Facebook has changed one really important date in people’s lives—maybe, for some, the most important date of the year. Thanks to the option of being able to wish people happy birthday on Facebook (your page shows reminders of the birthdays of “friends”), many users now receive hundreds upon hundreds of greetings on their big day. Granted, they may be from practical strangers, but Facebook users are basking in the glory of all the attention.
“Prior to birthdays being ‘pimped out’ on Facebook, which was after I graduated university, there were years and years where I didn’t receive many happy birthday wishes,” says Mindy Blackstien, founder and chief ambassador at BodyPROUD and creator of the Facebook group “It’s Time: Love Your Body! Be Body Proud.” Blackstien this year received “pages and pages and pages” of birthday greetings, some 400 or 500 notes on her wall.
“Because I did not often bring up my birthday in conversation, new people in my life didn’t know about it and others did not necessarily remember, except my family, and even that may have been primarily because my mom called to remind everyone,” Blackstien says. “So when Facebook started marketing it for me, a new energy was created.” The day of her birthday, March 16, and that whole week, became, she says, “meaningful in a different way. I found myself eagerly anticipating my birthday for Facebook reasons.”
Amanda Virtanen, vice-president at PR agency Cohn & Wolfe and a social media communications strategist, says she has many friends who have more than 1,000 friends on Facebook. “To me, that is ridiculous. I do not want that many people knowing what’s going on in my life. Generally, it’s also those people who get a bazillion happy birthday messages on their wall and reply with the requisite ‘Thanks for all the kind b-day wishes—love you all!’ ” she says.
Still, she admits, if her birthday went by without a single wall post on Facebook wishing her a happy birthday, she would be sad. “I think that all of us are just looking for a little ‘I like you’ or ‘I’m thinking about you’ or ‘You’re awesome,’ and what’s wrong with that?”
Lindsay Finneran Gingras of Toronto, who works in public and government relations and counsels clients on how to blog, thinks Facebook birthday messages are about something else. If it were really about receiving good wishes from friends, she wonders, why wouldn’t private messages, text, emails, phone calls, have the same value? “I’d argue that it’s actually more about the public validation of others wishing you a happy birthday than the actual birthday message itself,” she says.
Publicist and event planner Danielle Iversen, who has almost 1,500 Facebook friends, says the 500 or so good wishes she received on her birthday made her feel “100 per cent great.” Ten years ago, she says, “people would have called me. But of course it’s nice and feels good to be recognized. It’s also an excuse just to give out well wishes,” she says. “And that doesn’t happen so often.” Iversen adds that perhaps it helps people feel recognized for at least a day. “It did make me feel like I was a little bit famous, I have to admit.” She too sends out birthday wishes every day. “It takes a lot of time.” As with Blackstien, a lot of people, even her good friends, didn’t call or send a card or note on her birthday. “Facebook reminds people to do that,” says Iversen.
“I received more than 700 birthday wishes,” says a man who works in the music business. “There was no way I could write them back personally.” He opted, like many others, to write a paragraph to say how “blessed and grateful he was to receive so many wishes and have such good friends.”
Kat Peterson, the general manager and director of Flare.com, has 700 friends on Facebook. “I get really excited about my birthday now, to get those wishes, even if I don’t know the people personally or have just met them once.” She finds it “wonderful” that people find the time to wish people happy birthday. She recognizes that it’s a very easy thing to do—people can see the reminders and it only takes seconds to write a birthday wish. “But,” she says, “I’m okay with that!”