In the flurry of predictions for hot marketing trends in 2013 and beyond, you’d be hard pressed to find a story that didn’t include content at its core. Whatever the context – delivered via digital, social, or mobile; designed for demand gen or ongoing customer engagement; paid, earned or owned media – it’s in there. With content as king (and perhaps queen and court), Forbes suggests that brands’ attention has shifted from ‘why content marketing’ to ‘how to.’ We’ve seen that trend borne out with our clients as well.
In evaluating your own content strategy and how to take it to the next level, be brutally honest in answering five key questions:
1. Are you striking the right balance by offering content that provides value across the buyers’ journey or are you are more skewed in one phase at the expense of others? For many content marketers, resources are often focused heavily on filling the ‘top of the funnel’ (demand generation), but fall short on driving consideration, preference or even engaging customer ‘fans’ as a powerful post-purchase channel. Take stock of where your content gaps lie and recalibrate to ensure you’ve got the kind of content that holds the most sway at each phase of the path to purchase.
2. In your zeal to continue to ‘feed the beast,’ are you cannibalizing your own content efforts? With the seemingly never-ending demand for more, more, more – 64% of B2B content marketers cite ‘producing enough content’ as their #1 challenge, according to Content Marketing Institute’s 2013 Content Marketing report. The question is – are you giving your content ‘time to breathe.’ Producing too many pieces too fast may not allow you to maximize the value of those assets. Finding the right cadence for your audience is key.
3. Are the customers’ or prospects’ information needs at the heart of your content program? A corollary to Questions 1 and 2. Content marketing is driven by both your brand’s overarching business objectives – no apologies here — AND the need to create value for your target. Clearly, content strategy should be designed to effectively marry the two. This will also drive a flight to quality. Content consumers have too many options on too many screens to waste precious time on content that doesn’t engage them in a compelling and channel appropriate way. To borrow a phrase from CMI’s Joe Pulizzi, ‘quality is the new quantity.’
4. Is there visibility across your organization of what content exists, is in development, or planned? The benefits of such a content ‘window’ (powered by CMS technology) are clear — message consistency, brand alignment, greater efficiency/less duplication of efforts, more throughput, increased opportunity for amplification, and cost savings, to name a few. The larger, more dispersed the content organization, the greater the potential value.
5. Do you have a content plan upfront – or are you constantly in repurposing mode? In other words, are you regularly asking ‘what should we do with this great piece of content now that I have it’ – after the fact. A more efficient and effective starting point is to look at what you’re trying to accomplish, then laying out how to tell that story in a way that’s best suited to each key channel – before any content is developed. Think about content cornerstones that center on topics providing high value to your target and best represent your brand. Map it out – who’s creating what assets when, distributing/amplifying them where and when, driving content consumers to what action, and tracking how well that content performs. Learn and adjust as needed. Carefully crafting a content strategy in advance can provide powerful guidance for more effective development and deployment of content.
How you answer these key questions – and more importantly, what you choose to do going forward — can spell the difference between being good enough and setting a new content marketing standard.
There are a lot of blogs on social marketing, social media and word of mouth today and like bellybuttons, everyone has an opinion.
Here is the thing that has bugged me for nearly the last two years (yes, that is a long time to be perturbed by anything unless you are Lewis Black).
Are you ready?
Many of the published approaches and opinions on social today are clinical or theoretical. They don’t take into account the realities of everyday business. In other words, what happens when the ever present ‘pivot’ is required or the budget for the more complete and elegant program strategy is clawed back by management or a re-org occurs and all your senior stakeholders have vanished.
As I sit here writing this post, I am reminded of a statement I recently heard, “a plan is something you throw out when you are down by 14 at the end of the first quarter.” Since we are in the midst of pre-Super Bowl hype,let’s go with the analogy. My point here is that plans, like social programs and strategies should be fluid. They are full of audibles and broken plays. Sometimes it is the simple shovel pass that wasn’t even a play option that gets the first down.
With this in mind I introduce to you WOMMA TV. As WOMMA TV’s host, I promise you a no-holds barred and in-depth peek (or as in-depth that 15 minutes will allow) peek into the real world of doing social well. We are going to leave the charts, process flows and social theory to others. For those of you who know me, you know I love charts as much as the next geek but that isn’t the purpose of WOMMA TV. Instead, WOMMA TV will be more ‘reality tv’ than produced sitcom.
