I was shocked to hear of the sudden passing of a friend of mine just before the holidays. I had seen him a few weeks before his death and he had been actively growing his small business, sharing advice, and even sneaking an extra sugar cookie when he thought the rest of us weren’t looking. He had died so unexpectedly, there wasn’t an opportunity to formally close out his business accounts, including his social media.
The social media accounts of a deceased loved one may seem like a trivial consideration during a time of mourning, and I agree – they certainly aren’t the first thing that is on anyone’s mind. However, especially if there were pre-scheduled posts or active conversations, they can make an already difficult situation so much worse.
If you find a friend or loved one in this situation, here’s how you can help.
*As noted at the end of this article, legal considerations will vary by country and I am sure they will change over time. If you don’t have legal access to the deceased person’s accounts, always work with someone who does.
- Assign the task of managing the professional social media accounts to a trusted friend.
When a friend or family member passes away, there are often people who emerge and offer to help. Look closely…can any of them take on the task of managing the social media accounts that need attention? If they can, assign them full responsibility of the accounts. They don’t necessarily have to be the one doing the work, but it is extremely helpful to have one person in charge of the research and delegation so the family doesn’t even have to think about it.
- Always remember there may be another invested party.
Before working on any social media account, check and make sure there aren’t other people who will be keeping the business up and running. Even in a small business, it’s possible someone may want to post an announcement but leave the accounts active.
- Play the odds. The biggest challenge, of course, is getting into the accounts – the platforms or the platform management system used to schedule content. If you don’t have a list of passwords, try the following.
- Can you find anyone who could or should have access to the business accounts (a partner, administrator, etc.)? If so, they may already have access (even if they don’t realize it).
- Were passwords stored in one place like LastPass or another information sharing tool? If someone can help you access that information, they may be able to help you access a list of social media passwords.
- Are there any devices (computer, phone, tablet) you can access that may have their login saved? We don’t like to admit it, but many of us have at least one unprotected device that automatically logs you in. (And you’d be surprised how many people have the information written on paper near their computer, so look around their office!)
Just because you can access the accounts once you find the passwords, doesn’t mean you should. In some cases, you may simply locate the login information so you can pass it on to the people who need to post and eventually close the accounts.
- Research the technical requirements. Whether you are directly completing the tasks or simply guiding someone through the process, compile a list of the deceased’s active social media accounts and how to close them. This may require a small amount of research, but the information should be available on every social media platform’s main page.
- Think short and long-term. Immediately following a death, it’s common for people to share the news of someone passing on personal and professional (when appropriate) pages. This can help avoid awkward moments like a public post complaining about an unreturned phone call, but it’s also often an opportunity to share funeral information or for people to share their condolences. On most platforms, you’ll need to submit proof of death if you’d like to close an account, so plan for that long-term solution and research what you need to do online. It’s good that you have to wait a bit anyway. That will allow people an ample amount of time to see your last updates.
The Ethical and Legal Considerations
As a social media strategist, this process does present one ethical challenge. Hacking into another person’s personal or professional account, posting as someone else, or in any way being deceptive is strictly forbidden. In fact, those actions are a violation of the NISM code of ethics. Can we proceed anyway?
- If you ever feel uncomfortable doing something, you should stop. Trust that you know right from wrong.
- When you can, manage the professional accounts through people who have legitimate access. In some cases, this isn’t an option, but it never hurts to ask around.
- Especially in the case of small businesses, ownership may have passed to someone else. In those situations, you can help by advising them how to post.
- Be transparent in your messaging. If you can’t post as yourself and get the same results, identify yourself in the post as an individual sharing information on behalf of the family.
I think we’d all agree that in cases where a person passes away suddenly, the number one priority is supporting the family. This typically means keeping a low profile, making everything as easy as possible for them, and hopefully limiting the headaches that can come with addressing the many ways we all live online.
This is a challenging topic. Have you experienced it yourself? Please share any tips that could help others in the comments section.
Want more articles like this? Check out 7 Ways to Avoid Ruining Your Reputation by Reposting Fake Content and Small Business Strategy; Full Court Press
Author: Amy Jauman
Dr. Amy Jauman, SMS, is the Chief Learning Officer at the National Institute for Social Media and author of the Comprehensive Field Guide for Social Media Strategists. Amy is also one of 58 members representing 12 countries in the inaugural class of the Prezi Educator Society. Previously she was the Social Media Director for Women Entrepreneurs of Minnesota (WeMN) and she currently serves as the marketing director for the Minnesota Chapter of the National Speakers Association. She is also an adjunct professor in the St. Catherine University Business Department and the St. Mary’s University of Minnesota MBA program.