Twitter Is Killing the Obituary Business

No news travels faster than bad news, unless it’s celebrity death news.  And ever since the trifecta of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson passed away in mid-2009, regular Twitter users have feared the worst whenever a celebrity’s name graces that service’s Trending Topics.  (Just ask Jeff Goldblum‘s PR team.)

As soon as a media outlet reports the death of someone recognizable, that news sweeps across the social media sites — and Twitter in particular — like wildfire.  Why?  Easy:

  • It’s celebrity news, so everyone already has a frame of reference
  • It’s emotional (in some capacity)
  • It’s non-controversial — death is death; no interpretation required
  • It’s an easily-retweetable headline; just copy and paste
  • It’s not even news you need to read (or verify) in order to pass along

Example:  When Patrick Swayze died last night, his name raced to the top of Twitter’s Trending Topics.  A search of “RIP Patrick Swayze” on Twitter brought up 20 mentions in under 30 seconds, and another 25 were posted in the time it took me to scroll down the page.  A significant portion of Twitter users, it seems, care enough about an actor primarily famous for melodramatic ’80s movies that they felt a 140-character eulogy was in order.

So the next time you’re hoping your own news goes “viral” on Twitter, ask yourself:  Is what I’m about to say as momentarily relevant to people as the death of a famous person they’ve never met but are vaguely familiar with?  And if not, how can you bridge that obituary gap?

  • Norm

    Or faking your own death on twitter can bring in a lot of traffic.

  • SexCpotatoes

    Yeah, what Norm said, just ask that dude Jesus about how faking your own death can make you internet famous.

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  • MattHurst

    I find your headline rather misleading. Sure celebrity news, particular the deaths of beloved stars, is a dominant subject on blogs and Twitter. However, recent research shows that obituaries are a lone bright spot for the local newspaper industry, sincd they remain a realm they continue to dominate with an aging population.

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  • Tumi

    I agree with you fully. People should start to respect families and send condolences messages to obituary websites rather than twitter and facebook.