Fifteen years ago, many funeral home and cemetery owners/operators were wondering whether it was important to create a web page for their business on the World Wide Web. Many did not understand exactly what the heck this thing called “the Internet” was, and most probably did not fully realize the impact the Web would have on the business world in the very near future (some even thought it was a fad. Guess what? They lost, just like the guy who bought 200 horses the day before Ford rolled out the first car). Today, no one questions the importance of having a solid web presence. To not have a web page is considered tantamount to committing business suicide.
Jump forward to today. Now a number of funeral professionals are ambivalent about the need to establish an active presence on social media, particularly on Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Instagram. They may not maintain their own personal accounts in these channels or, if they do, they are limited in their understanding of the powerful relational opportunities these media afford them with their current and future clients. Yet, like the importance of creating and maintaining a business web page a decade or two ago, the significance of creating a relational presence on social media cannot be underestimated (it’s a MUST). It’s not going away whether you like it or not so you’d better learn how to play the game.
In this article, I will explain the following: what kind of content is best to post, the benefits of being transparent in your content (stepping up your #selfie game), a few of the best practices funeral homes and cemeteries can incorporate in maintaining a social media channel, and why going a step further in creating a personal brand can become even more valuable than your business brand. Since most funeral homes and cemeteries that are active in social media start out on Facebook (which is the King of all social networks), my recommendation is to focus on this channel. Facebook currently has 1.52 billion daily active users so it makes sense to play in this arena. But these ideas can easily be transferred to other outlets such as Instagram (which is the next place funeral homes and cemeteries should focus) or even YouTube. I will assume you’ve gone through the basics of setting up a business page and tastefully tricked it out with appropriate and attractive background and profile images.
Content is King, but Context Wins the Queen
Let’s face it; the stereotypes the general public has formed about people in the funeral profession are less than flattering. Somber, dark, even creepy images about funeral directors and funeral homes have embedded themselves on the consciousness of most consumers through movies, television, and sadly, social media. Added to these mental conceptions is the unfortunate reality that most folks come to funeral homes or cemeteries in a sad state of mind. They associate your places of business with the loss and grief they’ve experienced while saying goodbye to loved ones who have passed away.
When posting on social media, you must work hard to counteract these perceptions. Must funeral home marketing currently just feeds the beast. Do your updates simply remind the public about their losses? Do they reinforce the negative ideas they may have formed about the profession, or do you strive to project positive images and feelings? Think about ‘life’ centered content instead of ‘death’ centered content. Your posts should be focused more on uplifting the user. Have you ever taken a risk by posting comical images on your Facebook page? There are good reasons why you should do just that!
Often, people come to Facebook to be inspired and entertained. I’ve spent some time doing a little informal research on what kinds of posts are not only “Liked” on Facebook, but which ones are “Shared.” A shared post is gold in the viral social media world. When a user likes your post, its reach is increased a bit, but a shared post can truly go viral. Aim for shares when you post content. The following kinds of posts have proven to be the most share-able:
- Contests help bring in extra engagement - the fans have a chance to interact with something fun and possibly win a prize. It is also a great way to bring in a larger audience and help grow your page. You don't want to follow a page that posts the same thing every single day right? It is important to switch things up and add something extra to your timeline. Contests that provide the most value: Like & Share, Guess to Win, Comment Below, Free Ticket Giveaways
- Real-time posts give the audience a different feel. Similar to contests, it helps break up the page with new and interesting content. Posting real-time content to the Page allows you to tap into current events and community culture. You went to a local event and posted photos from the event or throw-back images from when you were a kid. Other examples are, going to eat with the staff, holiday parties, anything that shows your involvement with your community, family, and staff.
- Video Series are a great way to keep fans engaged and coming back each week to see what is next. The series can last as long as you would like. It can be a short few weeks or a longer series. The series can be simple or elaborate, completed each week or done all at once, and can be on whatever topic you choose. It is important to keep content as internal as possible and as relevant as possible. Use the staff, the community, and/or relevant/new topics. Below are a few examples we produced for our client Posey Funeral Directors and Pray Funeral Home.