WOMMA TV’s pilot is in the can and the first episode is in less than two weeks. You’ll find it the end of the first week of each month at WOMMA’s website, as well as, here. It will also be promoted on Twitter. You’ll find it on YouTube and a variety of other places. Just search ‘WOMMA TV’.
Each month, just prior to the show, I will publish a post with the upcoming topic and a peek behind the scenes of the upcoming episode.
It’s my hope that you’ll add WOMMA TV to your list of your ‘must consume’ monthly content on social.
On October 18th, I-COM, The International Conference for Online Measurement held its 2012 Global Summit.
For the last year, I have had the great pleasure to represent WOMMA on I-COM’s board of directors and had the opportunity to collaborate with quite literally some of the best and brightest digital marketers and big data thought leaders that exist anywhere on the globe.
This group worked tirelessly to create a worthwhile conference framework, identify the right topics, build a structural framework for the conference, speaker presentations and breakout sessions, as well as, identify industry thought leaders that people would in some cases travel half way around the world to listen to, learn from and in some cases have a rousing debate with.
Here are some insights from the conference, in case your travel budget didn’t allow for a junket to Italy. There is a lot of content for you at this link, so surf through and pick out what you are most interested in.
Here are some high points and opinions that I’ve distilled from the preplanning work, the conference content and post conference discussions.
1. Don’t get overly enamored with Big Data. Yes, it will change how the best businesses plan their strategies but it isn’t a magic ball that will close all the knowledge gaps you have. Effective use of Big Data requires organizational alignment, special skills, tools and processes to utilize correctly. The old phrase junk in-junk out still applies, so be thoughtful in what and how you measure.
2. Dashboards aren’t the next killer app. Just like Big Data, dashboards are an efficiency tool that provide value when used effectively. Like one observer put it, “Dashboards are a lot like your highlighter in college. If you highlighted the wrong stuff in your text book, or everything in a chapter for that matter, you were sure to flunk your test. Be thoughtful in what you highlight” Just like Big Data, junk in, junk out.
3. Campaigns are transitory. Content is not. Marketers need to move their fixation from campaign optimization to content optimization.
4. Traditional activity metrics (impressions, likes, etc.) have a waning importance. With the growth and soon critical mass of ‘Do Not Track’ restrictions, marketers must move strategies and activities to ‘value metrics’, such as content and page value (and correlated KPI impact).
5. ‘ROI’ of social and in many cases, digital engagement is still very amorphous. Currently, the ‘R’ in ROI has no real, solid currency (as measured in business impact or Profit and Loss terms). Marketers need to apply more discipline to get to that before ‘The ROI of social’ has any real meaning or value.
6. Global, category standards are critical to ensuring acceptance. However, standards need not include a measure or a metric for the sake of applying one (there are a lot of measures out there that either make little sense or are impossible to track. Let’s not add to this clutter).
7. Continuing education is critical to adoption and value generation. Create, use, teach and enforce consistent, relevant vocabularies and approaches to the important general or universal categories.
8. Accept that evolution in this space is occurring so quickly that the focus should be on the process and best practices, not an end result.
Of course there was a lot more than this that occurred in Rome. Lots of detail and smart opinions were shared and discussed on topics such as mobile, attribution, multi-screen analytics, attribution and advertising effectiveness in a digital age just to name a few of the many meaty topics.
Spend some time with this information, you’ll be glad you did. Share it (or at least the eight points I’ve outlined above) with your peers and use it to continue to evolve and improve your own initiatives.
By now, everyone has seen this Infographic. Yes, it is complex and confusing and it should give you a headache.
The tools to manage and measure activity on a socially enabled web today are growing at substantial rate. Today, you can track and measure virtually any activity you would want to or deploy a tool to help you manage social campaigns of virtually any type. A tool or an app has been built to address almost anything you might want to do.
This explosion of social tool development, while innovative and necessary, does little to solve the bigger problems of social engagement, which essentially boil down to understanding why people act the way they act in a social brand encounter and then helping to facilitate the right engagement and then understanding in simple clear terms the value and outcome of that encounter. That’s the bad news. The good news is this will change.
