Do Birthday Texts Build Relationships?

by Molly O'Shaughnessy | April 29, 2021
Do Birthday Texts Build Relationships?

Do Birthday Texts Build Relationships?

The ever-elusive challenge of texting is “how” to use it to build relationships with students and alumni. Some people have posited that birthday texts are a good, easy starter. To me, it could build relationships, but usually doesn’t and results in people tuning out.

It was my birthday last week and I got a lot of text messages. My family reached out and told me funny stories about things that happened when I was born or things I have said as I’ve gotten older.  It was nice to hear from friends I’ve lost contact with through Covid - an opportunity to make plans in the near future. Former co-workers shared crazy pics from pre-Covid birthdays that were fun and spawned some conversation leading to a referral out for a job opportunity.

Then there were all of the other “friendly birthday wishes” from vendors. Chipotle got it right with a free guacamole offer. Rick Edelman (not my retirement planner) sent me a retirement plan evaluation based on my age which was a nice surprise. The others - well, they were clearly automated and only clogged up my in-box. Happy Birthday from my dermatologist? Ann Taylor? Meh. And, the car dealership, mostly an irritating slip.

Thoughts on Automation

This is the thing, automation is really great. I won’t lie, I love that reminder from Facebook so I don’t forget a birthday. But it is the personalization that makes it pop.

Chipotle knows I add guacamole – every single time – and to me, it felt like they personalized my birthday wish with something important to me. Now, if they had sent me a burrito offer, that’s nice, but it doesn’t have value to me. I don’t order burritos, ever. And, maybe I just got lucky and EVERYbody gets guacamole for their birthday.

As for Rick Edelman, I have no idea how the firm got my birthday information. I don’t follow him, don’t listen to his broadcasts, but am definitely trying to stay on top of my retirement plan. The retirement plan evaluation knew how old I was. It gave me insights into changes I could make today that could impact my future in measurable ways. I was surprised.

When I bought my car, the dealership's system had my husband’s name on the title and all of the documents first. Annoying, but we definitely wanted to have both names on the title. It’s a nuisance that every time I go in for maintenance they can’t find me or they call the wrong number. No amount of complaining has resulted in the system getting my information in. Then, they sent my birthday message to my husband.


My takeaways on whether you should send a birthday message out to your students or alumni is this:

  • A generic “Happy birthday” is simply noise and I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • A Happy Birthday plus something that they value may have legs, if it isn’t creepy.
  • If you know something about that person and can comment on it with the birthday message, it feels warmer.
  • Only send out birthday texts if you know that your information is accurate or build a plan for inaccuracies into the workflow.

Suffice it to say, I’m sure that birthday wishes message will continue to be debated. And, it is quite likely best answered by whether you’d like to get a birthday wish and what you would want it to include.

Learn more

If you want to learn more about the best ways to communicate with your students and alumni, check out our other blogs on how you can optimize text messages to students to maximize engagement or on mindsets for college communications.

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