My husband proposed to me in July 2006. Back then I divided my limited social media time equally between MySpace and Facebook. Other mediums like Twitter, WordPress, LinkedIn—these weren’t even on my radar (or didn’t exist yet). Though my husband proposed to me in Venice, Italy and we refrained from writing about it online, people found out about our engagement through social media much more quickly than we could announce it. Within a few days of returning from my trip, I received congratulatory emails, calls, posts, and texts from people who I either hadn’t told about the engagement or, in some cases, hadn’t spoken to in years.
A high school friend I follow on Twitter aptly tweeted a few weeks ago, “They should just change the name of Facebook to LookIHadABabyBook.” Well said. The “first generation” of Facebook, people like me who were in college between 2004 and 2006 when Facebook launched and was exclusively used by university students, are now in their mid to late twenties. We are getting engaged, tying the knot, having babies, and the Facebook announcement is just one of many of the important steps in the process. Proclaiming nuptial arrangements or expected additions to the family isn’t a fad, it’s become an integrated part of the rituals surrounding these events, and now young people have several new rules of etiquette to worry about when spreading their happy news.
First, bestowing groundbreaking news to close friends and family before it is announced on Facebook is considered a sign of intimacy. This requires the recently engaged or newly pregnant to rapidly contact the people that they want to personally tell about the news—ie their real friends—, remind the listener to abstain from posting anything about the news on Facebook (yet), and vigorously monitor their Facebook profile, just in case. Even an innocuous wall post of “So happy for you guys!” can sound the alarms. If a close friend reads the news on your wall before hearing it from you, be prepared for an irritated email. Once you make your engagement or bun in the oven “Facebook public,” the friends that knew first will make sure to reaffirm their status in your life by making the social universe aware that they already knew about your announcement with posts like, “Just want to say congratulations again, in addition to when I said it on Saturday when you told me face-to-face over coffee.”
Once you’ve shared your news with your real-life friends, it’s important to announce it online as well, because it’s not legitimate until it’s on Facebook. Changing a relationship status to “in a relationship with [insert name here]” has become a formal development in budding relationships. In fact, one of my Facebook friends was married this past Saturday and updated her Facebook relationship status to “married” on Saturday evening, just a few hours later. (Listen, I’m a big social media advocate, but, really? Shouldn’t you be doing other things, like consummating your marriage?) Likewise, the appropriate way to announce an engagement involves changing your relationship status to “engaged” and replacing your profile picture with a diamond ring. The same rules apply for pregnancy announcements—change your profile pic to an ultrasound photo, and watch the wave of small virtual thumbs up’s come rolling in. Facebook has replaced the birth announcement and the purchased portion of the newspaper as the “official” manner of telling the world about life changes.
Part of the legitimatizing power of Facebook is, of course, the convenience of distributing information to hundreds of people simultaneously. The problem with leveraging Facebook to make things official, though, is that you are sharing a personal development with both friends and acquaintances, acquaintances that you don’t really plan on including in the fun, free-alcohol-provided events that accompany your personal news like parties, showers, and receptions. I know from experience that when you get engaged, old friends come crawling out of the social woodwork, eyes aglow with thoughts of open-bars and passed hour devours. Using Facebook to distribute event details only encourages this behavior. It’s also not very efficient. A bride-to-be that I know just used Facebook to remind wedding guests that the special hotel room rate available with her block was expiring in a few days. A courteous message intended to help her guests save money—but how many of her 978 Facebook friends were actually invited to the wedding? No more than 100 or so, and probably much less than that. To avoid the awkward social moments that will ensue when you start receiving “Let’s catch up!” messages 30 minutes after you post about your destination wedding in St. Lucia, it’s best to use other platforms to share these details.