Twitter has established social etiquette for loved ones who pass on. A "How to Contact Twitter About a Deceased User" protocol has become available on the site. It provides guidelines on how to notify Twitter when a user passes away. The company policy says it will remove the deceased person's account or assist family members in saving a backup of the public Tweets.
Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer senior analyst, believes that social sites will begin to offer a variety of services related to deceased members and users. As the number of people tapping into social networks continues to grow, it is inevitable that a certain percentage will pass away each year, she says. "In many cases, family and loved ones want to maintain a person's social network account after they die, so it can serve as a memorial, and in other cases it may be too painful," she says.
The ability to save a backup of someone's posts or tweets is a wonderful feature. The stream of consciousness becomes a powerful reminder. In some cases people communicate more often -- and more openly -- in social media than they do in email or writing, Williamson says. Saving status updates is a great way to remember the life of someone who has passed away, not only the momentous occasions, but also the small moments, she adds.
Adults will continue to increase their use of social networks, driving the most growth in this age group during the next few years. In 2010, 59.2% of online adults will make regular visits to social sites -- up from 52.4% in 2009, according to eMarketer. The research firm estimates that by 2014, 139.6 million U.S. adults will become regular users.
Social sites are not just for teens or twenty-somethings. This year, eMarketer estimates that 60% of Internet users ages 35 to 44, and 50% of those between ages 45 and 54 will use social networks at least once a month. A report titled "Social Network Demographics and Usage" estimates that by 2014, nearly 70% of all adult Internet users will use a social network at least once monthly.
Forrester Research Senior Analyst Augie Ray says Facebook already has a process for "memorializing" an account. It allows people to choose to remove or "memorialize" a loved one's account after their passing. Ray points to a note on Facebook that explains how sensitive information gets removed and privacy settings reset, so only confirmed friends can see the profile or locate it in search. The Wall remains to allow friends and family to leave posts in remembrance.
Ray acknowledged the tenth anniversary of his mother's passing about a month ago, and the fact that she didn't "live" online like so many of us do today struck him as sad. "If I die tomorrow, I'll leave behind a legacy of who I am -- tweets, status updates, photos and blog posts are a much more thorough and accurate remembrance than a gravestone with just name and dates," he says. "So, in honor of my mother's passing, I created a blog post for her. It was my own personal way of sharing my memories and introducing those into a medium where I could commiserate with others. It was a small reminder of how much the world has changed in those ten years and the extent to which social media pervades both life and death."
With Twitter continuing to pump out social media and ad services, suggesting a deceased member to follow might just seem a bit awkward. On Tuesday, Twitter launched Fast Follow. Anyone in the U.S. can receive Tweets on their phone even if they haven't signed up for Twitter. So it makes sense for social sites to offer a service for deceased users.
Analysts are not the only ones who believes Twitter and Facebook are on to something. "It makes sense; it's something a little out of the box," says Cha Mueller, president of Chalamode, a boutique sales rep firm, and dot429 EVP. "Companies should have some sort of default. But do you really want to provide another company with even more personal information?"
In the social media age, when Facebook can boast more than 500 million members, and Twitter millions, too, MyWebWill lays claim to an answer for that question. Swedish startup MyWebWill Co-founders Elin Tybring and Lisa Granberg, who launched the service last year, offer a service to erase Twitter and Facebook accounts or change statuses, take down blog posts, and send emails to friends and family. The service is running a special offer for $9.95 per year for a premium account.