By Emily Eaton
When we help our clients with their social media strategies, we focus on how to use the right tools, at the right time, to meet our objectives. The goal is to effectively use social media (and other interactive communications) for marketing/business purposes.
This newsletter article isn’t about that.
This article is a personal case study of how John Golden (my business partner and husband) and I used CaringBridge, Facebook, and Twitter to communicate with family and friends about the sudden and tragic loss of our son, Julian Golden.
CaringBridge has been an EatonGolden client since 2007. And even before we had a business relationship with them, we admired how this non-profit organization uses interactive communication tools to support families who are experiencing a significant health crisis. When communicating with a specific audience to meet a specific objective, specialized social media tools like CaringBridge are critical.
Our most recent work with CaringBridge was assisting them with the user experience of registering and creating a new CaringBridge site. We never imagined – never wanted – to have a reason to be an actual user.
But our lives changed forever on February 16, 2011 when our son was diagnosed with Leukemia. Less than two weeks after our client launched their updated site creation process, I found myself an actual user. I created Julian’s CaringBridge site, and made my first post.
From 2/17/11 through 3/4/11, I made at least one post a day. Not only was it therapeutic for me to write those words, it enabled our friends and family to stay up-to-date on the status of our situation while sparing us the pain and energy of repeating the information over and over.
There was an increasing number of requests from family and friends asking, “What can we do?”
So on 2/23/11, we set up a Children’s Cancer Research Fund in his name and requested donations via CaringBridge.
For 15 days, CaringBridge was my journal and my lifeline. The growing number of messages on Julian’s CaringBridge Guestbook page provided an amazing amount of support and comfort during the hardest experience of our lives.
The second social media tool I used was Facebook.
After I initially created the CaringBridge site on 2/16/11, I wanted to get the word out. I’m an active user of both Facebook and Twitter, but this felt too personal for Twitter. When communicating a message to a large group with whom you have a personal relationship, Facebook is an invaluable tool.
I used CaringBridge to journal about the details of each day and made a few posts to Facebook between 2/17/11 and 2/25/11 providing a link to the CaringBridge site. John and several other people commented and shared the post, which meant that the story was visible on our friends’ Facebook feeds – now reaching hundreds of people.
One of John’s friends in California even dedicated his upcoming marathon to Julian, and spread the word on Facebook:
And on 3/4/11, I made the most painful Facebook post I’ll ever make:
Social media tools such as Twitter, on which anyone — even those with whom you have no personal relationship — can chose to “follow” or listen to what you say, often require greater context than communicating to a specific or personal group.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I primarily tweet about restaurants and cocktails. I tend to stay away from overly emotional or ultra-personal topics. But on 2/18/11, 2 days after Julian’s diagnosis, I made an exception:
When Julian died on 3/3/11, I decided not to use Twitter. John and I didn’t realize at that time that many other people, including @irishgirl and @halvorson, had tweeted about Julian. And others re-tweeted their messages, and so on.
It wasn't until several days after it started that John and I discovered that people were using a hashtag, #juliangolden (see @irishgirl's tweet, above left). Furthermore, the hashtag became a "trending topic" in the Minneapolis area. This meant the story was now reaching literally thousands of people. This is one of the unique characteristics of twitter — a message can reach a wide audience via connections, subject matter, or topic.
And in the end, a tweet went out from @EatonGolden to share the tragic news with our clients and friends:
Although not technically a "social media tool," the Children's Cancer Research Fund website (childrenscancer.org) is a key component of this story. This site has enabled us to create a specific page for Julian's fund, which is now linked to from many tweets and Facebook posts.
We were (and still are) overwhelmed by, and grateful for, the donations that were coming in from all over the world. Literally. We received donations from people we didn't know, who were inspired by Julian's story. This site will continue to accept donations in Julian's memory.
Additionally, this site enabled us to create a page where people can join or sponsor "Joggers for Julian," John's team that will run (or walk) in the organization's annual fundraising event.
Now that we are almost at the one-month mark, two things have become clear to me: First, I've missed the therapeutic experience of journaling on CaringBridge. Second, there are a lot of books and websites out there that talk about how horrible it is to lose a child, but there isn't much content about how to actually move forward from there. For those two reasons, I've decided to continue my online journaling.
I considered continuing the CaringBridge journal, to share about the healing journey. But ultimately, I decided I to keep CaringBridge as it is, focused on Julian. Instead, I've decided to use one final social media tool: a blog.
Already I've learned that when you lose a child, you never go "back to normal." But I realize that I have a choice: either be consumed by grief, or create a "new normal." So, I've named my blog "Creating New Normal."
Blogs enable us to connect with people in so many ways that were not previously possible: people we’ve never met, people with whom we couldn’t find the time or space to have a conversation, people who may not be able to “talk” about their thoughts and emotions but can write them down — for themselves and for others. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll talk about; I’m not sure where this “healing journey” will take me. But I’ve decided that I’m willing to share it with others via social media. I know it will help me. Maybe it will help others as well.
- Emily Eaton
To read Julian's story from the beginning, visit Emily's journal on the CaringBridge site, and select "Sort: Oldest to Newest."
To read about Emily's process "creating new normal," visit her blog.
To get access to everything in one place, visit JulianGolden.com.
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