If you’re sad that no one is acknowledging your birthday, take heart. A cadre of social media sites are willing to pick up the slack from your friends and family.
I learned this when I celebrated a birthday recently. Though I got lots of real-life acknowledgment of my big day and a few emails, texts and a Facebook Messenger note, not a single person ventured to offer one on my Facebook wall. Against my better judgment, I found myself periodically checking Facebook anyway and hoping that no one would realize how much of a loser I was.
Then I realized that, since I have more than 1,000 “friends” in my network, I get on average at least two notices a day about someone else’s birthday and I almost never take action. I’ve gotten nice Facebook-based birthday messages in past years. Maybe everyone else is experiencing birthday fatigue like me? That’s gotta be it, right?
A History of Birthday Inflation
MySpace has offered birthday notifications since at least 2007, but Facebook was also an early promoter of social-media-based birthday celebrations. Immediately, the idea of reminding everyone you ever knew that it was your birthday changed the game. As an Orland Sun-Sentinel columnist noted in 2010, “On most birthdays, I’m lucky to hear from anyone else besides family.” Instead, the columnist got more than 30 posts that year and struggled to figure out the best way to respond. Would people be offended if she didn’t acknowledge their greeting, she wondered. Did that mean that she now had to acknowledge their birthdays?
Etiquette issues aside though, the feature appeared to be a hit. Emily Christofides, author of a study on the issue in 2011, told CNN that Facebook releases a chemical in users called oxytocin, which is the same hormone the body releases during hugs. A birthday greeting “fits right into that,” she said. “It’s warm and fuzzy.”
It wasn’t long before other social networks and ecosystems noted the boost to engagement metrics and began lobbing birthday notifications too. In 2010, Google began offering consumers their own individual Google Doodle for their birthdays. In 2012, Google offered a way to wish friends on Google Plus (back when some people went on Google Plus) a happy birthday via Google.com.
In 2012, Skype – the Microsoft-owned voice-over-IP network that many use for videoconferencing, began offering birthday notifications as well. While Microsoft has argued for some time that Skype is a social network, not merely a tool for making cheap phone calls, the addition angered many users who found the notifications annoying.
Over-Birthdaying and the Opportunity for Brands
These days, it’s not just people who are offering birthday wishes, it’s the machines as well. The morning of your big day, Google sends its regards and Facebook tells everyone you know about it.
This year, I also noticed that brands are getting into the act as well. I got an email message from Banana Republic wishing me a “Happy Birthday” and offering 15% off online purchases. Wine.com also offered its regards, along with 10% off. Cheers!
This seems like a natural “trigger” for a friendly offer from retailers, but as MarketingLand notes, many retailers still don’t have that info on their users. That’s too bad, because jeans maker Lee offered a birthday deal email to users and got an open rate that was 34% higher than average and a click-through-rate that beat the average by 142%, according to the article.
Marketers can improve upon those rates by offering reminder emails and keeping the header of the email a bit mysterious. (Example: “Happy Birthday! Here’s a Great Offer From Banana Republic.” Click.)
Since Facebook has the data, it’s conceivable that brands could do the same on Facebook. For instance, instead of sending an email, a marketer could in theory run a promoted post aimed at a consumer acknowledging their birthday and beckoning them to click through to get a great birthday deal.
Though some might find that intrusive, I don’t see how it’s any different than a birthday email. Given the poor response to my birthday this year, I think I’d rather see, say a 10% discount from a brand I liked than a robotic birthday acknowledgment from one of my deadbeat friends. Well, OK, both would probably be good next year.
For teams using social media dashboards, like those in Tracx, making sure everyone who uses these tools understands these changes should be a top priority.
Brands that have not relied on organic reach in Facebook and Instagram will not likely see any changes this year. Those who do will need to take a serious look at other options.