- Why not post about your community? Highlight local businesses? Bring them into real-time posts, contests, and national days, because fans are more likely to engage with content they can relate too. Collab on content with your favorite places around town to eat, get dessert, flowers, or even a spa day! Any place you love to go with your family, and or the staff that you know others love to.
Community related posts can also be to showcase the community as a whole like local festivals, parades, or holiday festivities.
Many other factors play into social media success. How you construct a post, the time of day you post, the type of post you are sharing, your post targeting and boosting content all play a part in the organic reach of a post and the engagement of that post. But the relatability of the content itself, the context, is what trumps all the other dynamics.
Like Rock Crushes Scissors, Transparency Smashes All
Perhaps it’s unfair that those of us who work in the funeral profession do have that uphill battle I mentioned earlier in dispelling the unearned negative impressions the public may have formed about us. Death is a fact of life, and it takes a special person and a special team to show honor to those who have passed while comforting and serving the family and friends of the deceased. If you could convince John Q. Public to spend time with you and your staff at your facility you could reveal how wonderfully human, compassionate, professional, and fun you really are.
But, alas, it’s not likely that most people will enter your doors until they have suffered the loss of a family member, a friend, or an associate. You certainly make them feel welcome, but during these times it’s not about you; it’s about them in their time of loss.
This is where Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels can fill a gap that is only trumped by a face-to-face visit. Certainly your web page is useful in helping the public learn about you, but those images are static and the words, while helpful, are mostly about the business at hand. Your Facebook and/or Instagram pages provide an exceptional opportunity to put you, your staff, and your facility on display so viewers can get to know and love you in the comfort of their homes while on their computers, tablets, or Smartphones. An effective social media presence is like walking out the front door of your funeral home and shaking hands with every person in your community – think how valuable that would be, yet most of you are letting the opportunity pass by or at best you are doing it ‘half donkey’.
In what ways can you be transparent in social media? Here are some ideas:
- Share interesting tidbits about your facility…old photos, new projects, places where staff members “hang out,” or fascinating bits of trivia about the building.
- Provide opportunities for viewers to meet your family and employees. Feature an employee each week to tell about their favorite things, their hobbies, their dreams, or their history with your business.
- Feature the owner’s pets, or the pets of staff members. Perhaps you have a comfort dog or another animal that is there for the benefit of the public. Tell the world about this special animal! Provide a fun video. My brother and his wife follow, on Instagram, a woman who owns a basset hound and several other pets. Even though they have never met her personally, they wept with her when they learned of the recent passing of her beloved hound dog. Take advantage of people’s love for animals!
- What public events did you or your employees take part in over the weekend? Post photos or videos of parades, charity events, or community celebrations in which you participated. Your fans will be impressed by your generous and proud support of the local community. Social media provides an acceptable way to toot your own horn and lets your fans toot with you!
- Certainly share awards you have won or honors you or your employees have earned, even if they have nothing to do with your business. Don’t be shy…let your excellence be known to all. They don’t know you are the best unless you tell them. It’s like kissing a girl in the dark – you know it happened but nobody else does.
Trust is the foundation of all relationships. Relationships fuel business growth and long term success. Transparency in social media is a great way for businesses to connect with their audiences while slowly building trust.
A Strategic and Integrated Approach
In addition to focusing on the quality of the content that appears on your page, you must also pay attention to the strategies you utilize while integrating an online presence with your other marketing efforts. Wise business owners have learned how to tap into the active and growing social media arena. Below are some best practices successful businesses have used to maximize their presence in this lively market. Check to see if you are utilizing these tactics:
- GOALS! Specific, social media focused goals need to be the foundation of your social media strategy.
- A STRATEGY! What are your goals? What does success look like and how are you going to measure it? What content needs to be created to achieve determined goals? How will you amplify other marketing initiatives through social media?