If you follow any innovation curve in virtually any industry, things tend to get harder and more complex before they get simpler and easier. Why? Because, during the early phases of innovation, the processes and rules and infrastructure that will later support new inventions are getting built right along with what’s being invented. Solving any one problem on its own is the goal. Later, problems get grouped together and a new smarter solution addresses them all.
Take the Model T automobile for example. Building the car on a mass scale was one thing. Tough enough to be sure, but what about manufacturing and distributing replacement parts as those cars began to break down? Sourcing, distributing and stocking virtually every part on the car separately was likely a daunting, painful and expensive exercise at the outset, for the supplier and the consumer.
In the end, things improved. They had to for the fledgling automotive industry to remain viable. All the confusion, competing systems and supply chain gaps needed to be streamlined and refined and new smarter and more innovative solutions and options were layered on based on understanding and meeting customer needs.
Innovators moved from activity metrics (which parts are needed) to value metrics (when to make and distribute them so that inventories matched demand) as the industry evolved.
Making sure that the customer could get the parts they needed when they needed it AFTER they purchased the vehicle helped to ensure that that customer would buy another auto from that manufacturer rather than a competitor’s product.
Social Marketing today is going through the same innovation phase as the early auto industry (and every other one for that matter). It will get better. For the industry to survive and remain relevant to users, it has to! The focus will begin to move away from the tools and the activity to the experience and the value of the relationship we deliver.
As this innovation occurs over the next few years, look for consolidation to speed up and for tools become more expansive, robust…and simpler. Tomorrow’s Infographic will look drastically different than the one at the beginning of this post. It will be less about the tools available and more about content, relationship triggers and the decision journey. That’s what tomorrow’s tools will help to manage-relationships and decision journeys, not just data.
Remember, keep your eye on the prize of understanding what is driving your value metrics; what is moving your constituents through the decision process and what compels them to remain involved with your brand. The tools which help you manage your social marketing initiatives will get better, be more intuitive and easier to use, I guarantee it.
Knowing this, social marketing practitioners and their business peers need to start focusing hard on what makes good relationships work. You must now begin the process of blurring the lines between all of your brand experience channels and optimizing those channels for relevance and value.
Get ready, as the next few years will bring marketing innovation and opportunities you have never imagined were possible.
Recently Gartner predicted that by 2017, marketing’s technology spend will exceed that of IT’s within the business enterprise. According to Gartner, 2011 B2B and B2C marketing budgets as a percentage of revenue were almost three times as high (10 percent) as IT budgets (3.6 percent). 2012 IT budgets are expected to grow 4.7 percent, while all marketing budgets, in general, are predicted to grow 9 percent, and high tech marketing budgets, more specifically, are expected to increase 11 percent. On average, nearly one-third (30 percent) of named marketing-related technology and services is bought by marketing already. What’s more, marketing now influences almost half of all purchases.
So why are these facts so important (other than having more money to spend on projects)? In my opinion it is important because of the Paradox of Big Data and its impact on marketers. More money spent on IT means more data streams the marketing teams must manage, right?
Notice I didn’t say ‘information streams’?
Marketing teams can hardly keep up with the fire hose of bits and bytes, metrics, actions, activities and the like today. So how does more make it better? It doesn’t.
Think about your own work. How many dashboards, spread sheets and reports do you see? Do you have the time to study them all and make good decisions or is there simply too much and you do the best you can? Is information overload a reality for you today?
I predict that as more information systems are deployed and the more data that comes online, marketing teams will settle into two camps. 1. High intelligence/managed data and 2. low intelligence/unmanaged data.
The net result of this likely evolution will be organizations that better understand the nuances of their customer segments innovate well and deliver relevant and compelling content, products and experiences to their constituents. That’s the first group. How will they do this?
It is simple in theory, hard in practice (which is why this first group will be smaller than the second).
Members of the high intelligence/managed data group will have forged strong collaborative internal bonds between the various business teams. Marketing, IT, product development, knowledge & insights, HR will all be working together in more efficient ways than in the other group. They will have at their disposal clear and actionable intelligence that comes from their effective Big Data use. It’s important to note that this group will use much more than the standard web data we all use today. They will integrate vast amounts of other transactional information into the intelligence process such as shipping information, call center data, mobile geo-location and usage data, RFID data, etc.
