Commentary

Social Media and the Future of Christmas Cards

While my colleague David Berkowitz focuses on social media Jewdar, I'm going to focus on another topic of great religious import: social media and the future of Christmas cards.

 

It's a big topic for me this year because, for the first time since I was an adult, I'm not sending any. There's too much going on this year, which means that the third of you too far down the list alphabetically that haven't gotten my cards in recent years now know I send them, but that you didn't make the cut. As for the other two-thirds, sorry that now you don't make the cut either.

The truth is that even in other years, I've found Christmas cards an overwhelming task. I want to tell everyone exactly what we're up to, which makes merely stuffing a picture of the kids into an envelope seem awfully impersonal. On the other hand, updating everyone in the way I'd like to is -- from a time perspective -- utterly impossible. Christmas cards get layered on top of too many other holiday season obligations to get their due.

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Which is why I say, in this season of religious observance, thank God for social media. It's already making me feel not quite as bad about not sending cards because I know that I'm in touch with many more friends from my past and present than I was even a year ago. The system could use some improvement, since my Mom isn't yet on Twitter, and for whatever reason, Facebook hasn't yet suggested that I friend any of my cousins. However, the way things are going, I probably won't need Christmas cards, instead replacing them in future with YouTube Christmas greetings, the Taylor/Farrell family Christmas blog, and, maybe this year, a simple tweet/status update that declares, "I'm not sending cards this year, but happy holidays anyway." Let social networks be my distribution! No more Santa stamps for me!

But seriously, though, I do wonder whether social media will be what really kills the Christmas card tradition. I've been thinking about this over the last few days not only because I decided not to send any, but also becausethis Monday I was reading  story from Time magazine heralding, "The Beginning of the End for Christmas Cards." I started reading the story thinking it was going to point out what I did above -- that catching up with people only once a year is no longer necessary. Instead, it posited that the reason sending out Christmas cards was a dying tradition was because of the economy and because they aren't green (excusing the occasional depiction of a Christmas tree). Though e-cards are certainly mentioned, the impact of the ongoing connections we all have through social media was not. To me, that's a hole in contemporary trend analysis you could drive a sleigh through.

Please don't tell my Mom, but I think my Christmas card mailing days are over. By this time next year, the legions of friends connected to me through social media will have grown, and if it hasn't happened already, someone will develop a Facebook Christmas card app that groups friends and relatives by holiday greeting-worthiness and helps you create a "Happy holidays" card with the click of a mouse. Rather than putting our friends' analog Christmas cards in a stack and then trying to figure out what to do with them, we'll just park digital versions in the cloud. Perfect.

Thank you, social media -- my days of Christmas card-related White Anglo-Saxon Protestant guilt are almost over -- and, yes, Virginia, in case you were wondering, there is White Anglo-Saxon Protestant guilt.

(Editor's note: Cathy would like to do a year-end social media predictions for 2010 column with your input. Please email your prediction to her at cathyptaylor@gmail.com with "social media prediction" in the subject header by Monday, Dec. 21st.)

17 comments about "Social Media and the Future of Christmas Cards ".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, December 16, 2009 at 4:35 p.m.

    An acqauintance of mine sent out 150 cards last week and then realized the leftover Christmas stamps she used from last year only had 42c on them instead of 44c. At least her Jewish friends got their "holiday" cards because she used Forever stamps on those. Something tells me that she won't send cards next year, maybe because I read about her plight on Facebook. Perhaps greeting cards will go the way of the fax and the landline, but it's hard to hang electronic messages on the tree.

  2. Beth Braxton from UNC-Chapel Hill, December 16, 2009 at 4:43 p.m.

    The Chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill decided that he'd prefer to save money and be more environmentally conscientious this year so he sent an electronic holiday card that can be customized and forwarded by the recipients. In the first 24 hours, more than 4,300 e-cards were created and emailed by alumni and friends of UNC. I haven't seen the numbers in the last week but the application was posted on the University's various social media sites as well.

    See what we sent:

    http://www.unc.edu/design/clients/url/chanc_holiday_09/

  3. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, December 16, 2009 at 4:52 p.m.

    In the spirit of e-cards, Merry Christmas Dorothy Parker, wherever you are.

