Earlier this month, I proposed to my longtime girlfriend, saying that we would both be happier and healthier if we lived together for the rest of our lives. She agreed.
That was on a Wednesday. Within an hour, we had the conversation that will confront other web-minded engaged couples today: how should we tell the Internet? It’s the logical maturation of the old idea that online, everyone is both publisher and brand. This news would be acknowledged or shared on the social web with or without our permission, so we ought to at least have it happen to our own liking.
I keep most of my love, romance and emotion private. Here, it’s all about process and lessons. This is what I learned from sharing a big personal update online.
First, we decided to take a few days to tell our family, close friends and others we’d see in person soon. We set an informal deadline of the following Monday evening to share with our wider network. Call it the social media embargo.
In telling family before this embargo, we asked that they refrain from sharing publicly until we first announced it, so we made sure anyone whom we particularly wanted to hear from us directly didn’t learn of the big life decision from somebody’s news feed.
I’ll likely always remember the appreciation I heard in the voice of my grandfather’s cousin, who, even in his early 70s, is an active Facebook user, when I explained that we were about to share this information online but that I wanted to be the one who told him. That matters to all kinds of people.
Then on Monday evening, SACM and I put 9:30pm as our timing. She posted to Facebook a photo that a stranger had accidentally (and fortuitously) taken of my proposing, with a short message, and I shared that photo with a longer message.
Of her 567 friends, her post received 105 likes and 15 comments — nearly 20 percent engagement. You could say I fared worse: 81 likes and 27 comments, not considerably more activity than on other personal, life-moment updates from my 1,454 friends there — five or six percent engagement at best.
There are interesting thoughts we could play with around analyzing that data: whether she got better engagement because her smaller, more curated friend network is more interested with her life or whether my sharing her post helped to boost it in the Facebook algorithm, or whether her more regular personal updates on her news feed has built an expectant audience in a way I haven’t or some other reason.
I don’t much use Facebook for personal updates, so it was a change for me, as I also acknowledged when I posted to Twitter, perhaps the social medium I use most frequently. There, too, professional or news-focused tweets of mine have done better. Between the 38 favorites and 30 responses, I received a response from barely more than one percent of the 5,707 people who followed there at that moment. (Shannon had a smaller tweet).
Perhaps Instagram, the third and final place we shared this news online (until this blog post), most helps me crystallize a lesson here. That’s because Instagram is where I am most consistently personal on the social web — I’ve always taken a more professional take on Facebook and Twitter — and so have the smallest but likely most personal network.
Between the 96 likes and 20 comments, more than 1 in 5 of the 557 people who follow me on Instagram engaged with the news there. For comparison, with 59 likes and 9 comments, nearly a third of her 210 followers engaged there.
Between the three platforms, I most feel like the consistency of messaging carries weight: my personal news did best on Instagram, where I most often post personal updates. Facebook is a mixture. Of course, there’s a very obvious difference between the three — Twitter is full of brands that might follow me for news but wouldn’t much care about personal updates, while Facebook and Instagram are on the whole active people.
There are other discrepancies too and more to the point, I see those three communities as separate, so I always intended to share on all of them, in unison with my new fiancee, after we embargoed the news to tell our family first. That’s what worked best for us.