Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How marathons use social media

The New York City Marathon's Facebook page posts a daily question for those of us running the race in November. I understand the rationale, having experience putting a sports league into social media and building high-volume accounts from scratch. We're 144 days out. They just want to engage now, create a conversation, get people involved, and then when the numbers build up, pound the products and services.

But today was a good example why it would be a greater benefit to read DAILY TIPS from on-staff or consultant experts rather than ask questions. Here is what they posed:

Today's Question: When you are training for the ING New York City Marathon, do you have a stretching routine? Do you just hop out of bed and start the run? What's your warm up? Tell us in the comments!

I did just that, and then it occurred to me that I am serving as one of their experienced voices, basically doing their work for them, because I like sharing what I have learned after nine marathons or ultras. I wound up reading a bunch of comments from people who would say, "I just start running," or "jumpstart with fresh brewed coffee and go!" Are you serious? That had no value to me as a NYC Marathon entrant. I guess you get to click and  amass other commenters as Facebook friends if you really want (not me). Here's what I would have rather seen when I opened my Facebook app on my iPhone this morning:

Today's Tip: How to stretch at the start and end of your training runs.

Then that should link to a page on NYRR.org that gives experts' stretching routines complete with videos and/or photos. Use content from the people holding this event or the webinar. Or just ask me because I know. In 2007, I ran my first marathon (NYC) with Team for Kids. One of the benefits of running for charity was having elite coaches and team training runs. I learned most of what I know now from that summer, and that includes how to stretch. Never stretch cold muscles before a run. Get at least 5 minutes in, I usually run a mile. Then I do dynamic, or active, stretching. I stretch the hammies, achilles, quads, IT bands. Torso twists, arm circles, sometimes I break out Tae Kwon Do stretching from my black belt coursework. I end with high kicks as I run in place, front and back, then 10 or 15 jumping jacks, so I am sweating and then I am off. After I run, I do more cooldown stretching, easy does it. Foam roller before and/or after. I even have favorite stretching posts -- a massive London Plane tree along the bridle path in Central Park, a fence next to a railroad depot on my trail course in Piermont (NY), etc. So much to talk about with stretching!

Since that's what the NYC Marathon race organizing body taught me, I wonder why they aren't using their social media platform to give daily training tips like that, from their own coaches. I know there are training programs to purchase, so perhaps this would cannibalize that service. In any case, it's what I crave, and I don't want to pay for it (see: NYC Marathon entry fee).

It made me think: What is your favorite social media usage by marathons?

The best I have seen so far is the Virgin London Marathon, and they are so good that I actually got value by being rejected in their lottery. Here's how: I decided to run the Paris Marathon the preceding week instead, but I continued to receive my regular London Marathon emails. They were awesome, too. They gave good tips, and my favorite part was their "Be Inspired" quote, which I would always then tweet on @Marathoner.

I also like how they provided marathon training music packages, for those of us who jam and run.

So because I continued to receive email blasts along with social media interaction from the marathon that rejected me, I was doubling up as the Marathon de Paris fueled my preparation pretty well. I give NYC Marathon credit for at least having a social media presence several months out, because for a while I was wondering when Paris was going to finally update their Facebook, Twitter and website with anything relevant. Then I started to receive emails like this:

That's more like it! "The tip of the day." MERCI, BEAUCOUP! It is so natural because as a marathon runner you are in that daily world of training and focus, and wanting to gobble up tips and inspiring quotes and important info.

I started this year with the Miami Marathon in January, and the best thing they delivered was a PDF with Ryan Hall training gameplans. Their @RunMiami account was outstanding, and I loved their user-photo competition after the event. The @MarathonParis Twitter account was tremendously helpful -- especially to a foreigner, speaking in any language -- once the event got within a couple of months out. It means so much when you are panicking that your finish time did not show up on the race app, and the race's Twitter account can give you an answer of relief very quickly to put you at ease. I consider responsiveness crucial to a marathon social media platform...be there for me and have multiple people involved.

NYRR does email as well as any race organizer, and the @nyrr and @nyrrnews accounts are pretty good, along with ancillary accounts. But their NYC Marathon account should move beyond questions...starting to get old, even though I try to jump into the comments. Just give me expertise and motivation as I dive into the gruelling summer to come. Last year was like a century ago, it doesn't matter, habits change in weeks, so don't go by whatever cycle was used in 2011. Fire me up and quit the questions!

I am interested in hearing other runners' favorite marathon social media usages, including links to those accounts. I find that they still are helpful to others even if you don't run them, and I find that even if you get rejected in a lottery, you can benefit by what they should be sending to their database users.


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