The Digital Evolution of the “Happy Birthday!”

Jackie Kollar
May 24, 2019

Last week I had the hon(rr)or of celebrating my 30th birthday, and with cake still on the brain, decided, “what better topic to examine than ‘happy birthday’ culture on social media!?” Just imagine a world where wishing someone a happy birthday meant picking up the phone, mailing a Hallmark card, or even meeting in-person. Thankfully, we’ve been blessed with social media, making it socially acceptable to send “HBD” over the internet and call it a day. What a time to be alive!

Without going into a full “social media has ruined our ability to be social” spiel, it’s really taken a hit on birthday wishes over the last decade. Let’s flashback to 2011, Myspace is on the outs and Facebook on the rise.

Launch of the Facebook Timeline

The timeline was launched, and captured ALL birthday activity including photos and posts. A lot of great gems popped up here. Facebook without ads or algorithm really created the perfect breeding ground for in-depth stalking. As long as we were on Facebook’s timeline, we would know its a friend’s birthday, and able to type them a custom message.

Instant Gratification: Notifications

Into 2013 we go! At this point, our timelines are really up and running. We have a lot of friends, photos, and status updates circulating, so much that it becomes hard to keep track of everything going on. Have no fear, Facebook decides to roll out birthday notifications. Our own personal notification tool, where were we before you?? Each day we logged into Facebook, saw the notifications for the day, and acted on them accordingly.

Facebook Introduces Video

Skipping to 2016, Facebook jazzes up their video capabilities and allows users to send short 15-second birthday videos to their friends. In 2016, we were better than sending a status update or posting on a friend’s wall, we had VIDEO. One step closer towards personalization, sort of?

Did You Forget? Video

Just a short year later, another video update rolled out. If it was your birthday, the day after you were served a video, compiling all the posts left on your timeline. If your day wasn’t enough, you could follow-up with another reminder –– hello, did you see it was my birthday?


In the last few years, the largest birthday movement on Facebook is through its fundraising functionality, which allows users to celebrate their big day by raising money for a good cause.

But, What About Instagram?

With Instagram’s growing popularity, the birthday wishing has shifted over towards Instagram and changed over the last few years. While Instagram doesn’t have the handy birthday notifications and reminder in place, it does provide a place for bragging and making the birthday message about who really matters: ourselves! Here’s what we’ve got to work with:

Pre-Instagram stories left us with our own feed. Find the best photo of ourselves and our dear birthday pal, accompany that with a heartfelt caption to let our audience know how we really feel, and call it a day.

Stories are born! The introduction of Instagram stories really launched a new shift in birthday behavior. Now we had the space to talk about a friend’s birthday without the fear of messing up our main Instagram feed. Bless. Now it’s completely acceptable to create a series of stories dedicated to our birthday babe. At times six, seven, or even fifteen stories are created to convey the official birthday message necessary, all while showing our good side.

So, What Now?

Over the last decade, its been made pretty obvious that we’re a group of people who: