We all have the aunt who just might be the world’s most diligent card sender: She mails you a card on your birthday; a card for Christmas, Easter, and Halloween; and some years, even a card on Valentine’s Day (along with candy).
And of course, if you send her a thank-you card … Well, you can bet you’re getting a thank-you card for your thank-you card.
But most people aren’t as reliable as your aunt, especially with changing cultural norms about how to send a message in the digital age.
The thank-you card is facing serious competition from the text message and social media post, and nobody is sure what’s what anymore.
We reached out to technology etiquette experts to try to get a handle on what requires a card, when a text is appropriate, and why you should just ask yourself a simple question if you’re not sure.
“What must be considered is your connection to the person.”
That’s Jodi Smith, president and owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. She specializes in personal and professional conduct.
Smith believes the nature of the relationship should dictate the terms of the correspondence.
“It is one thing to wish your college roommate’s spouse happy birthday on social media. It is another to only wish your adult child happy birthday on social media.
“Your adult child should receive a call, a card, and maybe even a gift from you.”
For younger generations, getting a flattering post on Facebook or Instagram may be more personally satisfying than it is for a Gen Xer or boomer. While the online thank you or well-wish is certainly easier, it doesn’t prohibit going the extra mile.
“Do keep in mind that doing one does not preclude you doing another,” Smith said. “You may send your grandchild a birthday gift and post well-wishes on their social media platforms, too.”
The same thing goes for sad occasions.
“Sending a condolence card with your thoughts and prayers can be done in addition to posting on the funeral parlor’s website.”
But we can’t pretend the basic nature of communication hasn’t drastically shifted with the rise of dominant social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
Nobody is expected to send a card to everyone for every birthday; in fact for many folks, the highlight of a birthday or personal milestone or event is the online reaction and feedback.
On the job
And it’s not just in the realm of the personal. Professional etiquette is in flux as well.
Lindsey Marx, a content strategist at BestCompany.com, has some recommendations for professional etiquette as well, which can be a murky field to navigate properly.
Marx is a big believer in following up a job interview with an email or hand-written note.
“When it comes to jobs and applications, an email lets them know you are connected and thinking in advance, while a hand-written note lets them know you are extra thoughtful and going the extra mile.”
As for texting, tread carefully.
According to Marx, “I would never send a text unless the employer texts you. It is never too much to send an email and a hand-written note.”
With all that in mind, here is a basic guide to follow for situations that call for written communication.
The text or post does just fine, but if a spouse, child, or parent is involved, just go ahead and send a card as well. On Facebook, it’s also a nice gesture if you send a personal message instead of (or along with) posting on the person’s wall.
Wedding, anniversary, graduation, birth of a child
Again, if your relationship with the person or parties involved is close, you should take the time to send a card. If the relationship is more casual or exists predominantly online, go crazy with the emojis.
Funerals and condolences
A hand-written note or card should be sent. If you want to send an online message as well, that’s OK, but these are situations in which attention and care are important. A little extra time should be taken to pay your respects and send your regards with a card.
A thank-you card is best relayed on an actual card. The typical thank-you, for a gift, kind gesture, or help with something important, definitely works best on a real card with real writing.
Casual thank-yous for casual events (a friend stopped by your summer cookout) can absolutely be sent via email.
Job interview follow-up
An email is OK, but a hand-written note is the best way to be remembered. Don’t text!
These scenarios and any others you encounter also rely on common sense: When in doubt, go with your gut.
Or as Jodi Smith put it: “What you do depends on your relationship with the individual. The bottom line is that if you think ‘Maybe I should send a card,’ chances are, you should.”