Social Media Marketing Brings New Life to the Death Industry
By Marc LeVine, Director of Social Media, RiaEnjolie, Inc.
While catching up on some industry blogs, I came across an interesting story that caught my attention. I suppose what initially appealed to me was that it was about a funeral director within my local community. As it turns out, I recognized his name from the local political scene in which I have been a part over the past twenty years or so. It seems we both have done our share of community service, over the years, though we never actually crossed paths.
Tim Ryan owns and operates seven very successful ?Homes for Funerals? at the New Jersey shore. Apparently, whenever he is interviewed about his business name he stresses the word ?Home? before the word ?Funeral.? He says ?Home? best describes how he would like his grieving families to consider the place where they will say their final goodbyes to their beloved family members. After all, a funeral is a very personal experience and is best experienced in a comfortable setting. A place that feels more like home.
The business motto of the funeral home group I am speaking about is -?Peace of Mind and Heart Before, During and Beyond.? If you are going to hold Tim Ryan accountable for these words, please note that he?s been in business since 1984; conducts 600 funerals a year; and was named the Jersey Family Business of the Year in 2004. Sounds to me like Tim Ryan speaks from his heart and runs his business from there, too. So what has this have to do with Social Media Marketing for Funeral Homes? EVERYTHING!
There was at least one ?Home for Funerals? location long before anyone ever dreamed of MySpace, Facebook or Twitter. Back when the Ryan family got started in the funeral industry almost all social networking took place at Chamber of Commerce-run business card exchanges, held at local bowling alley in the evening, after work. Even in those days, there is little doubt that Tim Ryan believed then what he believes today, but the Web wasn?t as useful a medium to share that message with others, until much more recently. Social media gives today?s funeral directors a much greater bandwidth in which to tell the world about their best business practices; thereby expanding their business reach exponentially.
Given the advances in online marketing media, many funeral directors now find the need to learn what some are calling ?The New Rules of Marketing and PR.? The new rules often require the unlearning of marketing communications principles that are more than sixty years old. Why is this? Simply, because social media marketing has done away with much of the cost and preparation inherent in big-budget advertising. Today, nearly anyone can reach a larger audience and message buyers directly with little more than the cost of a basic Internet connection. The ball is now in everyone?s court, not just the bigger players with their powerhouse advertising and PR agencies or their expensive print and broadcasting media contracts.
So, what are these new rules that almost anyone can apply to increase their company?s visibility, word of mouth awareness and ROI?
Start with a Content-Rich Website.
Your website is the crossroads for all your social media activities and it gives you your only chance to make a first good impression with your customers. Many agree that the best websites are not necessarily the prettiest ones nor are they the most technology loaded, either. Attractiveness is important, but content is king. Your website is the place where your funeral home first meets the families of the deceased. A content-rich website brings the world to your doorstep when some of the more popular search engines list you ahead of or in proximity to your closest competitors. Upon arrival at your home page, families (customers), vendors and the media are first introduced to your business ?story? and customer philosophy; your facility and its grounds; to you as director, and to your staff. It is at your website where they become more familiar with your products, your services and your programs. They may also get a better sense of your pricing and a sense of what your reputation is in the community you serve. It is only when you are successful meeting your audience?s expectations at your website that you may expect them to go a bit further and become fans of your blog, your podcast and your Facebook and Twitter pages, as well. When you are most successful, visitors to your website become your customers.
Everything You Do You in Social Media, You Do From Your Customer?s Perspective.
Get used to it. What you think may not matter to the families you serve unless you think much LIKE the families you serve. Get inside the hearts and minds of your customers and understand their buyer?s persona. Who are they and what is important to them? What are their needs and challenges? What will make them feel most comfortable in their dealings with you?
When you speak and write to them, speak and write just like them. In your messages to them you will indeed include what you want your customers to believe about your organization. This is most believable when what you say is true and expressed in a way your customers can best identify with. When you are honest, open and authentic in social media it is difficult to go wrong.
When You Are A Smart Listener You Become An Even Smarter Communicator.
Whatever you post on the web becomes a permanent record. Hear what others are saying about you and your business and be ready to respond quickly and graciously to nice comments as well as to stinging criticisms. Conversations take place on the Web whether you are participating or not. Use listening tools like Technorati, Google Search and Google Alerts, Search Twitter and Boardsearch to stay on top of your online reputation, at all times. Remain cool no matter what is being said about you or your business and remember that your goal is always to convert unbelievers or to, at least, convince them to be a bit less harsh by proving that you are respecting their right to complain.
