Lately, we’ve all had to reassess the way we do things. Talking to people in your community is different now that most of it isn’t done face-to-face. Fortunately, you can still make meaningful connections, just a in a new way. We must now lean more heavily than ever on technology to connect with our communities.
During social distancing, the ways you used to engage and connect with your families don’t always work, but you know grieving families need your support now more than ever. Grief just can’t wait, and families need you as a guide. As a funeral director, you’re already a problem solver, so think about lending support to those grieving in a way you never have before. Think differently, and think digitally.
Here are five strategies to engage your community virtually during social distancing so you can continue to serve your families in an effective and valuable way.
1. Host virtual events
If events were part of your marketing outreach before the pandemic, make them part of your efforts now, too. Just make them digital. When you plan digital events, thinking outside the box goes a long way. We’ve seen a number of firms use digital events to engage with their community and keep their outreach going. For instance, you can use inexpensive apps to engage your community online. You can learn more about how Guam Windward Memorial did just that in this interview using digital scavenger hunts coupled with community bingo sessions.
These fun-focused events engage your community and highlight your brand rather than directly marketing preneed or at-need services. When creating virtual events focused on engagement, spend a little time brainstorming things your community likes to do and how you can create a digital space to come together around those things. It could be a sport, a community landmark, or a recurring community event like a parade.
If you are ready to dive back into preneed events, hosting digital ones provides an opportunity to personalize your education more than you did in the past. When you host an in-person preneed event, most firms need to reach a broad audience for better attendance since in-person events take more resources (cost, set up, time, etc.) than digital ones. However, when hosting a virtual preneed event using a video conference call, like Zoom, less prep is required so you can hyper-focus your event. Consider promoting events specifically catering to the needs of a target audience: veterans, religious groups, recent widows or widowers, or any other specific group in your community.
Personalization like this has been proven more effective because people feel you are speaking directly to them and meeting their specific need. Thus, hosting smaller, highly targeted video events increases your chance of winning these individuals over.
2. New ways for people to connect:
Online donation options and digital grief classes
People need each other when they are grieving. Social distancing doesn’t have to stop the connection your community members make with each other after a loved one passes. Think about creating new opportunities for grieving families to receive support using virtual options. For instance, if you’re seeing fewer flower sales since the pandemic, consider adding other donation options. Several companies offer a donation tool that allows people to donate toward gifts or services (we are one of them) and community members love being able to contribute in a new way.
Donations can be made to help the family defray funeral costs, for a meal at home from a favorite local restaurant, for groceries, toward an at-home cleaning service, or for keepsakes or memorials. Having multiple options allows your community to choose what resonates with them, and you are the perfect facilitator to connect a grieving family with this act of kindness from the community.
Many funeral homes offer grief support as part of their aftercare program. Some offer grief support groups. If you’re used to facilitating in-person grief support, take these groups online during times of social distancing. Experiencing a loss during a time when families already feel isolated can make the pain feel worse. Talking about their grief with others will give people the chance to connect around shared experiences. Video services like Zoom or UberConference can be used for these virtual meetings.
3. What works on social media during a pandemic
Your voice on social media is powerful and important. Your families need your reassurance and guiding words to remind them that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that you’ll be there every step of the way with them. Your typical educational content-based strategy still works, but think about adjusting the perspective in a few ways.
You want to remain thoughtful, positive, and informative with the content you share online. Make sure you are up-to-date on facts you post and always double-check your sources.
Beyond being educational, you can use your social media to inspire and spread hope. A few topics we’ve seen perform well with people during a crisis are inspirational or religious quotes, stress relief tips, coping mechanisms, and helpful resources around mental health and grieving. You can, and should, post details about your pandemic safety practices, changes to your services, hours, etc. on social media, too. However, that should not be the only thing you post.
4. Incorporate email to deepen the conversation
Although social media is a great place to initiate conversation with your families and stay in touch with them, not every message fits the same media channel. As you make connections through social media and other marketing campaigns and build up your contacts, you need to know when to move that conversation to a more private channel.
Your community is happy to see your inspirational posts on Facebook, and these posts are an important part of a solid top-of-mind strategy or conversation starter. Next, you want to deepen the conversation and build a stronger relationship. To do that, you need to move things to a private channel. Enter: a stronger email marketing plan.
Email marketing can help bridge the gap between connections on social media and an in-person or phone meeting. Using email to draw people in with a more meaningful message allows you to create a more personal conversation. Plus, people feel more comfortable sharing details about themselves or asking questions via email than on a Facebook post.
Ideally, you’re already sending a newsletter to your email list. In addition, segment your audience into different categories so you can send additional emails targeted at their specific interests. Some categories might be: Christians, recently widowed, veterans, losing a parent, losing a loved one to addiction or overdose, etc. Creating segmented email campaigns build connections, because the message resonates with their specific experience.
Pro tip: Include links on other topics in each email and see what people click on. This will give you even more information on what people in your community want to learn about.
5. Offer virtual services and teach people how to attend them
In navigating this strange new world together, we all have to adapt. Putting on a digital funeral service may be new for you; it’s probably new to your community, too. They need guidance on how to participate in digital services. Just as in-person funeral services help your families realize the finality of their loved one and really begin the grieving process, it’s important to share that digital services offer similar value.
Teach your community the importance of digital services. Also offer them tips on how to attend and participate, such as:
- Create a video tutorial showing people how to use Zoom or whatever video or conferencing platform you are using to stream services.
- Encourage people to share tributes online under their loved one’s obituary before the service starts.
- Provide an opportunity for people to share a pre-recorded video tribute to the family if they can’t attend.
- Encourage community members to reach out to the family in attendance with a quick text or phone call beforehand to express condolences; these before-service points of contact are crucial for support.
- Encourage people to reach out to the family after the service, too.
- Explain how friends and family can send flowers, donations, or keepsakes to support those closest to lost loved one.
- Remind friends and family how valuable and appreciated stories and memories of the loved one are. Sharing these can help the grieving heal.
And of course, give digital attendees clear information about when the digital service will begin, and invite them to join 5 minutes before the ceremony starts to get acquainted with the streaming service. Does your stream offer comments? This would be a great place to lead families who want to show their regards for the family during the service. It’s an easy and unobtrusive way to participate while the digital service is taking place.
Technology and change
You have the power to take control of the shift we face and challenges ahead. By using technology to virtually reach your families, you will stand out in your community and connect with new people. The next few months will surely bring new challenges and rapid changes, but keeping an eye on technology solutions – and being willing to adopt and implement them quickly – will help you keep serving your community no matter what happens next.
For inspiration on how to make meaningful, remote services, read celebrated Celebrant and instructor Glenda Stansbury's recent post. Download the free Ceremonies to Celebrate Together From Afar Resource for Challenging Times from Glenda filled with ideas on how to bring your families together.
Last week, CANA hosted a webinar with customer service expert Lacy Robinson You Got This! Practical Ways to Serve Families During COVID-19. You can watch a recording for free, and other recorded webinars, on CANA's website.
Heather McWilliams Mierzejewski brings marketing and additional writing expertise to the Funeral Innovations team. She previously covered breaking news, politics, and religion for print, digital and radio news outlets before slipping journalism’s tentacles and diving into the digital marketing world. She spent the past 3+ years at a digital advertising agency working on marketing and content solutions for adidas, Reebok, and Chipotle among other brands.
When not on the prowl for killer marketing stories, Heather spends time with her active kids and rides her bike on the Colorado byways. She’s always looking for new riding buddies.