  4. Karen Lee, December 16, 2009 at 5:28 p.m.

    So glad I'm not the only who feels this way. In fact, I posted on my blog about this and am holding a giveaway for an amazing eCard company. I firmly believe in being green and being frugal about sending Christmas to those whom we "chat" briefly via cards once a year. Whaere's the spirit in that?
    http://www.ecokaren.com/2009/12/ojolie-animated-ecard-review-and-giveaway/

    Merry Christmas!

  5. David Schultz from Media Logic, December 16, 2009 at 6:18 p.m.

    Very funny and timely post. A colleague just asked me yesterday, "why should I send cards out since I'm already connected to all of my family and friends?!" From a business perspective, we opted for a social media holiday greeting. It's a lot of fun and worth checking out. The response has been incredible.

    On Facebook:
    http://www.facebook.com/MediaLogic?v=app_235468499427

    If you can't access Facebook from work:
    http://www.mlinc.com/holidaysound/

  6. Lourdes Del valle from WebreDesigns, December 16, 2009 at 6:49 p.m.

    While social media has indeed made an impact on my holiday greeting card list - yes, I am still sending "snail mail" cards this year but to a smaller group. Besides learning that my penmanship really needs major improvement, I found that I actually enjoyed writing out some of these cards - for me, it was a more personal communication, triggered some good memories and put me in the spirit of the season - Happy Holidays to all!

  7. Rose Farley from Ruder Finn, December 16, 2009 at 8:16 p.m.

    I have to say I agree with Lourdes. While I love the instant connections social media brings to my life, there is just something about receiving a card in the mail that tends to "make my day." Here's the thing -- we can still take advantage of the net to make the process easier. this year for the first time, I ordered my cards online at a site called TinyPrints. i'm getting really beautiful cards and it's only taking me half the time it used to to get them all out.

  8. Chris Hansen, December 16, 2009 at 10:23 p.m.

    This is truly a sad indicator of the times, but I can't say that I'm surprised and I can't even say that I blame you. I have never been good at sending Christmas cards, but I can tell you that I definitely enjoy receiving them.

    This post is very much from the perspective of the lazy, social media entrenched professional who probably doesn't have much time to deal with Christmas cards. And I can say that my response is from someone who is equally as lazy and entrenched in social media marketing, but is invested both in social media and in the greeting card industry (shameless plug: check out http://www.rossettidesigns.com/holiday.html). And here's where I think anyone who opts for an "ecard" or social network greeting instead of something tangible is missing the boat:

    When was the last time you shared an ecard with a friend? Can you put your ecard or social network greeting on the mantel? Maybe you don't have a mantel (or any friends) so it doesn't matter to you, but there is something to be said for tradition and there's something to be said for tangible things like greeting cards during the holidays.

    Are our Christmas card traditions contributing to the destruction of rain forests? I don't think so; not compared to other uses of paper. Especially when many small card companies like ours are trying to be environmentally responsible and printing on FSC post-consumer recycled paper.

    And in the case of our company, you'd be hard pressed to find e-greetings with colorful, warm original art by an artist who feels strongly about her designs.

    So keep on embracing the traditional greeting card, I say. Paper cards last longer and help us stay connected in ways that electronic greetings cannot.

    Embrace email and social media marketing when ROI and measurement matter most. But when communicating heartfelt greetings to family and friends during the holidays, don't contribute to the erosion of time-honored traditions.

    For where are we when all our traditions are lost? No where, and truly lost as a society, I would have to say. And ask your self: what kind of greeting would your mother prefer to receive?

  9. Bea Rush, December 16, 2009 at 10:28 p.m.

    Each year I get more and more behind in the Christmas card sending, but I eventually get them all signed, sealed and delivered. The "T's through the Z's" get mailed the 23rd or 24th. My list, too, is pared down, but when I hand write a letter to each person, I think of it as a once-a-year gift-from-my-heart to that person. I am taking the time to "give my time" to my friend at a time of the year where personal giving and sacrifice is the "reason for the season" in Christian communities. I know that "snail-mail" is about to go the way of 8-tracks and cassettes, but when I pull a card from my mailbox and I recognized the handwriting of a dear friend of whom I only hear from at Christmas, my heart leaps with joy and I feel a special human touch in me that an email cannot come close to replacing. God Bless Us, Everyone! Merry Christmas!

  10. Cathy Taylor from MediaPost, December 17, 2009 at 9:30 a.m.

    I admit my Christmas card sending abilities have diminished, but due to laziness, I can only wish! As life has gotten busier and busier, mostly because of my kids, I've wondered if we might split out one of the Christmas traditions and do it at another time of year. You know, like sending out Independence Day cards or something, because the only other thing you need to do for that holiday is buy some hamburgers and beer.