Essentially, these high performing organizations will put the right filters and algorithms in place to provide them with what they need to know to perform well, not what they can know. This is a really important distinction. More data is not better. More intelligence is. Individual data streams will tell you very little. However, when they are paired and bundled together, weighted in terms of importance and linked with certain business goals, patterns and pictures emerge that provide clear insight into what actions might be taken to generate certain outcomes.
By creating intelligence filters, the paradox of big data (more) becomes the power of big data (better). When it is organized against business objective and tracked over time, high performing organizations will excell even further. They will know what activities, campaigns and assets are generating very specific business results. These teams will be able to discern between important activities and unimportant. After all, not all activities or even business goals for that matter are of equal importance.
For instance, below is a filtered report you might find in use in the first group. Note that for this business, generating revenue and driving product innovation are more important objectives than decreasing the cost of support. The question is how much more important and what activities feed into each one of these goals and how important are each of these activities? What if you tracked 800 separate activities or metrics? How would you know? If you take each metric or data stream on its own you wouldn’t.
Which brings me to the second and larger group, low intelligence/unmanaged data organizations. This group collects data like it is going out of style, many times without any rhyme or reason as to why and what to do with it. The problem here isn’t that they will continue to collect more and more of this information but that they will do so while ignoring many other forms of information that is available which can provide critical intelligence. In the end, they will bury themselves in expensive and somewhat useless information.
Customers of firms in this group will grow weary of their disjointed experiences, inconsistent content and lack of understanding of their needs. Firms that fall into the first group will enjoy the benefits of collecting these people as new customers.
There is a relatively recent analog for the potential impact that Big Data will have on marketers in the coming years and the dichotomy between the first and second group I’ve outlined here. In the 1960’s Ed Deming taught the Japanese auto manufactures how to establish and manage a quality process that turned out better parts than their American counter parts. The Japanese listened and adopted the approach, enterprise wide. The result was the reversal of market share, which had a catastrophic effect on Detroit’s automobile dominance.
Currently, neither the first or second group has really formed yet but organizations are already headed one way or the other. For marketers with the ability to be change agents, recognizing which path you are on and doing something to either ensure you remain on that path or quickly change it will impact your organization’s future success.
Big Data will either be your greatest ally or your nemesis. It is up to you to choose which.
Why don’t fad diets work? Experts say that when dieting, people become fixated on what they eat, how often and the corresponding loss of weight. Once that weight goal has been achieved and the pants fit again, time to celebrate. No more hard-boiled eggs and plain boiled chicken breast. Whoo-hoo! Success! Let’s grab a burger and a beer, baby!
Five weeks later, the weight is back with a vengeance. Why is this? Simple. People place a short term focus on the tactics of the diet but totally ignore what is more important. That being a long term change in behavior. You see, it’s not just what you eat but how you approach the whole concept of health. It’s all tied together. You are tired. Don’t work out, you get stressed and you eat. That quick bag of Doritos as a lunch ain’t helpin’ things, neither is the diet soda for breakfast. Meals are things you get on the go. It is learned behavior that becomes engrained behavior.
Why is social marketing hard? Same reason as why dieting doesn’t work long term. It’s because, corporate teams have engrained behaviors which are focused on the short term. Campaigns and product launches. Beginning, middle and end; then onto whatever else is next.
Couple that mentality with a constant shuffle of teams and people through the endless re-orgs, attrition, upward and lateral movement of team members and focusing on anything long term becomes almost impossible…especially when we are measured and judged on the now.
Doesn’t losing five pounds by starving yourself this week sound better than losing 1 pound by taking the stairs instead of the elevator? More immediate gratification! Five pounds baby! One third of the way to my goal!
So how important is getting social marketing right? What impact will it have on the fundamental way we do business?
Social marketing is a disruptive model that will have far reaching ripple effects on corporate strategy that we cannot yet quantify. When Henry Ford refined and adopted the assembly line, when interstate highways were laid, when the light bulb became commercially available, the advent of the cellular telephone, the Internet, the growth in adoption of Twitter. These are all disruptive forces that no one fully understood or really appreciated at their outset. However, when taking the long view, you can begin to see how these things, well…changed everything.
