This week I’ve had fun writing about how technology companies are marketing themselves in meaningless and meaningful ways. I want to end the week with a timely surprise from Facebook that made me smile.
I have to admit to you, dear readers, that my birthday is coming up in a few days. I’m one of those people who really dislike birthdays. I don’t think I’m that “old,” but I find that once you graduate from childhood and reach the last cool birthday of 21 (legal drinking age in the U.S., for those international followers), the birthday is just a reminder that you’re getting older. It also doesn’t help that I have a birthday that’s pretty close to Christmas. When your “special day” is completely overshadowed by Thanksgiving and Christmas, it tends to suck. Until recently, only my family and a few close friends remember when my birthday arrives. But now, thanks to Facebook, a couple of hundred additional people now get reminded to wish me a Happy Birthday.
I am sure that a lot of you know the drill by now. Your birthday hits and suddenly tons of people in meetings and online take a minute to wish you a happy one. Facebook isn’t the first social network or tool to remind users of others’ birthdays. I recall Plaxo doing this a while back. But Facebook is the first truly mass social-media tool to take off, and its ability to call out this personal event has made a small, noticeable impact on people’s lives.
For years, Facebook has been doing nothing more than highlighting the day, but this year I got a message from the service a week ago that invited me to ask my friends to make a donation to a cause of my choice. This immediately got my attention for several reasons. First, the message was sent when I was aware of the big day coming up (and starting to dread it). Second, Facebook noticed that this is a great opportunity to use the power of friends’ attention to promote special causes. And soliciting donations for a cause is much more meaningful than giving yet another gift. It’s easier than shopping and better for the world than more junk.
The simple, straightforward “Birthday Wish for Charity” can be seen here. Within a few minutes you can choose a cause, explain why you believe in it, set a fund-raising goal, and share with friends and well-wishers. It made me feel like my birthday attention could be directed to something real and positive. I will admit that there are a few flaws in this tool. For example, the number and diversity of charities represented is very small. I found about 15 total causes, and about 12 of them were related to animal issues (noble, but not my first priority).
This idea is not necessarily a mass marketing tool that is going to help Facebook generate another 25 million members, but it does hit every single member in a meaningful way and special time of year (every year). By helping people share and support their values, the tool helps people get more value out of Facebook. Simply put, it’s Marketing with Meaning, and I hope to see many more examples like this from the company in many more birthdays to come.