How to Express Sympathy on Facebook

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These days, people are very likely to announce the death of someone close to them on Facebook—either by sharing an obituary, or simply announcing the news before (or in lieu of) that published notice. And when such sad news shows up in your feed, it’s hard to know how to react. “Liking” it seems wrong, but is it appropriate to “heart” the status update? Is it meaningful to the person if your “I’m so sorry for your loss” note is one of dozens—or even hundreds? Conversely, if you don’t comment, is that rude? And is it better to reach out to the person via email, phone, or a snail mail condolence note instead?

We asked Daniel Post Senning, co- author of Emily Post’s Etiquette and a spokesperson for The Emily Post Institute, about the brave new world of expressing sympathy on Facebook.

Is it OK to “like” the status update?

We’re fortunate that we now have options beyond the thumbs-up—which, frankly, just feels wrong. So go ahead and click the sad face if you want, but keep in mind that you can bypass the “like” options altogether and simply leave a comment, which may be the better choice, Post Senning says.

Is a comment on Facebook meaningful?

It certainly can be, Post Senning says. For starters, you’re joining in a larger community response that’s intended to show sympathy and support for the person posting. Your participation is intended to make them feel good, and, from an etiquette standpoint, your comment on Facebook carries no obligation on their part to respond. And really, who’s going to be irritated reading the 67th expression of sympathy someone is sending their way?

The bigger issue with expressing your sympathy on Facebook, Post Senning says, is the chance that the person you’re writing to simply won’t see it—it may get lost in a long thread, or they may simply not be checking Facebook as frequently at this time. So beyond—or in addition to—commenting on the post, it’s totally appropriate to send the person a direct message on Facebook, says Post Senning. Just be sure to follow the same advice for a written condolence note. And then go ahead and also send a written condolence note. “That’s a pretty common escalation in communication today, and it will make a lot of sense to the person you’re reaching out to,” Post Senning says.

So either way, I should send a written condolence note?

Yes. Even if you DM the person posting, and especially if you simply comment, a handwritten message is going to be more impactful and is a better way to ensure that your message gets to its recipient, Post Senning says. So send one off within a day or two of your Facebook comment.

Is it rude not to comment on Facebook?

“Absolutely not. We all get to choose how we participate (or don’t) on social media,” Post Senning says. “I don’t think people are looking for those responses, so you shouldn’t feel obligated.”

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