Social marketing and ultimately, social business, which I define for purposes of this post as ‘collaborative engagement and dialogue which facilitate either common goals or common interests, done in ways that are transparent and communicated in languages, words and pictures we each understand and identify with’ are already beginning to change everything.
Remember the book Crossing the Chasm? The whole premise was around innovation and adoption of new ideas and process that allowed organizations, even big ones to become nimbler and allow their product and service evolutions to effectively go from early adopters to mainstream; which ultimately is the goal of every corporate entity, right? Organizations needed to adopt a process of change or fall into the chasm. IBM is a great example of one who made the crossing successfully. Zenith & Tower Records? Not so much. Ahhhhhhhhh, thud.
If your organization is still in command and control mode, if teams can’t or won’t be collaborative, if the silo walls of your organization are thick and without holes which allow for information, ideas and effort to pass through, you will never cross the chasm until a behavior change occurs-organizationally.
However, if you are attempting to evolve your business, over time, through new learned behaviors (which may be simply stringing a multitude of social initiatives or campaigns together to create the look and feel of what social marketing is really like) you are likely in either Step 2 or Step 3. See above chart.
Where ever you are, the important thing is getting through Step 2. Why is this? Well, social initiatives are based on relationships. Relationships are chaotic and ever changing. They are hard to plan around. They are not necessarily linear or fact driven. They are emotional and conversation driven. Try planning a traditional critical path around that. When you do, welcome to Step 2.
Everything you used to do doesn’t fit neatly into the new social model and that’s frustrating. The danger is giving up and going back to the old way of doing things (checking out).
However, when you learn to be truly collaborative with your peers, subject matter experts, customers and prospects that they aid in the planning and activities; outcomes and expectations magically align. The chaotic becomes more predictable. Welcome to Step 3, which is where you start thinking differently and acting differently and a new normal begins to grow.
Think about it. In any relationship, if you don’t approach the situation with mutual trust and respect, if you don’t listen and ask questions; if you don’t have a dialogue. Communication stops. Statements start. Trust evaporates. Usually, when that happens in any relationship, it ends badly. You are not being social. You are being obstinate.
Since social marketing is as new an idea as it is disruptive, we haven’t seen the full impact that these social ripple effects are having on organizations or industries. Therefore, few organizations, if any really, have moved into Step 4, but many are on their way! As more companies move across the chasm, this will force their competitors to follow suit. For everyone that makes the move, either by choice or by force, the new learned ‘social’ behaviors will eventually become engrained behaviors and that’s when social marketing becomes the norm and the power of social will be felt, understood and acknowledged.
Social is here to stay folks. That’s a fact. What the impact is, no one yet knows; only that it will be substantial. So where are you on crossing the social chasm? Is the cliff ahead of you or behind you?
I’ve seen the above headline a few places now and at first I sort of scoffed; after all, content marketing has been an accepted marketing practice for decades. In fact, some believe it’s been around since the cave dwellers.“Modern day” content marketing began in 1895 when the John Deere Company began publication of the first known custom magazine, Furrow. Today, the magazine has over 1.5 million circulation and is distributed in 40 countries.
Still, content today is a very hot topic. The popular content conference ConFab is sold out for the second year in a row and this year WOMMA’s WOMM U conference will feature many sessions about content including three keynotes. Last year, every time I looked at my email inbox, I had at least 20 appeals to look at a new social measurement tool. This year, content is the top topic of unsolicited emails. Recent ones include:The History of Content Marketing, Ad Age’s Content Marketing Best Hope or More Hype, Content: The New Marketing Equation, and B2B Content Marketing. In fact, ComBlu published an e-Book about content supply chain last summer.
Content marketing is not only a much written about topic, but it is one that is on the minds of many brands. As we chat with major brands about content, many seem to understand a few key things:
Content may not really be the new social, but certainly is part of the lexicon of a social business. Deconstructing old content models and operationalizing them to take full advantage of today’s social channels and tools drives customer affinity and impacts business outcomes. It takes storytelling to a whole new level.
