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What running teaches you about social media

Ted Weismann finishes first half marathon

After the Big Lake Half Marathon

When I turned 40 in 2010, my resolution was to take up running. I’ve watched many friends and family members enjoy the sport and the comraderie and personal achievement that comes with it. I wanted that, along with the fitness I need the older I get.

Last year, my second year of avid running, my goal was to finish a half marathon. I accomplished that in May, finishing the Big Lake Half in Alton, NH in just over two hours. The achievement was such a great feeling that I signed up for another one in October, but suffered a leg injury in September, which shelved me for the race. I’m recovering and gearing up for more races in 2012.

I’ve spent the hours of training thinking about a lot, including my career. I’ve often pondered how much running is like practicing social media and digital marketing. Here’s what’s crossed my mind as I’ve pounded the pavement. 

It starts with a goal

I started running because I wanted to get fit and lose weight, but knew I would need more specific goals in order to establish a routine and discipline. These goals would be races on certain dates in the future. The distances allow me to determine goal times and from there I established a training plan for how to achieve this goal come race time.

Marketing with social media must start the same way — with a goal or set of goals. Just like you shouldn’t just throw on a pair of sneakers and run until you’re out of breath, you can’t just get on Twitter or start blogging until you know why you’re doing it and what your measuring stick is for success along the way.

It takes determination; carve out the time

For years, I wanted to take up running, and had fits, starts and failed attempts. The culprit always was that I “had something else to do” or work would get in the way. The reality was that I needed to change my daily routine to identify a time of day that was reserved only for running. For me, that is first thing in the morning. Still, getting out of bed at 5:00 a.m. to run is hard, especially when it’s 20 degrees outside. It takes discipline to get out there 3-4 times per week to improve and build the fitness it takes to achieve those goals.

The same is true with social media. Whether you do it for yourself or your company or client, there always will be those things that come up that will tempt you to put off that blog post or comment on other blogs and community sites. You have to carve out the time, whether it’s by blocking off time on your calendar or spending an hour before starting the day. It’s tough at first, but it gets easier to find the discipline over time. Eventually, you won’t want to stop for fear of losing that social media “fitness” you’ve built up.

Establish and know your pace

With running, having goals in place and a training schedule and plan to support it, you’ll know the pace at which you’ll need to run along the way. It’s important to follow this pace pretty closely in order to reach each milestone, whether it’s having a great training run or finishing a race strong. This also will let know how much you can push the pace faster in order to improve your performance.

I have found this to be true with social media as well. For example, in starting to blog, you may establish a pace of two blog posts per week and 15 minutes a day to read and comment on others’ blogs. If you know and keep this pace, you’ll achieve success in the short term and be in a position to push your pace over time. The same can be said when supporting co-workers or clients on their social media activity. Don’t push them to hit a pace that they’re not ready to operate.

You need to measure your performance

There are so many tools available to runners to keep track of how they are performing. Whether it’s wearing a Garmin GPS watch or an iPhone with a GPS app to monitoring your pace during each run, or using a great service like RunKeeper or MapMyRun to track your fitness “analytics” over time, gathering metrics from your training and races allow you to know how you are tracking to your goals. For those great runs, what did you do well? What went wrong on the poor ones? This will help you make the most of each effort to achieve success.

It is equally important to track the performance of your social media efforts in a similar way. Use tools like Google Analytics and Facebook Insights to measure of each individual effort (at the blog post level or for each Facebook update, for example). If the metrics are great, what was it about that post that made it successful so you can replicate that effort? What was not done well? The analytics available through various tools also need to be looked at together to measure against your larger goals.

There are setbacks

I learned this last year. I was training for my second half marathon and feeling great when injury struck — a strained tendon in my lower leg. It’s a stubborn injury and I’m still recovering. But it’s made me take a step back and re-think my approach. When I’m able to re-start my training in earnest, I’m going to mix in more cross-training, stretching and yoga to mitigate future injury.

There will be setbacks with social media as well. You’ll go along feeling good about your effort and improve your output and performance, but there’s a good chance you’ll plateau and so will need to similarly re-think your approach. This may mean using a different mix of channels to publish your content, engage and connect with your audience. It also may mean changing the “mechanics” of your interaction.

Personal records keep you going

Before I started running, my sisters (who were my inspiration) kept talking about their “PRs”. I thought they were talking about my profession at first, but then realized they were excited when they set personal records. I know now why. When I run my next 5k or 10k, I have my PR in mind and feel tremendous achievement when I beat it. That’s an ongoing goal.

The same feeling when PRs are broken for your own content published via social media. The most page views, the most shares, the most comments are all great feelings and motivate you to keep breaking them. The same holds true when you are supporting colleagues or clients in their social media efforts.

For you runners and social media doers out there, does this ring true with you? What other ways can running teach you about social media.