Thanks to Facebook, my birthday is an event

I recently had my birthday, which for most people is the day of the year when they have the most activity on their Facebook page. When I checked my Facebook on the day I saw only four birthday posts on my Timeline. I felt taken aback.

All of the people that I have close relationships with had already phoned me by then, I had a great birthday date planned, and was going to see all of my closest friends at a birthday party the next day, so why was I still disappointed by my four Facebook posts? I started to do some soul searching as to why I felt this way, I mean, Facebook birthday wishes are not really a big deal, or are they? I was a bit consoled by the fact that at least one of the four posts was extra special: a photo montage of my favourite movie star Audrey Hepburn.

I wondered if I had somehow offended a bunch of friends, or had just not been found worthy of a silly post. Or perhaps it was karma, after all, I myself do not make a point of wishing birthday people on Facebook every day. Facebook, the great connector, has made it super easy to wish someone on their birthday. They remind you of whose birthday it is, and whose is coming up in the next few days. You don’t even have to go to the birthday boy or girl’s wall anymore to wish them, Facebook brings up a convenient pop-up box which links to their wall.

Writing a message and posting it can’t possibly take longer than sixty seconds. Before I let myself indulge in sad reveries on the subject of why I was only worth sixty seconds to four people, I also checked my Facebook on my phone and to my relief discovered (darn that !*#$ Timeline) that I actually had a whole forty-something posts. Then I decided to research this phenomenon a bit more and looked at how many birthday wishes friends who recently had birthdays had received, and saw that they ranged from ten posts to sixty-plus.

I started wondering if the number of Facebook wall wishes on one’s birthday was an indication of one’s popularity or rather of how well mannered ones Facebook friends are. I decided to ask some friends about their feelings about Facebook birthday wishes. All of them looked at Facebook on the day, so checking one’s Facebook posts has definitely become a task to complete on one’s birthday. Most people have only a rough idea of who posted on their wall. The friends I asked all seemed to be more pleasantly surprised at messages from people they didn’t expect wishes from, rather than being peeved at those who didn’t wish them. Nobody seemed to keep tabs on who the wishes came from.

Its seems that as long as a bunch of people wished you, it doesn’t really matter who they are. This random group love is experienced as superficial by those that can remember a pre-Facebook age. To them, Facebook ranks the lowest on the hierarchy of communication devices. First prize is a face to face birthday visit, after that a phone call, then an SMS, and then a Facebook post. To pre-Facebook agers it would be an insult if a very good friend wrote a wish on their wall instead of phoning or visiting them. To younger people, it doesn’t seem to matter which media was used for the wish, they seem to see it as a matter of what was the most convenient way of getting in touch on the day.

There are some very polite people who will wish the people important to them using all of the above-mentioned media, ‘just to make sure.’ Then there was the incident where one of my students invited all her friends to her 21st birthday party on Facebook. Only three guests out of about the 50 she invited showed up. She was devastated. Afterwards her friends said if she had really wanted them to be there she surely would have sms-ed them or spoken to them personally. Facebook made her birthday a non-event. But that is a topic for another day. So if I had to conclude this with a marketing tip, if I had a database I would find a way to send my customers a nice birthday message on their wall. Because I would rather have a brand being part of the collective Facebook birthday group hug than have no wishes at all.



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