Last weekend I joined my friend John Wall (of Marketing Over Coffee fame) and his friend Adam Monty in running the Cape Cod Marathon Relay. It was my first ever relay race experience, so I learned a lot from the running side of things. But it also occurred to me that there are lessons in that experience that apply to the world of social media communications.
Until now, I have only run in races on my own. It’s a far different experience when you’re part of a team. Your calculation is different. I felt an urgency to perform well, but I felt an even greater urgency to make sure that I successfully finished my leg.
The very nature of social media demands teamwork. There are too many conversations taking place for one person in an organization to be solely responsible. Sure, you can have a lead (just as John was our leader and organizer-in-chief), but the contributions of everyone working on the front lines or behind the scenes makes a difference in your social media campaign.
It’s Never as Bad as It Seems
As each new social media kerfuffle comes up (seemingly every week or two), there are voices on Twitter, blogs, and Facebook calling out a brand and saying it is doomed or is facing dire consequences. It’s very easy to get caught up in that way of thinking.
Going into the Cape Cod Marathon, we were facing daunting conditions. An early-season nor’easter was headed to New England, dumping up to two feet of snow at our homes. In Falmouth, MA where the race would be run, the conditions were different but forecasts called for 50+ MPH winds with sleet and snow at race time. Our hotel was shaking from the wind overnight. As we drove to the race site, the rain continued to come down and we saw swaths of roads without power and with lots of tree damage.
But when we got to the course, the precipitation stopped. The winds didn’t let up and the temperatures remained quite chilly, but it ended up being less of an ordeal than we had anticipated. And that’s how it is with most social media “crises” — that’s why it is important to step back, take a deep breath, and do a rational analysis of the situation.
Finishing Matters Most
Too often individuals or brands get discouraged because their participation in social media isn’t reaping the immediate benefits that they had hoped for. At the same time, critics jump all over organizations that they believe are not doing social media “the right way.”
Ultimately, though, it’s like road races for most people. Just showing up and running to the end represents an important achievement. Those who participate in social media in a good faith effort to join the conversation should be applauded. They may not set new personal records with the quality of their engagement at times, but just as you don’t criticize a friend for not running 5 minute miles, you shouldn’t attack a brand that doesn’t get the formula just right as long as it is trying.
It’s Important to Have Fun
Have you ever noticed that some people in social media really seem to enjoy what they’re doing, while others look like they’re going through the motions? At shorter road races, I have seen folks who I’m not sure really want to be there but probably felt obligated to a family member, friend, or colleague to do a 5k. At the marathon distance, I didn’t see that. Even though we were “only” running in the relay (more on that later), it was obvious to me that all the competitors there seemed to want to participate (OK, maybe a bit less given the weather conditions, but still…).
When you go out and participate in social media — or when you get your colleagues or clients to join you there — remember to focus on making it enjoyable. We all communicate better when we’re comfortable, so the results are better if we’re not being coerced into doing something that doesn’t come naturally.
We Should Embrace Differences
There’s an odd dynamic when you run a relay at a marathon. Most of the competitors are running a full 26.2 miles. As relay team members, we’re running some fraction of that (in our team’s case, it was between 6 and 11 miles each). While many of the runners respected our participation, you could tell from others that running the relay was a second class effort at the event. And I get that on one level. But at the same time, one of our team members (Adam) recently completed a 50 mile ultra marathon, so it’s not always wise to judge based on initial perceptions.
Similarly, we all need to acknowledge the differences in social media participants and embrace them rather than disparage them. Not everyone will tweet all day long. Many folks may update their blogs only rarely. Some won’t even know what Google+ is. And that’s OK. None of us do everything the same and it is those differences that makes social media so interesting. It’s not one-size-fits-all and we shouldn’t encourage it to become that.
Anyone Can Succeed with a Little Effort
The diversity in participants at the marathon really struck me. There were folks running their first marathon, while another crossed the line after number 200. Some runners looked young enough to be my children (they weren’t) while others looked elderly enough that if I saw them at the supermarket I would never take them for a marathoner. The common thread they all had was that they trained enough to participate in either the full 26.2 miles or some portion of it.
The doors of social media are similarly open to all. There are no prerequisites to participation. There’s no course you must take. There are no licensing requirements. In just a few minutes someone can set up a social networking account or a blog and become part of the conversation. That’s perhaps the most empowering thing about social media. There are no barriers to entry, unlike the days when newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio dominated the media landscape. We’re all part of social media.