"A friend of mine has just been diagnosed with cancer," a friend emailed. "Do you know a web tool that can help all of her friends coordinate visits, grocery shopping, trips to the doctor and whatever else she needs?" As it happened, I knew just the thing: Tyze, a personal networking tool I developed for the PLAN Institute. For the past 20 years, PLAN has helped families create personal support networks for adults with disabilities or other kinds of challenges; those support networks ensure not only logistical support but the kind of social connectedness that helps people lead meaningful lives. Tyze lets anyone create a support network for a friend or family member with an illness or disability: it helps the network stay in touch, schedule visits, keep track of tasks, and most crucially, share the stories that bring them closer together. Whether you use Tyze or your own combination of a blog, task manager or calendaring tool, social media can help people pull together to support a friend in crisis—not just with logistics, but with the messages of love and concern that bring you all closer together.
My Dad died almost two years ago, but his Facebook page lives on as a place where our friends and family can share their memories and thoughts of him. A social media presence—whether it's Facebook, Twitter or a personal blog—can be a way for someone to tell his or her own story as they are passing out of this world, and for friends to connect through the dying and grieving process. If you don't like the idea of your online presence outliving you, Legacy Locker is a service that serves as a social media will: Give it the registration info for the sites you're on and you can leave directions on how your social media profiles and content will be handled after your death.
Whatever challenge you are facing, or milestone you are celebrating, you want your friends to share it with you. Make good use of social media and you'll have their support, no matter where they are.
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Alexandra Samuel, PhD, is the director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University and the principal of Social Signal, a social media agency that has launched more than 30 online communities. The mother of two young kids, Samuel blogs about how to make technology a meaningful part of your life, work and world. Follow her on Twitter.