5 solutions to the Facebook birthday dilemma

I wanted to have a little fun with today’s post and reflect back on something that was gnawing at me a bit this past weekend.

My wife had a birthday yesterday. Wasn’t a milestone birthday, but birthday’s are always a big deal in our house. And, they’re usually quite a big deal on Facebook, too, thanks to those friendly reminders.

However, it seems like an awful lot of people are going through the motions these days.

I look at people’s walls before I post my comment and I always see a lot of “Happy birthday!” or “Happy, happy, happy birthday!”.

Now, I’m not hear to call out those who leave these kind of comments on their friends’ birthdays. Heck, I’ve done it a few times myself. But, what I do want to raise is this: Are we getting lazy? Are we going through the motions when it comes to recognizing something as precious (OK, not everyone’s going to agree with me here) as a birthday?

Aren’t birthday’s a special occasion? Don’t our friends deserve more of our attention than a simple “Happy birthday” post on their wall?

Has Facebook made us lazier friends?

Facebook gives us insight into what our “friends” are doing 24/7/365. Great, right? I can see what everyone is up to at a moment’s glance. And, you’re right. It is fantastic. Except for one thing–it sometimes takes a lot of the personality and intimacy out of the relationship.

Starting with birthdays.

So, I know, you’re asking: “What am I supposed to do then? Ignore my friends’ birthdays on Facebook?” Of course not. I think we all have a number of relatively solid options at our disposal:

* Pick up the damn phone. I tried a new trick I completely lifted from Keith Ferrazzi earlier this year. I call my close friends on their birthday and sing “Happy birthday” to them. And, I mean I SING IT. It’s hideous. It’s horrible. Billy Joel I am not. But, people love it. Every time. It’s personal. It’s different. And it’s memorable.

* Write the longest “Happy birthday” message on their wall. Relay a personal story about your friend. Relive a great memory. Maybe even a birthday you shared together. The longer comment will stand out and your friend will definitely remember it.

* The birthday pop in. Obviously, this one only applies if said friend lives in town. And, I’d argue you probably only reserve this option for close friends, too. But, the pop-in has tremendous value. And, you get face time.

* Schedule lunch. The great thing about Facebook isn’t that it reminds you about your friensds’ birthdays the day before–it’s that Facebook reminds you of your friends’ birthdays weeks in advance. Remember, Facebook breaks birthdays down by “today/tomorrow/this week/this month.” Look at the “this month” list every once in a while and ask a few friends to lunch the week of their birthday. What’s better than breaking bread over a birthday celebration?

* Send them a book. I’m a big believer in sharing books as birthday gifts. Why not send your friend a book you recently read a way to recognize their birthday? Make sure to include a note in the book about why you liked it and why you thought your friend might like it. Again, if you personalize the gift, you will stand out. Every time. And your friend will always remember it.

What tips do you have for sharing the birthday love?

Note: Photo courtesy of Andrew Fristoe via FlickR Creative Commons.

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15 comments on “5 solutions to the Facebook birthday dilemma

  1. Sandra says:

    Love this post! Thanks for encouraging more thoughtfulness around birthdays; I agree that Facebook has made it all too convenient to post a quick “HBD!” (yes I've even gotten this abbreviated effort before) and call it a day. I've admittedly been a lazy friend and so this post speaks loudly to me. It's never too late to reengage with my New Year's Resolution to make more of an effort to be thoughtful, particularly for those that mean the most to me!

  2. Brian Ellis says:

    I think that this touches on the motions we go through in many of the other FB apps as well as a lot that goes on in other social media platforms. We are here in social media to make a connection but after a while we tend to get a little jaded. We “go through the motions” much like we do IRL. Happy Birthday…Sorry your dog died….Congratz on the new job…intsead of taking the time to share something meaningful, we put our two cents in and move on to the next post.

    I think that this is a great reminder of one of the biggest reasons why we choose to be here, in social media. Lets not forget that there is a real person attached to the avatar you see on the screen. How great would it be to put a smile on someone's face, simply by taking the extra time to share a little of you?

  3. Jason Rosoff says:

    I absolutely agree and am definitely guilty of the mindless Happy Birthday comments. Planning a change as I type.

