I have some sad news to report. Our beloved dog, Buddy Guy, crossed over the rainbow bridge last Monday. I wanted to use this opportunity to discuss how the death of a pet can make social media and the world a better place.
It's hard to lose anyone. As a matter of fact, over the last couple of days, I've had two friends lose their parents. I know and feel their pain. My dad died in 2005, my mom in 1985. It's been a while, but I know how hard and painful that can be.
Losing a pet is a little different…
First and foremost, pets are 100% dependent on you. Every time you come in the house, every time you get up, every meal you make, they are there. Family and friends are not as omnipresent, they're not always there 24/7 in your daily life.
The other thing that I found that was very difficult was the abrupt change. We adopted Buddy Guy in 2011, so it's been eight years plus that he's been in my life. From the day we adopted him to the day he crossed over the rainbow bridge, each morning I would get up, take him downstairs (sometimes carrying him) to go out, and then I would feed him. In the evening, at 5:00 PM when mom came home, he would get fed again. And, he'd get let out before we went to bed. The morning after his passing, that all came to an abrupt halt.
Over a handful of years, he slowly started to decline. If you follow me on social media, you saw that he lost the ability to walk. He had a degenerative spine disease that slowly took away the feeling in his legs – he could not stand up, but with a little help, he could still walk up the stairs. We bought him a full body harness, and as time went on, we had to carry him up and down the stairs three or four times a day.
But, one thing never changed – he always got up in the morning and went out and ate and he always went out before he went to bed. He would just bark to let us know that it's time for his routine, he just needed a little more of our help. Then one day we woke up, and he's not here, and the routine just stops. That makes it harder to say goodbye.
One of the things the vet gave us was a paw print in clay. As it was hardening, I took a picture and I put that up on Facebook to let my friends on social media know that he was no longer with us. So many people started commenting and liking, and even a few started sharing.
Sympathy Vs. Empathy
Those thoughts likes and comment were therapeutic. They taught me something. They taught me about how social media works and some differences became clear. Let's talk about the difference between sympathy and empathy.
Sympathy is feelings of pity or sorrow for somebody or somebody's misfortune or an understanding between people. A common feeling.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.
Now that I've had a little time to grieve and settle in, I went back and I looked at the posts and the numbers to see what happened. That's what I want to talk about today.
Engagement By The Numbers
I have 3,600 friends on Facebook, and of that initial paw print, which was just a photo I uploaded, there were 438 likes. They clicked the heart, or a crying sad face or just a thumbs up. There were 310 comments. That was about 11% of my friends who reacted with a click, and about 8% of them actually typed something out in the comments. There is no easy way to see who just liked or just commented or how many people did both, but it obviously was a good amount of people. You can't easily control who sees your posts, because the Facebook algorithm decides for you. Yet I still consider that to be a lot of people.
Then I posted a memorial video, which I could not post directly on Facebook. I had to post a link to it because it is hosted on Vimeo and I used a copyrighted song. The music I used was the song Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton. The video got about 264 likes or 145 comments, which equated to about 6% who liked it and 3% who commented. About half as many people commented on it as liked it.
I took that same video, and I posted it to a group I belong to called IHeartSeniorDogs. In that group, there's about 125,000 members. Out of that group, 1,450 people liked it, and 500 people commented. Now that was a very small percentage, 1% and 0.5%, but very similar to what happened on the one I posted on my timeline.
The New Normal?
On any normal day, I will post a caption contest or a quote of the day. These quotes and pictures, if I'm lucky, will get a hundred or so likes and a few comments. The caption contest obviously gets a lot of comments, (that's the whole purpose) and less likes. Again, the big thing about that is the Facebook algorithm chooses who sees what.
So how can we bend that rule a little bit in our favor? By creating and posting to groups, we can bring together a bunch of like-minded individuals. For example, a bunch of people who love senior dogs. In a group, people tend to feel safer. They know that people within that group have thoughts and feelings like themselves, or at least they think they do. When you post things on your newsfeed, it's the wild, wild west. Some people are sympathetic, but rarely do you find people who are empathetic, who really feel what you feel.
What I found is that divisive posts tend to be more sympathetic, where people will agree or like. But emotional posts (like the loss of a person or pet) tend to be more empathetic, where people can actually know how you feel. What that tells me is that if we can create content to be more empathetic – if we can empathize with what the other person is feeling or at least communicate that way – chances are you're going to get a more honest, straightforward response, as opposed to just a like or an emoji.
By creating groups, we can build our world around a passion or something that people feel strongly about and use content to create empathy within that group. That's the takeaway for today – try to create content, articles, posts, pictures, whatever, with an empathetic slant and see what happens.
Buddy Guy taught me a lot, even through his final day. People loved his photos, they loved to follow his story, and they felt like they knew him even though they never met.
Every day he gave me a purpose and a very predictable routine. But most of all, he gave me face licks and tail wags, showing me his empathy and our ability to understand and share our feelings for each other.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Comment below and share your ideas or questions about social media posts that create sympathy or empathy. Have you lost a pet or loved one and seen a spike in engagement on your Facebook posts? Do you have any ideas or insight you can share?
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