Facebook Status Prompts

Robert Mills

If you are on Facebook and want to update your status then you’ll notice the little bit of copy in the status text box that asks ‘what’s on your mind?’ It’s not always been that way though, in fact I can recall two versions prior to this one and what’s interesting about the prompts is how they influence the way people write. It may only be a few words but they are rather important and I’d love to know what options were discounted by the Facebook team and how they settled on the copy we have seen over the years.

I can only write about the ones I recall though so let’s take a trip down memory lane, starting in 2007.

Back then if you updated your Facebook status the prompt was *username* is … Here’s an example:

I can remember using Facebook when this was the prompt and having to be quite creative with my words on occasion. This was largely because it encourages you to write in the third person. On a basic level my status would say things like, for example:

  • Robert Mills is watching Lost
  • Robert Mills is going to Thailand
  • Robert Mills is writing

And so forth. The fact that the status had to include my name followed ┬áby ‘is’ directly influenced the sort of status I wrote and content I shared. That’s the power of micro-copy. This approach could be quite restrictive though as it isn’t a natural way of communicating. We don’t talk about ourselves in the third person when face to face with people and it needn’t be different on social media.

I vaguely recall ignoring the prefix which resulted in a status such as:

  • Robert Mills is I wish I was at dConstruct
    (as opposed to Robert Mills is wishing he was at dConstruct which is way too unnatural)

Sometimes the tenses would become muddled within a status so you’d see things written in the third person but then become first person. All in all, it was a fairly restrictive prompt. It encouraged users to focus on what they were doing there and then. Robert Mills is writing a blog post. Robert Mills is waiting for There Will Be Blood to start and so forth.

This prompt was later changed to What Are You Doing Right Now? Like this:

That too encouraged users to write whatever was happening at a specific moment but was less restrictive as it dropped the ‘username is’ prefix. It was a step in the right direction and the third person no longer needed to be used but the real development came in 2009 when the status prompt changed again, this time to:

What’s on your mind? This is a huge difference than the previous two because it doesn’t lead users down the path of writing only about their actions. Instead, it opens up the status to include thoughts, feelings, and all too often, rants and moans.

This development was enhanced by additional content types being added to the status box. Users could now tag people, add photos or videos and add a location. They can also choose from a number of additional info such as what they are feeling, reading, watching or eating. This appears as a ‘what are you doing’ secondary prompt beneath the ‘what’s on your mind’ section when you click on the smiley face:

Here’s the complete list of choices:

It was inevitable that changes like this would happen as Facebook grew and developed but what I find most interesting is how a few words can influence and change how users write and the content they share.

From being directed to share your actions, to the tense you use and now to a free for all of emotions, thoughts, activities and content types, the words we use in prompts, search boxes, on sign up forms, buttons and call to actions all have the power to help and influence users. They shouldn’t be last minute additions or second thoughts, they should be carefully considered by asking questions such as how will this make people react/write/share/behave?

Every little bit of text has clout, every word matters. So if you’re listening Facebook, that’s what’s on my mind.