Go where your families are and remain with them.
There are many platforms in social media to communicate on and you can?t be everywhere all the time. Don?t even try. It is better to get a good feel about where most of your customers spend their time on the Web and participate there, rather than to hopscotch around and be less available to them.
The major platforms are Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. LinkedIn is great for professional networking and most professionals and businesspeople should be there representing their industry. However, Facebook is the Internet?s ?Happy Hour? and a place most people go to casually network. As a funeral director, Facebook offers you many great opportunities to get to know others much better , while they also get to know you. Facebook also allows you to create groups and Fan pages that further encourage networking and facilitate knowledge exchange.
Twitter, is a micro-blogger that limits its member?s posts to 140 characters. These short messages keep everybody up to date with ?quickies? regarding your whereabouts and tidbits about your day activities. Since we?re all best taken in smaller doses, Twitter helps make it easier to grow on others one brief post at a time. Use it wisely by sharing more value with others than you wish to receive in return and you?ll find that as people get to know you better and trust you more, many will look into possibly doing business with you.
Whatever you do, avoid taking on more than you can handle, because relationship building is an ongoing and dedicated effort. If you don?t participate regularly, you are soon to be marginalized or forgotten.
Blog, Comment and MeetUp
Not everyone likes to write nor do they feel they always have much to say. If this is the case, you don?t need a blog. Go comment on other people?s blogs and leave your name and URL behind when you do. These become valuable ?link backs? to your Website and may result in higher Google rankings if you really keep at it. And, if people like what you have to say, they?ll will visit your website and want to keep in touch with someone they have begun to admire on other platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
If you are a reasonably good writer and have something to say to benefit others, then you should be blogging. Share all sorts of helpful information with your readers, but don?t try and sell them something. If you do, you risk being labeled a ?snake oil salesman? and they will abandon you very quickly. Also, remember that once you start a blog you are committed to three to five articles per week. It?s like running your own newspaper with content and deadline issues. Beware of this commitment. If you entries don?t show up regularly, neither will your readers.
Finally, there is a live element to Social Media, too. You?ve still have to get out once in awhile and press the flesh. Meetups start on the Web and end up in a place where real people get together and enjoy each other?s company. Meetups are the cement that binds personal and business relationships and are highly encouraged. There is definitely something lost in a strictly electronic relationship that is rediscovered in a more human one.
Futurism and Social Media Are a Natural Fit
Social Media was once a thing of the future. Today, it has a future of its own. That is because there are few boundaries to where it can eventually take us. The history of social interaction is as old as the story of Adam and Eve. In fact, their ancient story can now be recreated for any of us just by checking out the profiles on http://www.eHarmony.com, ordering apples from http://www.harryanddavid.com>; and following the instructions at http://www.get-rid-of-pests.com/snake-repellent/. An extreme example, but there you go.
Through the Web, funeral directors have already seen many innovations take hold. Online obituaries and memorials now commonly offer relatives and friends additional ways to interact with the families of the deceased in ways that were once only possible in paper and ink and available to only to those living a newspaper?s very limited delivery zone.
Today?s Funeral Home ROI is enhanced through the online offering of merchandise and services in a way that puts a little more distance between immediate grief and purchasing decisions that can easily wait a few days. Funeral Home websites now offer a full range of products and services that include everything from ordering flowers to creating memory books, memorial websites and life legacy films. There is web-based grief support, end of life pre-planning, pet cremations and burials. There are even online payment centers and links to financial planning advisors on many funeral home websites.
In 2010, Funeral Directors are only limited by their imaginations. Online funerals are now happening for those far away and unable to travel to funerals. Smart chips are being embedded in grave stones to allow visitors to hear farewell messages from the departed and to leave their own tributes for future visitors to listen too ?perhaps, hundreds of years from now. It all makes a great deal of sense, because we only lose each of our loved ones once. Anything available to celebrate their lives and to say our heartfelt goodbyes is a wonderful thing to embrace.
It all begins and lives forever on the Web. Funeral Directors should always be exploring new and better ways to not only improve their business opportunities, but also to create greater opportunities for the families of lost loved ones and let us not forget the departed, themselves, whom would prefer to live on in the memories of us all.
Websites will continue to evolve. Social Media will continue to evolve. And, as they evolve what drives them to evolve must never itself change. Funeral Directors will always remain just as caring and authentic as they have always been. Now they have some new and better methods to help comfort those who will grieve as well as to honor those, who they prepare for their final journey. It is a very exciting time for the funeral industry, indeed. Social Media has opened new doors that benefit us all in different ways.
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