    Cathy

  11. Jim Dennison from DigitalMediaMeasures, December 17, 2009 at 9:35 a.m.

    There is something special about a tangible, touchable, Christmas card, that an online posting will never equal. Social media will never be adopted by a segment of the population (heresy!!), at least on my list, so mailing cards has a future. I've done photocards for years and it's just now getting easy enough, and customizable enough that I think buying cards in a store may go the way of newspaper circulation. The tip about Tiny Prints is a good one. Look out card stores!

  12. Dave Benefiel from Global Market Insite, December 17, 2009 at 12:56 p.m.

    There are some things about Catharine's post that I just fundamentally disagree with.

    Primarily, what a "Christmas card" is, and what it means and what it's for. I've simply never understood some people's need to use Christmas as a forum to send out a two page single-spaced letter about everything they and their family had been up to. When my wife and I receive those we throw them away and take the person off our Christmas card list! Of all the people you sent that letter to most either already knew that detail, or didn't care in the first place. There are reasons for that. A Christmas card was never meant to be all about you the sender, and that's what you make it when you send one of these homepages in an envelope. I only agree with you in that it is not necessary now, I just don't see why it ever was. You say you don't have time to write it? I certainly don't have time to read it.

    Now on to the actual social media aspect. You are correct in that now there are 300 people who already know everything (at least everything good) you and your family have been doing, and they can see the pictures. Facebook has fulfilled all of our needs to broadcast the things we want to make known. The nice thing is we can self select those who we want to read about.

    Now Christmas cards, that's meant to be a gesture from you to reach out to another person or family and show them you care about them, not talk about yourself.

    So I say send a simple card with a note and a printed snapshot, you can't stand a green eCard up on the mantle to signify your connections with the people in your world.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

  13. Suzanne Sell from Independent, December 17, 2009 at 5:15 p.m.

    I gave up sending Christmas cards in 1996 after a particularly bad year, and after 13 years, I'm finally free of guilt over it. As the number of cards I received dwindled each year, I missed hearing from some of these friends, but then I realized that I could just pick up the phone and call them. It actually has been very freeing, and I would recommend this apporach to anyone!

  14. Jack a. Silverman from Bolin Marketing, December 17, 2009 at 5:17 p.m.

    I agree with much of these comments. I like tangible things still like real cards and real newspapers. But social media cards are a train out of the tunnel here's ours, and we connected it to several charities that friends and clients can choose:

    www.bolinholiday.com

  15. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, December 17, 2009 at 6:18 p.m.

    I actually enjoy getting holiday cards that give me a rundown on what old friends have been doing in the year previous. Sometimes they can be self-indulgent, sure, but often it's good to be reminded of their lives and what they're up to as we all ride the cascade of time forward.

  16. Tim Patterson, December 17, 2009 at 6:18 p.m.

    I did the same thing as many of you - stress over sending out cards at Christmas. Then two years ago a friend introduced me to SendOutCards.com (http://budurl.com/tpsoc) and now I do it all online - upload a photo of me and my boys, dress it up with a Christmas theme, and send it out the 'Christmas' group that I created, after updating addresses. All with a few clicks, and at about a buck-30 a card, including postage. Yeah, it's a blatant plug, but it's a hell of an alternative to doing it one-at-a-time or sending annoying, easily forgettable e-cards - or neglecting friends and relatives, which I really don't feel like doing.

    BTW, not too crazy about the 'newsletter' but I figure what the heck - if they want to tell me about all their stuff once a year I might as well catch up!

    I guess the Christmas card thing comes down to how important that piece of tradition is in the face of changing communication tools and structures. I think it's important, which is why I continue to send cards more now than ever before - and the feedback I get from people is absolutely worth it. People love to get cards, Christmas or any other time of year...okay, off my stool now...

  17. Eric Hyman, December 18, 2009 at 1:03 p.m.

    We haven't sent any in a while either, and this year I notice the number coming in has dwindled too. Either A) we are less popular than ever, or B) you are right and other people feel the same way. I hope it is the latter, but you never know. Another factor is that all of my friends' kids are getting older and it is hard to get them to agree to be in the family card photo anymore I am sure for many. Since many of the cards we used to get were that type, that might also explain the decline. With younger parents being more social net savvy, death of the card is as you say, inevitable. RIP funny and mushy cards of yore.

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