The internet and technology are changing the bereavement industry every day. People are turning to the internet guru, ‘Google’ to answer their all questions, from grief support and funerary arrangements, and now more than ever, to memorialize a loved one. However, current memorial platforms are extremely limited as online obituaries and guestbook content can disappear after a year, and social media sites do not offer the necessary support and tools to commemorate the departed. This is a reality I have experienced firsthand.
My mentor passed away suddenly just over a year ago. We worked together at a not-for-profit organization that helped troubled teens, so naturally, this loss resonated throughout the entire community. The weeks following his passing, his Facebook profile was filled with messages, tributes and photos shared by his network. It was comforting to view all the never-before-seen pictures of him and read everyone’s personal stories. I wanted to revisit all these memories following his one year, but upon searching his name on Facebook, I discovered that his entire profile had been deleted, along with all the photo and memories that existed. Another similar instance occurred a few months after my aunt’s passing wherein her memorial, hosted on the funeral home’s website, containing nearly one hundred tributes, completely disappeared.
My experience is unfortunately a common one. The internet is filled with stories of families and friends struggling to preserve all these shared memories of a lost love one. In fact, there are an estimated 30 million people whose virtual profiles on Facebook have outlived them. By the end of 2013, an estimated 7 million Facebook users’ pages became memorial sites for their owners. The Internet is becoming a vast virtual cemetery.
Why does this concern us, as funeral professionals? We need to understand this shift. Analyze the online and technological trends in relation to loss and bereavement and the funeral industry. This is where social media is failing, and where you, the professional and specialist, have the opportunity to step in. This is beyond selling flowers and tribute pages, and those little virtual candles that flicker on your screen. It’s about showing that you are part of a community, and that you have can provide your clients the storytelling and networking tools that they need. Furthermore, you can remain part of their grieving and memorialization process, well beyond the memorial service.
To understand this technological shift, we must look at what people are actually doing online. A study conducted at the end of 2012 revealed the increasing generation of internet curators and creators. 46% of adult internet users post original photos or videos online that they themselves have created. We call them creators. 41% of adult internet users take photos or videos that they have found online and repost them on sites designed for sharing images with many people. We call them curators. Overall, 56% of internet users do at least one of the creating or curating activities, while 32% of internet users do both of these activities.
A very large portion of these creators and curators main subject matter is their own personal lives. We share everything from what we had for dinner, to our child’s first steps. We tend to share so much, so often, that there even exist filters to block posts about your friend’s babies on Facebook. With all our life memories being stored online, it is inevitable that the web is profoundly changing the life of someone’s memory after their death.
The solution to this problem to date has been online memorials. They have existed since the early nineties, but to be honest, current sites still seem to be stuck in that era. With a quick ‘Google’ search, a plethora of online memorial websites can be found, all built on similar platforms, offering identical services and at a narrow price range. Therefore, it may appear that online memorials are old news in this industry because we have been using this formula for years, many of which are even hosted directly on funeral home websites.
In order to research memorialization and personalization in bereavement, our team conducted phone interviews and an online survey with participants in North America who had lost a loved one within the past five years. The results were very surprising as 90% of candidates we interviewed had never heard of online memorials. Of the candidates who were unaware that this product was on the market, 97% of them responded that would have created an online memorial for their loved one had it been offered. All of these people went through the funeral system, yet they did not realize that these memorialization solutions were available to them. In fact, the majority of candidates we spoke with were unsatisfied with their memorialization options.
But what are mourners actually doing to commemorate a loved one today? While some tend to visit the resting place, the majority (81%) of mourners share photos and videos to commemorate a departed; 60% of them do so online. These sharing activities tend to take place via Facebook and direct email. However, most find Facebook to be too public to share such intimate moments, while email limits your reach and lacks that sense of interaction and community. It is evident that the habits and practices of sharing a life story online in order the memorialize a loved one are in place, but the issue about being able to do so on current platforms (i.e. Facebook) exist. Yet, there are solutions that are accessible to the funeral profession that enable their clients to interact online, to share a life story and countless pictures in order to memorialize a departed. What is missing is the awareness.
It is important to note that such sharing activities and habits do not only occur throughout the initial period of grief, but during the yearly anniversaries. This engagement that occurs years following the memorial service must be seen as an opportunity- one that funeral professionals are missing out on. By incorporating a platform that allows you to constantly reach out to your clients, even when you think they have forgotten you, not only adds to the value of your services, but paves the way for new clients to knock at your door. The strength and the return of creating a community through social platforms will be incalculable. Take the plunge and embrace what online technology can do for your company today. FBA
Mandy Benoualid is the Co-Founder and CEO of Qeepr.com, today’s leading social memorialization platform. Utilizing her Media and Communications degree, Ms. Benoualid’s goal is to enable families to preserve and share their stories using cutting edge technology. Ms. Benoualid can be reached at (514) 886-7900, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via www.Qeepr.com.