Every Day Connected

Online Etiquette: Is It OK to Ignore Comments?

Social networking expert Kelby Carr gives you the answer.

Here’s a confession: My Gmail inbox has 131,031 unread messages.

I also forget to check my Facebook messages for days at a time. I try to respond to my blog comments, but I just don’t have time to do it for all of them. I go invisible on Skype and Google Talk most of the time. And though I do a much better job at keeping up with Twitter direct messages and public comments, even then, there is sometimes a lag of hours (an eternity in Twitter time) before I reply.

There are many benefits to being active online and in social networks, but I sometimes face the problem of being far too accessible. I used to strive to stay connected at all waking hours, until I finally decided the stress of trying to keep up was too much.

So what should you do when you’re overloaded with messages from all types of networks? Simply go off the grid and ignore messages? Or just keep trying, ignoring your own feelings of distress?

Decide Your Response Rate

How often you respond really depends on your goals. If you’re trying to build a following and readership online, responsiveness is important. Social media is a two-way street, so ignoring comments, tweets, Facebook posts and emails can be an issue. Says Fadra Nally, who blogs at AllThingsFadra.com:

“I make it to point to try to respond to almost every tweet and comment on my blog. It’s not easy, but it’s how I have built my community and I know people recognize that I am accessible. Because it’s such a strong part of my business, I tend to be more responsive on everything but my personal Facebook page. I’ve made steps to correct that because family and friends shouldn’t get lost in the social muck.”

Still, she notes that sometimes it’s important to take a break. “If you have a strong community, you will still be embraced when you return,” explains Nally.

Here are some other tips that I’ve found helpful when trying to stay on top of your messages:

1. Prioritize.
I use Gmail stars to remind myself to respond to important emails later when I have time to focus.

2. Keep it short.
Sometimes I respond to an email via Twitter direct message instead, since that is limited to 160 characters. When I do have a delayed reply, I make sure to explain why and I find that my friends understand. They are usually just as backed up on their online communications.

3. Be realistic.
Weigh the value of responding. You will not be able to reply to everything, especially as your online connections grow. It is a simple matter of math and the clock. According to Heather Solos, who blogs at Home-Ec101.com and has written Home-Ec 101: Skills for Everyday Living, you can reach a point where the time consumed responding to every single comment outweighs the benefits.

“There comes a time when you are first starting your site, where every comment is crucial because every comment is a potential connection in your social network. As you build and nurture connections, comments are still important and they still have value, but there are other calls on your time,” says Solos.

Some comments really don’t command a response -- particularly ones that are short and don’t add much to the conversation. So it’s better to prioritize and respond to the well-thought-out comments to move the topic forward.

“You’re human and even if all comments deserve a response, sometimes it just isn’t going to happen because the cost of replying to that response requires taking time from other equally or more important activities,” says Solos, “whether that’s a business transaction or the equally important guarded personal time.”

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