The Long Run: Thoughts on Effective Social Media Execution and Marathons

IMG_1917As I write this, I am just under one month away from the Chicago Marathon. It will be my second marathon, having completed the Vancouver Marathon in 2007. It’s also a bucket list item for me – one that I am looking forward to putting a checkmark beside!

In thinking about how I approach marathon training, I have come to realize that there are a number of parallels with respect to developing a social media strategy. No, I am not thinking about social media while I run, at least usually as sounds from Songza occupy my head! But I thought I would share a quick comparison here.

Proper Planning is Required

Unless you are a uber-athlete, you don’t just wake up in the morning and decide that you’re going to run a marathon today. Well, you could, but that certainly isn’t advised! At the same time, a brand shouldn’t just execute social media in an ad hoc manner.

Experienced marathon runners will tell you that a planned and disciplined approach is a necessity in preparing for the big race. Ideally, runners set up a training calendar months in advance, encompassing regular runs and workouts leading up to the race – geared towards the objective of completing the race by a specific time.

Brands need to approach social media with similar rigour, first establishing goals and then developing a plan focused on achieving the goals. An ideal framework includes an overview of strategies and supporting tactics, along with a detailed calendar.

Perseverance and Dedication

Most days, I absolutely cannot wait to go for a run. The mere thought of running is enough to energize me. However, I will admit, I do have mornings in which my bed feels a bit too comfortable, and an extra kick is required to get my feet onto the trails or pavement. When these mornings happen, I again think about my end goal of running the marathon, and I find a way – knowing that hard work in the short-term will lead to long-term gains.

Similarly, social media also requires perseverance and dedication. It takes time and resources for brands to develop the right infrastructure for their social activities, and even more time and resources to develop content and cultivate healthy communities of ardent fans and followers. At times it may seem overwhelming as community engagement builds, and brands need to respond to and engage with more and more people. But remember, each awesome experience you provide for individual people through social represents another step towards nurturing longterm brand affinity.

It Takes a Community

Yes, in many respects, preparing for a marathon is a solo pursuit. However, maintaining a focus through the long hours of training is a lot easier when you have a community of family and friends supporting you. It really can be a team effort, leading right up to the cheering as you cross the finish line.

For brands, having an active presence on social media is one thing. Developing a community of ardent fans and supporters, people who will actually advocate for the brand, is quite another. There are many ways through which brands can create community advocacy on social media – common to them all is a genuine, personable approach. One that makes brands likeable.

Tracking and Measurement

In training for a marathon, I benefit immensely by tracking my runs – including measures such as distance and pace. Doing so enables me to monitor my progress, with the end goal of completing the race within a specific timeframe in mind. If my pace doesn’t match what I need to achieve in training to attain my desired goal, then I either need to ramp up my training or recalibrate my race expectations.

At the same time, it’s critical for brands to track social media progress and activity, with end goals always in mind. For example, if a target has been established such as attaining 60% share of voice by year end, and the brand is currently only tracking at 40%, then the plan should be reviewed and perhaps adjusted. Investing in measurement and analysis goes a long way towards ensuring desired outcomes are achieved.

Long-Term Focus

A marathon is 42.195 kilometres. That’s a long distance! Don’t even consider running it as a sprint, or you’ll soon be out of energy.

Similarly, social media should be a long-term investment.

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Image courtesy of Benjamin Lipsman.

Nike+ – A Great Example of What Collaboration Can Accomplish

Today, I completed my longest run in about a year. Actually, it was my longest run since April 3rd, 2010 – when I ran 18.96km in 2 hours, 5 minutes and 29 seconds, at an average pace of 6 minutes and 37 seconds per kilometer.

How the heck do I know that? Well, I record my runs using the Nike+iPod sports kit, the ingenious collaboration between Nike and Apple that has benefited runners worldwide since its launch in 2006.

There are two main reasons why I marvel at Nike+:

1. An innovative product from a unique collaboration

I believe that over the coming years we are going to see more instances of companies – sometimes even competitors – joining forces in unique collaborations.  There are many potential benefits to be gained, including shared knowledge and data, shared resources, and opportunity to develop new and innovative products and services by leveraging and combining strengths.

2. It’s social and community-driven

The Nike+ experience extends well beyond the runs, thanks to a fantastic website and online community that has been cultivated. Not only can Nike+ users record and track runs using the website, they can share their experiences with runners worldwide while also benefiting from some rich content – including a training tips blog.

Recently, Nike+ also added a “Challenges” section, through which individual users can create running challenges and invite community members to participate. Sample challenges include “365 miles in 2011”, in which all participants are challenged to run 365 miles, and “Fastest 5km in 2011”. Each challenge includes a leader board, adding some incentive for participants to compete against one another.