- Social media should be the nucleus of a holistic and cohesive marketing effort, in addition to maintaining an up-to-date web page and reaching out through social media, Google search marketing and handshake community engagement should be pillars in a well rounded marketing strategy.
- The posts that appear on Facebook and the other channels are planned out in advance using an editorial calendar. No more “posting just to post” with no strategy that guides outreach efforts.
- A thorough analytic process is used to determine how the firm’s efforts are doing in regards to reaching pre-determined goals. The regular use of statistical analysis informs key personnel as to how effective their efforts have been, and provides motivation toward doing even better.
- Business personnel include social media links in their email signatures and in other public correspondence. Letting the public know where you reside in the social media world is definitely a good idea and displays the progressive nature of your business.
During the summer of 2015, for the first time ever, over one billion people across the globe were on Facebook at the same time. Now, in 2020, 1.52 billion people are daily active users of Facebook. Denying the critical importance of actively establishing and maintaining a presence in Facebook and other channels is naïve and short-sighted at best and could lead to the self-destruction of your business. The unique thing about social media is the relational opportunities these channels provide. It's handshake marketing in a new shiny box. In addition to telling people about your funeral business through your web page, you can build relationships through the two-way opportunities implicit in the way Facebook and Instagram function. It’s push vs pull media. Traditional advertising is “pushing” your message on the consumer whether they like it or not. Social media is putting out engaging content that pulls the user to you. No one is making that user ”like” your page or engage with your posts. There is real value in this engagement because it was a conscious decision made by the user.
Building a Personal Brand, #selfiegamestrong
It’s not rocket science. It’s not mind blowing. It’s not new. In fact, it’s pretty flippin’ basic. The funeral business is personal. This is a 100% relationship business. That’s right, relationships – in high school we called this ”popularity,“ and the prom king always got the girl. The class president wasn’t the most qualified candidate – just the best looking. The funeral business isn’t much different.
The most popular funeral director in town gets the most calls. He’s the one who gets the interview; she’s the one voted ”best of” 15 years and running and the one who is most visible. It doesn’t take a brainiac to figure out that the more visible you are the more popular (or top of mind) you will be.
In most countries and across America funeral homes are fighting a surge in price discounters, direct disposal companies, and online cremation services. This doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the traditional funeral director with a huge overhead, a full staff, and a really sick fleet of Cadillacs. While many traditional funeral directors are hiding scared in the prep room trying to figure out what to do, the discounter is hustling. He is out building equity in his personal brand. “Why?” you ask. It’s because he doesn’t have a 75 year family-owned funeral home brand to lean on.
What’s happening isn’t shocking – these upstarts are getting more business by being more visible. While the traditional funeral director is joining more service clubs and spending more money on ‘dead’ advertising (like the guy I spoke with who was spending $14,000/yr on Yellow Pages), the discounter is hitting social media very hard – not only through his business Facebook page but also, and just as important, his personal Facebook profile. He is creating content that is valuable for his audience, content that explains why paying high prices at the traditional funeral home doesn’t make sense. And this message is making a difference.
Here are my top five strategies to consider when building your personal brand on social media (some of you already have a personal brand, and these strategies will help you build on that foundation):
- Know who you are. Your personal brand is authentic and transparent – the most real form of yourself. Don’t try to build a persona that isn’t really who you are. Building a personal brand isn’t about getting published or getting TV interviews. It’s about managing how your client families and community see you. By setting the foundation on who you truly are, you can build a long-lasting and genuine personal brand that is appreciated by your community and target audience.
Let me give you an example: I am the funeral guy who isn’t going to wear a suit. I have earrings, I have spiked hair and/or a hat on my head, and I wear a blingy shirt. When people hire me to speak or manage their social media they know exactly what and who they are going to get. I know my personal brand doesn’t sit well with a lot of funeral professionals, but I also know that if they can’t get past the way I look they probably won’t be interested in the radical things I have to say. My personal brand appeals to my target audience. It’s possible that your target audience may not appreciate a radically ”edgy” appearance in your funeral home, but who’s to say that the traditional pin stripe suit is always the best attire for a funeral professional to wear?
