Recently, author Joshua Andrew ran a thought-provoking article on The Atlantic discussing the role Facebook — a site more commonly associated with narcissistic behavior and the tendency to forgo human interaction for digital engagement than sensitive support — holds in the grieving process. After noticing a distinct lack of sarcastic or “trolling” responses to a friend’s announcement of his father’s passing, Andrew concluded that:
“At stake is the way in which we communicate about the most critical elements of human life, and if someone is comforted by the 33 likes they receive for the pixelated photo commemorating their late father, it deserves our attention.”
Certainly, Facebook replaced standard news websites as the “go to” online destination for surviving friends and family members to share their memories and condolences, given that the comment sections of news sites (and, in a sense, peoples’ grief itself) tend to be heavily moderated. But does that make Facebook the venue that those of us in the funeral profession should be promoting as an online outlet for grief? I’d argue that there’s a better option.
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Grieving on Facebook
The question of what happens to a person’s digital legacy is no small issue. Consider that there are currently over 1.3 billion active Facebook users, a whopping 23% increase over March 2012. Of these 1.3 billion people, roughly 699 million log into Facebook daily and spend an average of 18 minutes on the site per visit. Whether or not you agree with the increasingly important role social media sites are playing in our lives, you can’t ignore the fact that the deceased may have had as rich an online life as an offline one.
So, in the wake of a death, what happens to a person’s Facebook account? Currently, there are two possible alternatives: the family can either leave the account as-is or request that Facebook turns the account into a memorial page.
Neither solution is truly ideal. If the account is left active, the profile will continue to appear in the network’s lists of birthday notifications and friend suggestions, popping up and reminding others of the deceased at the most inappropriate times. If no friends or relatives have access to the account’s login information, there’s also no way to manage the messages that are left on the deceased’s Facebook Wall, as Facebook does not give out login credentials or transfer account ownership under any circumstances.
The case of Amanda Todd demonstrates how devastating this can be. On October 10th, 2012, the tenth-grader took her own life after being bullied both online and offline over a period of several years. Though her Facebook Wall initially served as a hub for friends and family members to share condolences, the same people who drove her to her death eventually took it overfilling the pages with messages like “Yes we are glad that she is dead yay,” and “She brought it on herself which is why I don’t feel bad,” and resulting in a truly heartbreaking situation for her family.
The alternative of switching an active account to one of Facebook’s memorial pages has its own weaknesses. Once the change has been made, the account is essentially frozen. Nobody — not even those with the appropriate login credentials — will be able to log in to the account, and only those who previously had permission to do so will be able to leave condolence messages on the remaining Wall. It’s also worth considering that any racy pictures or status updates left on the deceased’s account get preserved as part of his or her online legacy.
A Better Solution
The disadvantages of Facebook as a grief resource aren’t limited to the restrictions placed on friends and family members of the deceased. As a funeral professional, having these expressions of grief occur outside of your website is problematic in a number of different ways, as Facebook isn’t really designed to suit the needs of the bereaved.
Online memorial walls — obituary pages on which visitors can leave messages, pictures, videos and more — represent a much better alternative to Facebook in terms of digital grieving. Not only do these services remedy many of the faults found on Facebook (for example, the ability to moderate messages effectively in the wake of a death), they offer all of the following advantages as well:
Online memorial wall interaction begets more interaction
At Frazer Consultants, we’ve invested heavily in our online memorial wall system, modeling it after the things that Facebook does well in order to encourage visitor engagement (but with the additional services and features needed to support grieving families). And one of the most interesting things we’ve noticed is that having even a single person leave a condolence message tends to trigger a chain reaction of interaction begetting more interaction.
Not only does this help turn the online memorial wall into a tremendously healing resource for the family, it can increase the funeral home’s revenue if the online memorial wall system has a floral ordering system. In a surprising number of situations, we observed a single floral order shared to a person’s memorial wall result in a series of orders, creating an outpouring of support for the family and additional income for your business.
No matter which funeral home website provider you choose to work with, look for one that gives visitors as many opportunities as possible to engage with the system and share condolences. At the same time, be sure your chosen provider doesn’t put an “expiration date” on your memorial walls. Leaving them up in perpetuity ensures that the messages gathered will continue to provide comfort to the deceased’s friends and family members throughout their grief journeys.
Online memorial walls let you flag inappropriate messages
In addition, the best online memorial wall systems come with one important feature compared to Facebook — the ability to flag inappropriate messages and delete them before they’re published to the live site. This can be done in a number of different ways, including “swear word filters” that automatically flag pending comments containing profanity and required a manual picture and video review (both of which are standard features on Frazer-powered websites), which allow site owners to ensure that nothing inappropriate slips through the cracks.
With these features in place, you never have to worry about mean, profane or adult messages leaving the families you serve in distress — as in the upsetting case of Amanda Todd described above.
Online memorial walls improve your brand recognition
When people share online condolences on Facebook, sites like Legacy.com or Tributes.com, or local news websites, you’ll be lucky if you see a handful of mentions of your firm’s name in reference to upcoming services. From a business perspective, this isn’t ideal, as anything you can do to increase your brand’s top-of-mind awareness by getting your name out there is a positive thing.
If you offer a strong online memorial wall system on your funeral home website, there’s a good chance that family members and friends won’t just stop by once. They’ll come back again and again (even years in the future) to revisit the condolence messages left for their loved ones. Every time they come to your website, they’ll see your funeral home’s brand name. And if you’ve done your job well, they’ll remember how well you took care of them in their time of need. If they ever need services or support in your area in the future, yours will be the first name that comes to mind, in part because of the strength of your memorial walls.
When you take these different factors into consideration, it’s clear that well-crafted online memorial walls offer a better alternative for digital grieving than Facebook. But if that’s the case, why do so many families still turn to this popular social network to connect in the wake of a loss? In most cases, it’s because they don’t know of a better alternative.
It’s up to you to put the appropriate online memorial wall system into place on your website, and it’s up to you to educate your families on why they’re so important. Yes, doing so requires extra effort on your part. But it’s an effort that will ultimately go on to benefit both the families you serve and your business’s bottom line as a result of all the advantages described above.