Reading patterns in Facebook threads

How can you best navigate a relatively new form of conversation, where the speaker’s eyes or facial expressions are never seen, and replies can come either after two weeks, or two seconds?

Dr Matteo Farina, Associate Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and Italian at Flinders University’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, has been analysing Facebook posts to discern patterns and sequences, and his book published by Bloomsbury Academic – Facebook and Conversation Analysis – has become the best-selling monograph across Bloomsbury’s Linguistics list in the past year.

With so many everyday interactions happening online, particularly considering two billion people have a Facebook account, Dr Farina has analysed the structure of comment threads – to identify a different form of conversation that is both dynamic and non-verbal, yet not necessarily expressed in real time. Because of this, he believes there are very different cues and references that have to be considered as this new mode of conversation becomes common.

His book – based on his research – is opening a new conversation on the topic so that Facebook threads are better understood. As a best-seller shows that the subject has struck a nerve, but Dr Farina believes it’s a conversation that now needs to continue and flourish.

In applying conversation analysis to Facebook threads of 266 males and females of different ages, Dr Farina looked at sequence organisation. Through this, he found interactional problems that occur, and noticed how online responses can dramatically shift the focus of conversations.

“In the past we used to physically catch up with our friends and have a chat, nowadays, social interactions mainly take place online. We interact with friends by publishing and responding to posts, sharing photos and videos in social media like Facebook. Therefore, it is paramount to understand how people communicate in these new media” says Dr Farina.

He also suggests techniques for people wanting to engage followers via online conversations. “If an initial post projects a clear action, such as posing a question rather than an unclear statement, it’s more likely to receive responses. People know how to interpret this message, and therefore respond to it.”

Another successful strategy for stimulating participation is using humour. “People seem more likely to respond/engage with humorous initial posts. They use Facebook for phatic communication, to maintain relationships, and humour it is a wonderful tool to do that.”

He also identifies the effective way that people or organisations may use to design an initial post that shapes the tone of the conversation. “If they use humour, they are more likely not only to secure responses, but to receive humorous responses. It’s like in everyday conversation, where responses to a joke are likely to stimulate other jokes or humorous comments.”

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College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences