Social Media Is Like Running A Marathon

Dave Fleet running the 2008 Boston I’ve written before about how social media is like distance running. That was all about the long preparation that’s involved. I’m shooting for a sub-3 hour time tomorrow in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon, so I thought I’d riff a little on how you can also compare social media to the marathon race itself.

You need to prepare

You need to prepare before running a marathon. Similarly, companies need to prepare before engaging in social media. That involves listening and learning.

Find out who is out there and what they’re saying about you. Where are discussions happening? What are the most influential sites? What is the tone of the discussions?

If people are complaining, learn from it. Consider fixing the things they’re complaining about.

Runners take baby steps towards a marathon. They’ll run a 5km race, a 10km or 10-miler and maybe a half-marathon before launching into the big one. Companies should generally do the same. Launch straight into a big push online and you may crash and burn.

One approach doesn’t fit all situations

If I stand at the starting line tomorrow and it’s cold, windy and raining on Toronto’s waterfront, I’m going to change how I run the race compared to how I’d run if it’s hot and humid.

The same principle applies to social media engagement. You need to take different approaches depending on your environment.

While you should be open, genuine and honest in all of your interactions, you’re going to take a different approach to interacting on Facebook (perhaps starting your own page or group, or launching an app) than you are in reaching out to bloggers, engaging people on Twitter or launching an effort on YouTube.

It’s going to hurt sometimes

They say (as do I) that a marathon really starts at the 30km point. Everything before 30km is about getting to that point without tiring yourself out. The reality, though, is that it’s going to hurt at some point regardless of what you do.

The same is true of social media. No matter what you do, the chances are high that someone is going to disagree with what you’re doing at some point.

The good news is that by engaging online, you can give your side of the story. Remember that these people were saying the same thing about you before; you just couldn’t hear them. That doesn’t mean they weren’t saying it. Engaging gives you a chance to respond.

It’s all about the results

This one’s a little more personal: I run for the result; for the accomplishment. The 42.2km before that? That’s the road to the result. It’s the time I record that gives me the satisfaction – it’s how I measure the return on all those months of training.

What’s the return on investment for your social media engagement (and before that, what’s your objective)? How do you measure it? Do you track the sales from people who visit your blog, like Bill Marriott does? Do you track the tone of online coverage like Dell? Do you look at the topics of discussion and figure out ways to improve your business processes? Are you after volume of discussion?

How do you measure success?

There you have it – once again, I’ve found that my biggest passion correlates well with my day job.

Does this ring true for you? What other sports have similarities to the social media sphere?

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.