Everyone’s legacy will be online

I just read the news that Andrea Pininfarina, chairman and chief executive of the family car design business behind Ferrari died in a tragic accident yesterday.  Not as you might expect, behind the wheels of one of the beautiful creations of his company, but riding a Vespa scooter that was hit by another driver.

The story is widely reported, and although the company website carries a brief statement about the accident, his biography has not yet been amended with the sad news. 

This might seem an insensitive observation, but the internet is increasingly where our legacies are left.  The Wikipedia entry for Andrea Pininfarina has been updated with his date of death – with the caveat that the information reported may need to be changed as more facts become known.

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Jeremy Pepper recently challenged social media consultants regarding the extent to which they are “helping change the world” rather than just talking about social media.  I take his point about the primary focus of many social mediators being on the mechanism, or even how organisations can exploit the medium.

But we should not deny how social media has provided an important function in times of crisis or personal tragedies, where it is vital to be able to engage with those who are affected.

On a small level, I gained much comfort from writing about my father’s illness and sad death earlier this year, not least thanks to the kind comments that were left here. 

At the time, I noted that ours was a private tragedy, but I opened that up through my blog.  Others choose to acknowledge a lost life through tribute pages at MySpace or groups on Facebook. 

When my father was ill, the Internet was a phenomenal help in understanding the various medical complications that he experienced.  I found discussion on forums very enlightening and supportive.

In planning a celebration of my father’s life, I found poems, music, prayer and literature sites, as well as many pages set up in memory of lost friends and relatives.  All showed how social media was enabling people to cope with their loss by reaching out online.

Social media is also being used for campaigning – following the tragic stabbing of Ben Kinsela, his friends’ use of Facebook encouraged hundreds of young people to join a march against knife crime.

PR practitioners are using social media for good as well.  There are cases of police authorities using YouTube and other social media to reach out to young people.  Charities are adept at using the medium to offer information or motivate action and change.

For smaller issues, it may be difficult to use traditional PR to generate media coverage and reach your audiences.  But online is open to everyone, and the reach of campaigns can be enormous. 

How much more money has been raised by those undertaking charity events by the ease of using a website for donations?   How many people faced with a personal illness have benefited from engaging with others facing the same problem though social media? 

Social media and the wider internet are simply communications tools to be used for good, or bad purposes. 

For the PR practitioner, we need to ensure we communicate clearly and rapidly in times of crisis.  Online is the first place many people go to find out more, especially if they are affected personally. 

Not everyone is using social media for good purposes, but it would be naive to expect them to do so.  But the potential is there – and individuals, groups and organisations are proving its value.  It is up to us all as participants in this brave new world to decide on our own legacy.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

One thought on “Everyone’s legacy will be online”

  1. I’m very conscience of my past, current and future digital footprint (and, by extension, legacy). That’s why I’m drawn to articles and musings like yours, as well as this recent one in The Toronto Star by Paoa Loriggio, Our online selves could live forever, plus an article from The Walrus that I referenced in a June 2008 PR Conversations post, The Big Log-off, by Georgie Binks.

    Leaving a legacy of good (or at least civil and relevant) content and actions is a great personal and organizational aim for those involved in social media.

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