I have always been impressed by marathon runners. To be successful they prepare for months on end and consider everything from their diet to their attire. The dedication and discipline to focus on a goal beyond the immediate horizon are traits that many people do not possess. The satisfaction of the short sprint is enough.
When I look at how organizations in both the public and private sectors engage in social media, I see the same dichotomy. On one hand, there are the sprinters who run quickly toward a goal they can see. On the other, there are marathon runners who take a long term view in their planning and execution. Unfortunately for the sprinters, the ones who are often most successful are those who prepared for the long haul.
The problem that most organizations encounter is that they become caught up in the rapid nature of social media. Like a runner who is distracted by a competitor passing them at mile 4, they have an immediate urge to engage quickly and perhaps thoughtlessly without considering what is coming down the stretch. The desire to jump onto a trending topic, quickly acquire ‘Likes,’ or hijack a hashtag can cramp up even the best laid plans.
Any organization that wants to ‘win’ social media needs to approach it with the same mindset that a marathon runner takes to a race.
Prepare: Just as a runner must train long before a race, an organization must prepare well in advance of executing any social media campaigns. A successful social strategy is one that is well developed and appropriately aligned with the journey ahead.
Pack accordingly: Marathon runners don’t just throw on any pair of shoes or accessories when running a race. They select the items that work best for them. The same approach is a must for social media. Some platforms will not be the right fit and others are just unnecessary and won’t help achieve a set goal. Being selective about what tools to use pays dividends down the road.
Set a goal: Runners will know their ideal time to cross the finish line before they even line up to start the race. A good social media strategy sets out long-term goals before kicking off a campaign.
Focus on the finish line: 26.2 miles is a very long distance, and it can be easy to get distracted by other runners and twists and turns in the road. Marathon runners have to approach every mile understanding that they have a goal off in the distance. A good social media strategy focuses on the long term goals and helps an organization analyze how to engage anything that comes up along the way.
As cliché as it may sound, social media is a marathon, not a sprint. Planning and executing for the long haul allows marathon runners to accomplish a fantastic feat of human endurance. Only when organizations approach social media with a similar mindset can they fully accomplish similar digital achievements.