- Build solid relationships. As I mentioned earlier, funeral service is a relationship business. Funeral directors (in profession-wide surveys) say that 80% of new business comes by leveraging relationships with happy client families who will happily promote you through their word-of-mouth testimonials. In case you were unaware, social media is the new word-of-mouth. Connecting with people in your community is the best way for you to build your personal brand. When people know you and what you offer they are more likely to do business with you. And when they do business with you and you serve them well, they will recommend your funeral home to other people. Networking and building your personal brand isn’t about selling. It’s about listening and engaging.
- Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. Self-promotion is not selling….again…self-promoting is not a hard sell. It’s positioning yourself in a place of expertise. You need to be the ‘go to’ for funeral service in your community…period. Building a positive and strong reputation is best achieved by having confidence to share your vision and brand with your community…without being salesy. The consumer expects to be turned off by your hard-sell, but when you come at them from a confident position of expertise and compassion they will be caught off guard and open up.
- Put your social game on point. Never before has the online landscape been so juiced to allow you the ability to build your personal brand. Thanks to social media, you are in control of what people see, hear, and learn about you when they search your name. Make sure you have a solid plan around the presence you project on social media. Your personal Facebook profile can be used to share video, blogs, and opinions. It even can be used to share posts from your funeral home’s Facebook business page – which leads your social followers to build a relational connection between your personal brand and business brand. This allows for more transparency and trust for the business brand because they already trust your personal brand.
- Keep your reputation in check. Be mindful of your public activity and engagement, and of what you post on social media. Your online behavior is a spot on reflection of who you are as a person. Your actions on social media are visible to those who follow you, and nothing is ever really deleted. By the time you unlike that photo or delete a comment on a racy post – someone has seen it and knows it happened. Set your public engagement and what you post against your character and the people who could potentially see your actions: your spouse, your kids, your pastor, you fellow church members, your client families, and your prospect families. The list goes on and on but my point is this… be ever mindful of your actions and content you post, because it is a direct reflection on you as a person and will impact your reputation.
Building your personal brand is more important now than it has ever been before. The days of sitting back and letting the calls come in are over. You’ve got to work now to attract the attention of your community because, if you don’t, you can bet your favorite trocar that your competition will.
Attention and Trust
I have no doubt that this entire piece was Uber valuable for you, but if for some reason you are struggling to pull something useful a way let be end with this:
The value of social media embeds itself in two key buying principals of human nature…attention and trust. People need to trust who they are buying from, but trust comes from attention and attention feeds trust. It's a vicious cycle – to earn trust you have to first get attention, and you can’t do that if you don’t start maketing in the year we are in. In just over10 years the iPhone has completely replaced the television in terms of where people place their attention. If you can’t figure out how to story tell and be engaging on the platforms that live on this device then you are going to slowly and surely fade away. Look at it this way: Facebook, Instagram and Tik Tok are the new ABC, NBC and CBS - let that sink in.
If used properly, the attention you gather from social media engagement can quickly and organically shift to the consumer building trust in you and your business brand. Think about the brands you personally engage with; do you trust them? If you are buying from them, then there is no doubt you have some form of trust in their brand or you wouldn’t shell out your hard earned cash.
Your customers are no different. I mean for the love of God, you have to trust the person who is handling the remains of your loved one.
That's the secret sauce – engage with value, get attention, and build trust. Shake hands and kiss babies – just do it through your Smartphone and use Facebook. :)
Ryan Thogmartin is the CEO of DISRUPT Media | Follower of Christ | Husband | Father | Entrepreneur | Host of #DISRUPTu! and #FUNERALnationtv | Lover of Skittles
DISRUPT Media is a social media first marketing company that focuses on social storytelling for funeral companies. DISRUPT uses insights gained through analytics to build creative campaigns that achieve actual business goals.