ComBlu was recently asked to help a client in the technology industry develop an approach for extending its successful U.S.-based feedback community into a variety of international markets. Intrigued by the assignment, we decided to back up and do a little research into how social is currently being used in various regions of the world.
The best source of information I found was a study called “Social Media Around the World 2011,” by InSites Consulting. It was rich in information on the usage, penetration and other trends in social worldwide. I learned a variety of interesting things worth sharing, including:
· Emerging markets like Brazil and India show the highest awareness and penetration of social networks overall. On average, people in these regions join 3.1 and 3.9 social networks, respectively. In the U.S. by comparison, the number is 2.1, while in Europe it is only 1.9.
· More than 400 million people use Facebook daily.
· Twitter? While 80% of folks are aware of Twitter, only 16% of people use it.
· Average time spent per session? For Facebook, it’s 37 minutes. For Twitter, it’s 23.
· Vkontakte (a Facebook look-alike) is big in Eastern Europe and enjoys 55% awareness and 39% penetration.
· People don’t want or need more: 60% surveyed are not interested in joining any new social networks; 93% are happy with what they have.
· Given this last item, it’s likely the big social networks will get bigger and small ones will get smaller.
· Daily login to social media around the world breaks down as follows:
– U.S.: 63%
– Brazil: 76%
– Europe: 60%
– India: 82%
– China: 67%
– Japan: 58%
– Australia: 61%
· Facebook rules, at least in Europe, U.S. and Australia. No other network reaches the 96% awareness and 62% usage level of Facebook.
· Blogging and microblogging are the most popular social media activities in Japan with 31.3 million active bloggers. And, 40% of blogging in Japan is done via mobile.
· Mixi continues to be very popular in Japan, but the country’s adoption of Twitter is growing, with unique visitors increasing in the last year from less than 200,000 to more than 10 million.
Interesting info, but what will prove even more interesting is how this will change over the coming months and years. We will all have a global eye out, as it will certainly change our perspective and approach going forward!
Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions – so says Mark Twain. The folks at Zynga couldn’t agree more. The company’s mission is to “give the world permission to play”. Known for bringing us Farmville and Words with Friends, the newly minted public company was recently featured on NBC’s Rock Center. Zynga’s CEO and founder, Matt Pincus, explained the social aspects of play and pointed out that “games are meant to be played by people.” And, are they ever. According to the NBC report, about 150 million people play Zynga games every month. Interestingly, their main demographics could surprise you — they are adults, mainly moms, and a few notorious celebs, like Alec Baldwin.
There is a science behind all of this fun. Pincus’ goal is to make play a daily habit, so he gamified his offerings to foster a virtual addiction to them. Zynga studies users’ activities, behaviors and motivations to understand what works and what doesn’t, what keeps them coming back time and again. Then, they bake their learnings back into the experience. They are also pretty smart when it comes to rewarding participants, especially top performers. Arguably, they set a standard for Reputation Management. At the end of the day, they know how to be relevant.
Becoming a daily habit is the Holy Grail for community strategists. Applying game mechanics that encourage, learn from and reward member activities and behaviors can benefit many communities, even those in the more conservative, regulated financial service and health care industries. As we learned in this year’s study of online branded communities, many brands in these two industries fail to take even basic steps like confer status, elevate leadership and recognize the skill or expertise of their members.
HealthTap is a notable exception. They illustrate how gamification can be applied in the health care industry in a relevant way. Venture Beat reports that, “HealthTap ‘gamifies’ the process of answering questions, giving the physicians reputation points for their answers. On top of that, physicians can simply tap a button on a mobile phone if they agree with an answer that another doctor gave. Doctors who earn a lot of “agree” buttons can grow their standing among peers.”
Gaming brings people together. It gives them a reason to come back. And it confers status for ‘playing our game’ — whatever that ‘game’ happens to be. If you think it’s not a powerful motivator, here’s a real world analog. Admittedly I am not a virtual farmer, neighbor or mayor. But I do enjoy a heated Euchre battle with my Midwest friends or better yet, the annual game of Michigan Rummy with my family at our lake house. Core to the Michigan Rummy tradition is our own gamification that goes back fifty years or more. On the inside of an old poker chip box is the famous Family Leaderboard. Young or old, every Michigan Rummy winner gets to write his or her name on the inside of that box. A few summers ago, it was a proud moment for my Uncle Kevin when he got to add his name to the long list for the first time after 27 years! He is now immortalized as Michigan Rummy elite. I understand how he feels. The allure of adding my own name to that list means the world to me as well, and draws me back to play year after year.
