Winding RoadThere are countless articles and blog posts comparing how social media is more akin to a marathon and not a sprint, but I only partially agree with this premise.

 While, I believe these three key salient points are spot on…

  • Plan: Just like you would never run a marathon without proper planning (up to a year in advance), you should never kick-off any social media activity before you have identified your overall objectives and target audience.  You know when this not happening, when the first question is: ‘How do I set-up my Twitter handle?’ followed by the answer to your ‘why’ question by ‘because I need to get [pick your number] followers’.
  • Practice: Most experienced runners will tell you that they will start off by practicing brisk walks before they even start to run when preparing for a marathon.  I would argue that when it comes to social media, we are not even able to crawl yet.  Next time you get the question above, ask the person to engage in an existing external community first (whether it is a blog, LinkedIn group, etc.), or even better yet, an internal community if you happen to have those in your company.
  • Prepare for the long-haul: As any experienced runner will tell you, pacing yourself, especially during the first half of a marathon is key, both mentally and physically.  Similarly, when you are starting off with social media, you need to be mentally prepared and focused on a few activities and succeed with those before attempting to do more.  This will not only help you learn and showcase your accomplishments (which could be handy when you have to go to your manager asking for more budget), but will also teach you the discipline to be patient and consistent.

…I also believe there are at least two very fundamental differences, and hence the title of this post…

  • Social media has no destination (i.e., it is a means, not an end): This may seem counter-intuitive since conventional wisdom says that everything has to have a destination, doesn’t it?  While I absolutely agree that having a plan and strategy is key, I also believe that unlike a race (regardless whether it is a 50m sprint or a 42.195 km marathon), there is no end. My premise is that social media is a means, not an end – you know you have succeeded when social media has permeated your business so it’s just another lever you have at your disposal.  The gurus call this social business; you can read my point of view here.
  • You have to fail, no playbook exists:  Ever since Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persian invasion in 490 BC, humans have been perfecting the art and science of running marathons.  You can now find many articles and books on the best marathon strategy, from planning and practicing before the race, to warming up, developing your pace strategy, etc.  Unfortunately no such a playbook exists (yet) for social media, and the only way to discover what works and what does not, is to experiment.  In the process of doing so you will fail, and I would argue if you don’t, you are not trying hard enough.  Of course, the key is to learn in the process.  Read point #4 here for more information.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.