No, Mr. Rogers, I Won’t Approve Your Facebook Friend Request
Schrodinger's cat. Marketers may not like to think about it, but they may be marketing to consumers who are both alive on the Internet and dead in real life.
In the offline world, data hygiene is a bit simpler—despite the human interest stories about dogs receiving direct mail, there are far fewer pseudonyms to wade through to find correct proof of life on those lists.
That's why I was interested to hear what Steve Ranger, editor-in-chief at ZDNet and TechRepublic UK for CBS Interactive had to say about the digital afterlife on Tuesday during the radio broadcast, BBC World Service—Newshour.
At the BBC to talk digital legacy: what should happen to your social media accounts when you die?
— Steve Ranger (@steveranger) February 24, 2015
Ranger says consumers can package up their passwords in an envelope for their loved ones to open upon their passing, so their social media presences can be deactivated. The interviewer commented that she would appreciate that service, because she's discomfited when she receives Facebook friend suggestions to connect with the dead.
That recalls the discomfort I accidentally caused offline in February 2003, when I sent friends and relatives postcards bearing the likeness of Fred Rogers, the star of public television's "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood." One of my friendly notes reached someone's home the day Rogers' death made news.
"I don't want to be his neighbor now," the friend tells me that day.
That anecdote leads to the first tip marketers can employ to determine when to stop online and social media marketing to deceased customers:
- Use Common Knowledge. Google Alerts can help marketers watch for news on customers who may be notable in other ways, which can also aid in targeting during their lifetimes if news reports reveal relevant interests. Be careful with popular names, though. I, for instance, am not a wedding photographer in Oklahoma.
- Watch for Pseudonyms. Consider @aplusk's verified Twitter account—his 16.7 million followers probably know actor Ashton Kutcher is still alive, but the 1,310 following the fake account—@ashtonkutcher—may not know if something happens to him. In Kutcher's case, his correct handle is obvious. For other customers, marketers may have to ensure they're following the correct accounts by, for instance, checking which accounts are following them.
- Check for Memorials on Social Media and on Dedicated Memorial Sites. Friends and relatives often write memorial posts and tweets, which may be on the deceased person's Facebook timeline or Twitter account, or may be posts or replies to those accounts. Also, friends and relatives may set up memorial sites, some of which are created by the services listed by The Digital Beyond.
- Pay Attention to Emails. In addition to notifications from friends and relatives who ask that communications cease, the late customer may even email. The Digital Beyond lists a service called Dead Man's Switch, which allows users to create messages that go out in the event of their death.
- Keep in Touch With Vendors Who Specialize in 'Legacy' Services. For the most part, these vendors carry out the wishes of the departed. Though FuneralFinder.com, established in 2009 and already housing 167 pages of obituaries, allows families to post. (Also make sure the vendors are still in business—The Digital Beyond lists Departing.com, which is no longer "an independent, unbiased directory of every funeral home in the USA.")
What other ways can marketers ensure they're only reaching the living?