My wife is going to run the Chicago marathon in early October. Before she started training, however, I had not really thought about what is involved in getting ready to run 26.2 miles. The race is about three months away and she's already running 12 miles one day a week. As with most things in my life, I thought about this in terms of marketing and technology. More specifically, I thought about how social media is like a marathon.
A big problem that a lot of companies face is thinking social media is a sprint. Sprinters concetrate on pure muscle strength sacraficing endurance, where marathoners have to build strength with a balance or endurance as well as mental toughness. Here are some parallels that I see in how marketers are approaching social media.
Social media sprinters may take on too much from the outset. Social media takes time and energy and pace is a key. You've all seen it, a company launches a blog to much hoopla and posts are steady through weeks 1 and 2. Week 3 sees a slight drop off on content followed by similar decreases in subsequent weeks until the blog is on life support.
This is a waste of the company's time as well as the readers. Long-term sustainability is crucial. Some social media sprinters don't have the mental toughness. Creating content and interacting with customers and visitors is tedious and time consuming. Sprinters don't see through those challenges to the end vision nor do sprinters fully understand the space. Most likely they are just looking for a little press and in the end everyone loses.
Marathoning is all about steady build-up towards the end goal. In the case of social media the end goal is adding value to the community. If press is your main goal, this may not be for you. Social media takes dedication, passion and the ability to place the community above self. So how do you start? You need a training plan of course. Here is a sample training plan to get in the game:
Think, plan and dream. Set big goals. Picture what you want to see in one and two years.
Start slow and build over time. Use the space to listen to other social media experts. Leave comments, send emails, make phone calls. Soak up everything you can. Make notes of what you like and don't like.
After listening for a while, you should get the nerve up to jump in. One good way to test the waters is to take a test drive. A few services offer 30 day trials (Typepad) or are completely free (Blogger). The only expense will be your time (and a lot of it, don't kid yourself). Kick the tires. Post every day for two weeks and see how it feels. Keep the posts private for now, but invite some trusted friends to read what you have going and give you feedback.
If after two weeks you are comfortable, let the public have access to the blog. Start pinging services like Technorati to let them know you are there and to get into search results. Reach out to other bloggers by commenting on their sites. Keep those trusted friends engaged, they know you and can tell you if you stray off course. Keep in touch with other bloggers and invite them to read what you've written if it applies to them and ask for feedback. Use services like del.icio.us, flickr, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. to get your content out there and engage in other networks.
The most important part of the process is to have patience. It can be frustrating to create content that nobody is reading, but keep on it. Reach to create better content. Tap other resources to engage their networks. As in marathon training, you have to keep the end goal in mind. It's easy to quit, but trust me you will miss out on the best experience of your marketing life.
If you stick with it the possibilities are endless. You'll meet new friends, become a better marketer, become a better writer and be able to take advantage of new technology to reach more customers and grow your business.
Social media is challenging. It's time consuming, but in the end rewarding. Stick to your plan and keep creating content. Never before has the phrase "if you build it they will come" been more apropos if you put in a little effort. If you do, you can harness this space to grow personally and professionally.