I forgot the birthday of one of my closest friends on Monday. I'll admit it. But do you know why? Because he does not have his birthday loaded in Facebook and, as a result, Facebook didn't remind me. Now, I have known him for almost 20 years and I've known that his birthday was June 3 for God knows how long. It is made easier by the fact that his wife's birthday is June 1 and her birthday reminder showed up on Facebook. Yet I still didn't remember. I used to store these things in calendars on my computer or in, God help poor old me, a Day Timer. Now I rely -- perhaps too much -- on Facebook.
Such is life in the era of social networking. With Facebook taking care of our birthday reminders for us, it allows us to wish happy birthday to people we barely know or to forget the birthdays of friends we know extremely well if they decide not to list it on their profile.
But what is the etiquette, the protocol if you will, for wishing someone a happy birthday when you don't know him or her that well or for leaving a belated note after the fact? Here are some rules.
How well do you know the person?
The guideline is pretty simple. Anyone you consider a friend, know in real life (IRL) as an acquaintance, an Internet friend you interact with routinely on Facebook, Twitter or other social networks, someone you work with, a person you are interested in romantically, family members and business associates are all on the list of people you need to wish a happy birthday. The line can get blurry with people you only know online, but...
Did he/she wish you a happy birthday?
If you get birthday wishes from people you don't know that well, do the right thing and reciprocate. How far do you want this relationship to go?
There are tricky online relationships with people you may work with or know through friends or went to school with years ago but haven't spoken to since. These are the kinds of "friends" you can't really un-follow but that you might block from your news feed if they line their walls with annoying crap. Ultimately, if you think that wishing them a happy birthday would be beneficial to your relationship and you want to foster that, go for it. If that person is more like the little kid that won't leave you alone when you are trying to get your work done, best to pass.
How much is too much in a birthday post?
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For my closest friends, I tend to customize my birthday wishes slightly. Even if it is simple, I will perhaps add a bit more sentiment or slip in a personal anecdote. If I'm in the moody, I'll probably drop a weird photo or video in the post for fun. For everyone else, I think a simple "Happy birthday! Have a great day!" will suffice. But don't leave the same post over and over again and don't abbreviate. Unless you and your friend have a joke about "HB," type the whole thing out and add something friendly. You'll survive the two extra seconds that takes.
If you forget, be self-deprecating.
In my case, I suggested that I write his birthday down on a napkin and staple it to my forehead. You don't have to go that far, but don't be bitchy and say, "Well, if you put your birthday into Facebook..." Bad friend! Be nice, tell a joke and call yourself an idiot. It rarely fails. Or you could write a blog post about it and then post that link on his wall. Just saying.
Excuse me while I grab a napkin and a stapler.