When people ask about my holidays, I tell few people the truth. If they know me well, then they followed my time between Thanksgiving and the New Year on Facebook or through good old fashioned face-to-face communication and email.
It all started the day after Thanksgiving when I received one of those dreaded pre-dawn calls that could only be bad news. My sister, Barb, had been in a horrible automobile crash on Thanksgiving and had just gone through 12 hours of surgery to save her life. That news spread from the hospital to my niece to me to my mom and various siblings, our most inner circle. As updates came in, we used an old-school round-robin of calls to update each other and commiserate about prognosis, which was extremely critical. As always, my mom became news central.
Eventually, we each started posting on Facebook, imploring our friends and extended family to pray for my sister. We considered setting up a CarePage which centralizes updates and statuses of ill or injured people, but ultimately decided that our close friends and family were already on Facebook and it was easier to just post there. We didn’t have to set up a new page, and we could quickly post updates. And, Facebook spread the news virally in a way that we never could have achieved with just phones, email and CarePages.
We are a very close family, so it’s natural that we share many connections among our individual “friends lists.” One thing that was really interesting and touching were all of the people who took the time to post on each individual’s wall even though all of us were seeing each other’s feeds. The number of times that people shared and re-shared the news was incredible. My sister was remembered in many prayer circles or sent healing energy. Word also spread via other channels and soon we were hearing from multiple circles of our networks.
One week after the accident, my husband and I took my elderly parents from Chicago to Denver to visit my sister in ICU and give my niece some relief from her hospital vigil. At the time, Barb was still on a ventilator, had about 30 tubes and inputs in and out of her body and was hooked up to multiple monitors, and was still critical.
After a brief visit with her the first day, we went back to our hotel and made arrangements to meet the next morning and head back to the hospital to speak with her 10 specialists. But before the morning came, my dad peacefully passed away in his sleep (you can’t make this stuff up!). So in between paramedics, police and coroners, we started the process all over again of notifying our most inner circle of this traumatizing event.
Then, we once again posted on Facebook. Because our networks were already closely following for updates about Barb, the news of dad’s death spread rapidly across multiple network nodes.
As I think back on my family’s journey, we used a combination of new age social tools and archaic drum beats to communicate with and support each other through a difficult time. Social tools are a logical and inevitable addition to the vehicles we’ve used for millenniums to share news, gather the tribe and bring people together to honor and bury their dead. Today, we have online death notices and guest books, online tribute pages for making charitable contributions (in lieu of flowers) and social networking tools to share news, arrangements and memories. Videos, photo albums and wonderful stories are all shared easily and extensively.
The core of great online experiences is their path to better offline or real-world interactions. The great hope and promise is that what people learn online will increase the quality and the level of how we engage with family, friends and peers in the physical world. Ultimately, social tools should be humanizing instead of fostering isolation as some believe.
That was certainly our experience. The online drum beat led to old-school actions that really mattered to us. Online postings led to offers to pick up relatives from the airport, make food or help with my sister in Denver while we made arrangements for my dad in Chicago. Others reminded us that they lived very close to Mom and would be happy to run errands for her…weekly! Others offered to do various chores to give us time to grieve. Some people made a donation (online of course) in honor of Dad, and others took the time to send a handwritten note via snail mail, which is truly one of the best ways to be supported. We are in fact still getting sympathy cards from people I haven’t seen or heard from in years; they saw the news on the Facebook Pages of friends or friends of friends and reached out in personal and touching ways. And some people just stopped by to give us a hug.
As we heal, we take solace in the incredible power of both the online and offline communities that supported us. We know that Dad died the death of a saint with no pain. He was a fun, independent and productive man to the end who taught us great values and a love of life. And, all those prayer circles that included Barb must have worked. She got home from the hospital the week after Christmas. She still has a long healing process ahead, but should recover fully—helped of course by our tribe!