Today is my birthday and, as with every birthday for the last however many years, I have received a bunch of email messages from communities (seemingly all powered by vBulletin) wishing me a happy birthday.

I no longer visit most of these and the email didn’t make me visit them again. Some of them I simply registered on to post a quick thank you or ask a question.

This got me to thinking about how you can celebrate member birthdays on your community. To celebrate it, you have to know it – so, you have to ask your members for the month and day of their birthday in their profile.

Year isn’t important and even if you have it, you don’t want to wish someone a “Happy 56th Birthday,” just a “Happy Birthday.” People can be sensitive about their age.

I don’t want to say that the act of automatically emailing every member is a bad one and that it can’t offer value to both the member and the community by reminding the member of the community. There is no right or wrong. It’s a matter of opinion.

But, even if you do that, the best way to celebrate someone’s birthday is with a thread on your community. And I don’t mean automatically having a thread started by the system. If you do that, you’ll have a mess of threads, most of which will be people who are long gone and not coming back, and you’ll have rendered it meaningless.

There is a thought that if you start a thread for one member, but not another, that it will appear that you are not being fair or that you don’t care as much about them. Kill this thought because it is one that will paralyze you from ever expressing appreciation for a member.

Instead, you can start threads for members as you remember or as you notice. You can also let it happen naturally. If you have an area where all birthdays are listed, some members may make use of it. Or, if you have a staff or a volunteer staff, you can ask them to keep an eye on it and start some threads.

Don’t worry about starting threads for all members. Starting threads for people with no posts or people that haven’t been around in a while will only serve to dilute the idea and overwhelm your community. Instead, start threads for people who are active and known within the community now.

It is possible to program a smarter automatic function, rather than email all or post all. You could use this function to ensure veteran members do get a thread.

It could work like this: if a member has X number of posts, last posted within the last X number of days and is not banned, then a thread is started for them and an email is sent to them wishing them a happy birthday and (this is crucial) linking them to the thread started on the forums. Then, people who know it was this person’s birthday, and it is a person they likely know, so they will respond with wishes for their fellow member.

That is the real gold. When individual members of the community wish the member a happy birthday – not when happy birthday is issued through a generic email.