    I think this is a good tip for business as well. Set yourself apart from the pack and do something original with whatever project or networking project you are working on.

    Great Post!

  4. Arik Hanson says:

    I think we're all guilty, Jason. But, we also all have the ability to be uniquely creative. We just need to tap into that creativity more often.

  5. Arik Hanson says:

    You nailed it. “there is a real person attached to the avatar.” We forget that a lot. I forget that a lot. But, going the extra mile is worth it. And it shows in so many different ways. Thanks for the comment, Brian.

  6. Arik Hanson says:

    HBD! Now that one I have not seen. But, kudos to you for upping the ante on your NYR. See, you're not the only one who can use acronyms 😉

  7. Sheena Stephens says:

    I've thought about this a lot myself – to post or not to post the obligatory Birthday message. And even went so far as to personally comment on each birthday message I received instead of the standard, “Thanks for all the birthday wishes, it was great!” But what is uniquely different about the Facebook birthday dilemma is that never before have I been aware (and reminded) of 358+ “Friends” birthdays. My close friends and family, of course. They are burned in my memory (from birthday celebrations past) or at least they're in my Google calendar as a recurring event. They deserve a phone call, a gift or lunch. But all those other folks (about 300 of them), well, a birthday phone call would be awkward and I think they'd agree. Heck, we've never even exchanged phone numbers. A simple birthday shout-out is perfectly acceptable to me. Does that make me lazy? Elite? Or just honest?

  8. Arik Hanson says:

    Sheena: It's a good point. Most of the suggestions above (save the second one) are really reserved for fairly close friends. Definitely those you have a phone number for, as you stated.

    But you're right, never before have we been aware of all these birthdays. And, are we less of a friend for not wishing our most causal acquaintances a “happy birthday”? Is it better to leave a “happy birthday” message for these casual friends or none at all? I think that's an interesting discussion.

  9. amymengel says:

    I specifically remove my birthday from my FB profile a few weeks before just for this reasons My family and close friends who know usually remember and post nice messages, but I like not getting a bunch of disingenuous posts from people who otherwise wouldn't know it's my birthday and are just “going through the motions” because Facebook told them to!

  10. Arik Hanson says:

    That's actually not a bad strategy, Amy. I may just try that myself. Then again, if I did that, I have a feeling roughly 2.5 people would be wishing me a happy birthday 😉

  11. Sheena Stephens says:

    Here's an interesting anecdote on the topic. A few days ago it was one of my close friend's birthday. We celebrated the day before with a lovely lunch (at The Four Seasons, I might add). The day of her birthday I thought I'd send her a FB message but found her Wall was not open for posting. So I posted on my Wall with the @HerName trick so it showed up on her Wall. Quickly, my Wall post started filling up with comments from mutual friends saying “Happy Birthday to (Friend's Name)! I've been trying all morning but couldn't post on your Wall.” They were wishing HER a happy birthday on MY Wall. They were panicking. So I called the birthday girl and informed her of the Facebook snafu and we had a laugh about the situation. I helped her fix the problem to open up her Wall. And then I wondered, why didn't anyone else call her?

  12. Arik Hanson says:

    Wow–that's very interesting. On a related note, I just tried my “birthday song” approach with another good friend the other day. As is usually the case, the response: “the best part of my day.” Surprising how a simple phone call can make all the difference.

  13. Great ideas. I will put them into practice. Please take a look a look at my site for suggestions on birthday messages.

  14. TonyAnderson says:

    It’s true. Birthdays are kind of destroyed by Facebook. The other day my friends were even touting this app that does all of the birthday wishes for you on a schedule, so you don’t even have to THINK of the person on their birthday, ha ha. I’m ashamed to say I actually did sign up for it! (http://apps.facebook.com/b-day-greeter/) I guess it’s just an example of how social media is changing culture, and it’s hard to really put a label on it as a “bad” thing or a “good” thing, it’s just ever-changing.

    For example, it may be considered a negative that our personal relationships are so casual in the Facebook generation, but on the flip-side, I am connected to and frequently communicate with people that I would have long-since forgotten. So I think there as interesting give and take there.