6 Ways Trail Running Can Inform Your Social Media Strategy

At the start line of the MEC trail challenge. 

At the start line of the MEC trail challenge. 

A few weeks ago, I ran a 10K trail run. Somewhere past the fourth annoying uphill, I realized a couple of things:

  1. I shouldn't have been running with an injured IT band, and
  2. What I'd learned about trail running could inform social media strategies. 

I was right about the first; I ended up injuring myself further, putting me out of commission until just recently. As to the second, well, I'll lay out my argument here and you can tell me what you think in the comments. 

Train. 

Trail races require preparation. Coming from road racing, the hills and terrain took me by surprise. Social media participation is like that, too. 

Just as you prepare your body for a race, you need to prepare your organization for social media participation. Learn what your competitors and others in your industry are doing. Read best-practices articles on Social Media Today or PR Daily. Ensure all your "parts"—legal, IT, security, PR—are ready and know what to expect. Make sure you're ready internally to dive in, and know what you'll do when things go sideways, up or down. 

Go at your own pace.

Some people race to win; I race to not be last, or to finish, possibly beating my last time. There's a reason you register your age and gender at runs: you can compare like against like. 

It's the same in social media. For example, if you're a not-for-profit organization offering community services, your participation and measures of success in social media will be vastly different than a for-profit multinational that sells cola, or an online retailer like Amazon. But even then, superstars in your own class may outshine you. Go at your organization's own pace, but try to push yourself a little as you go.  

Don't give up on uphills.

I hate uphills. They need more energy, more lung capacity, and a whole bunch of different muscles than level-ground running. So, when I encounter one, I shorten my stride and slow down a bit. But I keep going. 

In social media, you're going to hit rough patches: those days when everyone is complaining about something your company did, and your Facebook page explodes with angry comments. The key is to power through. It may put a hitch in your stride, but if you're prepared, eventually you'll get past it. 

Downhills? Go, go, go!

The person who taught me much about running gave me this tip: Full-out run down hills, letting gravity help. I make up a lot of time on downhills. Yes, my knees and quads take a bit of a beating, but nothing they're not ready for. 

Sometimes in social media, that golden opportunity will present itself—the perfect newsjack  or a competitor's blunder  gives you a window to promote your organization. Just like those examples show, you need to be prepared to take advantage of these opportunities and go full-out when the terrain is right. 

Measure your progress to keep improving. 

Running measures easily: distance, time. But I take note of other, subtler measures, too: Do I run better in the morning or in the afternoon? After a high-protein or high-carb meal the night before? 

Social media interactions are also intrinsically measurable. You can see what type of content performs better, or at what time of day gives you better results. The trick is to take note of these sorts of things so that you can keep improving.