The Sincerity of Birthday Wishes on Facebook

Is social media making personal moments less personal? This is a question that comes up a lot. I love these kinds of discussions and watching the ways that technology affects our everyday lives.

Yesterday was my birthday. Like most people *nearing* <cough> 40 <cough> I don’t think too much of my own birthday’s anymore.

I did get this cool card from my wife and kids. The card (pictured on the left) reads:

Cover: I sincerely hope you have a fantastic birthday.

Inside: If I weren’t sincere, I probably would have just written on your Facebook wall.

Are the messages left on my Facebook wall insincere well wishes? I don’t think so. At least not all of them. Some of them are.

I received about 4 dozen birthday wishes on Facebook (a couple of really lazy people just liked other people’s posts), a few texts, a few emails, half a dozen tweets, 3 or 4 phone calls and 2 cards. Obviously much more online activity than offline activity, but I think I’m a little more unique in that regard than your average person. From personal experience based over the last 5 or so years I don’t get many more calls or cards than that. I don’t make a very big deal about my birthday. (Kids birthday’s are much more fun.)

Facebook’s easy because Facebook reminds us that our friends are having birthday’s but I don’t think it actually replaced any of the cards or calls I get. I’ve noticed a steady decline in the number of calls and cards I get as I get older but this year I noticed a serious spike in electronic messages. With the built in reminders on social networks and the ability to leave a simple note does increase the overall messages I received. Many of them from people I haven’t spoken to in years. It was nice, I didn’t find it insincere at all.

How To Reply to Facebook Birthday Messages

I’ve tried two different tactics in the past:

  1. Basically ignored them all and hid under my covers until my birthday.
  2. Accepted the inevitable and replied to every-single birthday well wisher.
I felt way better about the second approach. It took time but that’s okay.

What’s The Best Kind of Birthday Wish To Give on Facebook?

For me it was the private message. Some of the goofy videos or card/pics are fun but they are really canned and don’t come across as personal unless they really know you and find one that’s relevant. The best bet is to send them a private message wishing them a sincerely happy birthday.
Better yet, pick up the phone and call them.

What about you? Do you leave birthday wishes on Facebook? Do you lament not getting more birthday cards?

About Tac Anderson

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.
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  • Mahendra

    Hey, I'm not a regular Facebook user, so missed it and dropped in to say Belated Happy Birthday!

  • Jeremy Meyers

    I don't think that it's less personal. It's just lowered the time investment in what it takes to have “recognized someone's birthday”. When I send bday greetings via facebook, it's not like I dont really want them to enjoy their day, or that I don't value someone's existence. Its more like.. If we're facebook friends, I already value our connection to each other. For me, a card says both 'i value our connection' and whatever the card happens to be about (hallmark says it means “I value our connection so much i spent $3.50 on some paper with a bad pun on it” but I digress). It has teased apart the two intentions into separate social transactions.

    Also, ha ha you're old.

  • tacanderson

    Nice. Thanks Mahendra. That was really the whole point of this post was just to get more birthday wishes ;)

  • tacanderson

    Totally agree Jeremy. It's not like people are going to keep that card form more than a week anyway. To me the posts on Facebook will last longer than the card will.

  • Mahendra

    Yeah, and the whole point of my comment was just to get that response! ;)

  • Arik Hanson

    Funny–I just posted on this same topic the other day:

    On one hand, I really appreciate the Facebook system. I'm not someone who would ever record friends' birthdays. So for me, it's a God-send really.

    On the other hand, just like you, I received a decent amount of “Happy Birthday” well wishes on my page last year. Are they sincere? Probably. But, did those folks put a lot of thought and creativity behind those messages? Not really.

    My new approach? For inner-circle friends and colleagues I stole an idea from Keith Ferrazzi. I'll call friends and sing happy birthday to them on their voice mail. So far, I have yet to receive any kind of reply other than “That completely made my day.”

    Like most other things in our world, you just have to figure out a way to cut through the clutter ;)

  • Sean SEO Marketer

    The title of the post is interesting. You can get many wishes via facebook but their sincerity lies in the replies you will be sending them. You might consider replying thanks to the people whom you might haven't had converse with despite the fact you are connected, but you will consider those whom you are concerned with. The difference is you go personal with your friends/concerned unlike to the rest!

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  • Micheal Foley

    The Web lowers the barrier of entry for acts of generosity.

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