprinkle an abundance of pronouns (I, you, she) receive more "likes" and comments.The same goes for more lengthy updates. The important thing to take away from all this is that once posted, a status update promoting our enterprise is no longer just about our business. It becomes about our friends and contacts and how they relate to our message.

The more your Facebook audience finds ways to associate with you through the use of similar words, the more likely they are going to accept your marketing message. Because there is a positive correlation between how much you use words from a word category and how much your "friends" do.

As active social media marketers, we should take a close look at the findings from the Facebook team and tailor our status updates and entries to reflect those word categories that are upbeat and positive.

Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. 

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