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Winding road

There 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.

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  1. Marilyn Pratt
    Enjoy your sharing of your thoughts here, Ted.  Executive support for our community is always appreciated.
    Thinking of your comment about failing as part of the journey.  In my own seven year residence here in the community, I’ve seen a lot of organic growth (much of it a slow journey and a progression). And I’ve also seen a good deal of bursty dynamic experiments too, many of which were innovative, impassioned but sometimes not fully adopted or subscribed to. I learned from Heike van Geel more recently that Spreading Design Thinking – a practice workshop includes the premise: “fail early, fail often.”  And while some of the experiments here might have been premature or even misguided, they seemed to me to be a necessary part of the healthy growth journey of this community.
    Those failures (or bursts of sprinty-speed) can be thought of as necessary for the forward momentum.  Meaning sprints inside the journey are a necessary part of the journey. 
    About destinations:  Is your assumption that true social media, which some think of as citizen driven communication, is less goal-oriented? I think that sometimes (perhaps even often of late) social media does have very specific goals: recent history in the middle-east would substantiate that way of thinking.  Intentional community building seems the order of the day.  And I imagine that social marketing has very definite goals.  This community for example, was created initially to drive adoption of Netweaver, but the citizens here took it to many other directions as well 🙂 
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    1. Ted Sapountzis Post author
      Marilyn,

      Thanks for your comments.  A couple of thoughts:

      1. I know Heike quite well and am a strong believer in design thinking (a journey we started almost 7 years ago at SAP).  You are spot on vis-a-vis the often-abused cliche, and the only comment I would add is ‘fail-forward’- which is all about the learning process.

      2. Your example vis-a-vis the recent events in the Middle East is exactly my point.  The movement did not start by thinking ‘we need XXX impressions / views / clicks in social media’, but rather it was a true attempt to change the status quo; social media proved to be a very powerful medium that helped to achieve this goal, but it was just that.  Similarly in business, as long as we start by thinking followers / fans / friends etc. – and not what by what we want to achieve (be it crowd-source innovation, e.g., like we do with Idea Place on SCN, increase our awareness with new audiences, help our customers solve real problems, etc. we are doomed to fail.

      PS.  And yes, your very last point is so true, and perhaps should be a third point on my differences; we are so early in this journey, that despite what all the gurus tell us, nobody knows what this space will look like in 5 years.

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