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Facebook is the most-used social networking site, with more than half of the U.S. population projected to use Facebook at least once a month in 2016 (Source: emarketer.com). With Facebook so dominant in our online and social lives, what role does it play in communicating a death? Why do 88% of people still want to place a print newspaper obituary for a loved one? How do the traditional strongholds and new social spheres interact and relate?

Facebook and social platforms overall are growing in importance and have a unique role to play, but, surprisingly, most of that role today is amplifying and reinforcing the traditional online obituary rather than replacing it. In a consumer survey of over 1,000 respondents, 66% said they were either extremely likely or very likely to post a free obituary online on a place like Facebook in addition to the newspaper obituary (Cint Survey audience of 1,000 respondents). These trends show it is important to integrate with social networking sites to serve our users in the best way possible.

When we introduced our Next Generation Obituary (NGO) with prominently displayed social sharing buttons, we saw social sharing increase by 67% compared to our classic platform [Read more about NGO]. And a sample group of affiliates saw a 24% increase in social traffic year-over-year when they upgraded to NGO in the second quarter of 2016 from the classic platform. You would think this meant they were sharing to Facebook all the time, but in fact, email was the most popular obit-sharing tool.

One important thing to remember when considering how Facebook fits into the online obituary landscape is the emotional place that Facebook currently occupies. In general, Facebook (and other social media sites) is a place where we curate our lives as we want people to see the “best” us, not necessarily as we are. There is a social currency we use within our social networks. No one wants always to be the “sad friend.” We don’t “Like” death, and, even with the additional reaction buttons Facebook offers, it can be an awkward place to grieve.

When we built our “social network,” we set out specifically to provide a safe place to grieve and be open about our sadness. People recognized and appreciated that unique space, with 92% of consumers saying that a moderated Guest Book is valuable (SurveyMonkey Survey audience of 1,000 participants). In a world where internet trolling runs rampant, it’s comforting to have a haven that is screened diligently for appropriateness. Blocking out expletives is child’s play; we also screen out things such as hateful comments written in codes and omit embarrassing situations – like uncovering a mistress of the deceased – keeping these issues at bay while the family mourns in peace. This level of specialization is only possible with a staff entirely dedicated to these delicate situations. Where traditional social networks specialize in creating more news and often heightening awareness of the most salacious version of reality, the mourning state often demands the opposite.

In terms of online obituaries, social networks work exceptionally well when the family has chosen a public role by virtue of the obituary message. Families may use an obituary to warn people of the dangers of drug use, or just to share an entertaining or extremely meaningful portrait of the deceased. When the desire of the family to share widely is combined with the strength of the online newspaper obituary discoverability, the obituary gains the power to be consumed widely – and even reach millions of readers.

When the goal is to gain the largest audience and best serve your users, you want to be Facebook friendly and help your families tell the most compelling stories of their loved ones while providing them with a safe space to share stories and condolences. Facebook should not stand on its own in the world of online obits; the social networking site works best when it is used as a tool to extend the reach of the obituary that was thoughtfully crafted to share a life story.

 

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Claire McAlpin

Claire is a Marketing Associate at Legacy.com with experience in marketing strategy, experiential marketing, account management and sales.