Facebook is rolling out a new, real-life gift-giving feature, making a normally private affair very public, and potentially causing awkward moments between friends.
The new Facebook Gifts feature will appear on all Facebook Timeline pages, presenting a minefield of potential social faux pas. Here's how the feature works, what the danger points are and how to handle the process with a social grace that would make Emily Post proud.
First, choose recipients with care. Can you imagine the fallout from this scenario? You're "in a relationship," and one of your Facebook friends from work sends you a pricey box of chocolates. Your partner sees it on your Timeline and accusations fly.
So, just send gifts to real friends on their birthdays and other customary occasions. Keep the gift appropriate to your relationship and the occasion. For instance, sending a $5 Starbucks gift certificate to thank a co-worker for a job well done is fine; a cuddly teddy bear is not.
Facebook gives the option of posting your gesture to a recipient's Timeline or keeping the transaction private. In most cases, the private option is likely best. Even a public gift to your mother could put pressure on siblings who may have more limited budgets, for instance. You can choose not to share the gift on your friend's timeline by un-checking the "Share Gift on [Friend's] Timeline" option at the top of the order-review page. No personal messages you send along with the gift will appear on your friend’s Timeline, but will be sent in a private note to the recipient.
Recipients face perils as well. When a friend sends a gift through Facebook, the recipient will get a notification asking for a shipping address. She can also preview the gift; change the size, color or style; or exchange it for another gift of equal or lesser value, Facebook says. While the original gift (even in the case of an exchange) will always be posted to Timeline when shared, an exchange can cause hurt feelings — if the giver finds out.
In general, if you need to exchange a gift because it doesn't fit, that's fine, according to EmilyPost.com, but it's trickier if you just don't like the gift and would rather trade it for something else. Weigh the odds of the giver finding out about an exchange. But in most cases, play it safe — thank the giver and keep the gift.
With the Facebook Gifts program, friends also need to pay attention to timing. When you receive a gift notification, it will arrive in both your Facebook inbox and as an email to the address you've tied to your Facebook account. Promptly respond with your shipping address. After two weeks, the gift will be cancelled if you don’t respond. If you decide to decline a gift by not responding to the request from Facebook, send a polite message to your Facebook friend, rather than leaving him hanging, wondering what went wrong. Otherwise, once you receive a gift, send a message to the giver to let him know you received it and that you appreciate the thought.
Facebook members should see the new gift feature within the next few weeks.