Your Ultimate Problem With Social Media
I spent a little time the other day going through my LinkedIn connections and noticed that one of them, a deceased business school colleague, still had an active account. Tracy’s blog is a testament to how fast her illness went from bad to fatal: a long reasoned post asking for privacy on October 13, 2008 followed just 16 days later by a death announcement. But Tracy’s LinkedIn page still shows her as a Microsoft employee. Whether this is an oversight or a tribute, I’ll never know. That’s fine, but I can’t help but be a bit spooked when I see Tracy’s name on my account.
I still stumble across the Contact entries of departed friends and family in my phone and my various electronic address books. To delete them feels disrespectful, but honestly when will I need these again? When is it OK to unfriend the dead?
All of this unpleasantness brings me to this post’s real topic. Especially in the face of 8.9% unemployment, there has been considerable discussion lately over online reputation management. Sure, we know not to put up pictures of partying and other hijinks. But the ultimate uncomfortable social network question faces all of us participants: blogging and micro-blogging our private lives and thoughts, registered and active on any number of social network sites, what happens to all this stuff when you die?(And remember, death never comes at a convenient time.)
This is no small problem for media companies and people actively involved in self-branding and promotion. The rapper Dolla, who was murdered earlier this week, had just opened a Twitter account and posted his first tweets. His MySpace page (56,000+ friends) has no mention of his passing except RIP notes from his fan base, while a couple of telephone promotions still feature his voice hyping his latest single. (Try dialing (678) 500-8475 to hear Dolla speak from beyond the grave.) This is no small problem for his record company, which is still presumably going to try to shift a few units of his upcoming album. The sheer volume of tweets after the news got out should be encouraging to those who still want to make dollas off Dolla.
Major League Baseball has a terrific series of unified web sites packed with all the information you could ever want (assuming you’re not a Baseball Prospectus type). When Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart was suddenly killed earlier this season, the folks who run the MLB web sites were faced with the task of stripping all his information respectfully from the network. Unfortunately there were a couple of embarrassing cases where his name was missed and remained on the site – most egregiously, as of May 19 on MLB’s official news site, Adenhart was still touted as an up-and-coming pitching prospect.
(MLB also made the curious decision to cease selling Adenart’s name on customized jerseys. Possibly respectful, but also cutting off an avenue for fans to pay tribute. In fairness, this also prevents using Adenhart as a political statement, having been killed by a drunk driver.’ Imagine a ballpark MADD/Adenhart protest and you can (possibly) understand that MLB would not want its brands involved.’ Beer is a pretty big sponsor of all things MLB.)
So what about the rest of us? Looking over at my links over on the right-hand sidebar, I have nine social media sites that I actively use and there are several others that I’ve abandoned without pulling down my pages. If I were to disappear tomorrow, what would be my legacy? My tweets? My blog? I would hope not, but the reality is this is the best evidence of my existence, especially to friends and others that I don’t see on a regular basis (which is, what, 75%+ of most folks’ Facebook friends?)’ And what should I do about it?
One company believes it has the answer.’ Deathswitch promises to send out an E-mail upon your death, which could include your passwords, final wishes or (most tantalizingly) the last word in an argument.’ A premium account would prompt as many as 30 different mails sent to your friends, enemies and other interested parties.
The simplest thing is to do what you should do for all your interests: make sure that your loved ones know what you want done with this stuff. Recognizing that your reputation may be it when you leave ‘ and that your reputation may be founded entirely on your public life make taking care of your online presence an essential part of your tending to your legacy. And since the health of social media depends on pages of user-generated content creating advertising platforms – at least that’s what it is today – you may wish to consider if you want an ad on your electronic tombstone.
- Wikihow – How to Share Your Obituary with Your Online Friends
- Barefeet Studios – Death, Social Media, Personal Branding