Social Media: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

By • December 8, 2013

Pace yourself, consistently train, and don’t be afraid to ask others for help.

Early last month a colleague and I attended the Digital Atlanta conference in midtown Atlanta. It was a fantastic gathering of some sharp and creative minds who work in gaming, digital marketing, software, Web design, and social media.

Running a social media campaign, like running a marathon, is actually a team sport.
Running a social media campaign, like running a marathon, is actually a team sport. (Kelly is on the far right.)

One session covered the steps needed to become a social media hero. Contrary to the stereotypical image of a solitary superhero single-handedly saving the day, however, the speaker, John Gonnella, emphasized that social media success is a group effort. This makes sense if you pause to consider Merriam-Webster’s definition of social media: “forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content” (emphasis is mine). Your organization could not have a social platform if it weren’t for your users (plural) who create the connections and shared information that make up social media.

And while you might moderate or manage an account or page, that forum is useless unless your digital community members validate it by sharing and interacting on the page.




  • Social media isn’t a platform or channel; it’s a shared experience among people who want to learn, sympathize, and network with each other.
  • Your fans own your social media channel. So accommodate their discussion wishes as best as possible and keep them congregating on your page.
  • If you can crowdsource content for your social media channel, do it. Your fans will tell you exactly what they want to see and talk about while giving you content.
  • Meet the social media challenges of content creation, platform changes, and burnout by pacing yourself and keeping expectations realistic.


At the end of October, I ran my first marathon. Running long distances to train for a marathon gives you plenty of time to think: about life, work, food . . . and social media. As I crisscrossed Atlanta by foot, it struck me how similar managing a social media account and preparing for a marathon are. Here are the main points:

1.  Social is not a platform or channel. It’s a shared experience.

Your online community members come to your group, tweet at your account, or comment on your Instagram photos not out of routine or obligation, but because they want to be entertained, informed and connected. They want to feel like they are part of something important, purposeful and long-term. They want the experience of communing with others who have the same values and goals. They know that somewhere out there, someone else is going through the same e

xperience they are, and those people can help them work more effectively, discover better practices or simply listen to their concerns. Social media is an extended experience, not a box to be checked off once.

Likewise, marathon running is a shared experience. I told everyone I was running a marathon for a few reasons: to hold myself accountable, to ferret out training advice, and to find a sympathetic ear when I was exhausted during weeks of running 30+ miles. I could have pounded the pavement one morning for 26.2 miles and checked it off my bucket list. But the real goal of running a marathon is to learn something from your training, the course, and others who have run it before you. The real distance includes the commitment to train, training, the race itself, and post-race recovery: an experience longer than 26.2 miles.

2.  You do not own your social media channel.  Your fans do.

Any social media manager who has made a faux pas with an ill-timed or non-politically correct tweet and experienced the backlash from it knows this tenet well. You may have set up a social media account, and you might moderate comments and shared links, but your community really owns the account. Your fans are the ones who collectively give it character and guide its discussions. And that’s how it should be. Shared experiences should be driven by a majority.

Subscribe to Association Adviser eNews to receive articles like this directly in your inbox.

So embrace it. If your community wants to talk about minutiae, let them. Research some external resources that will enrich the discussion. If they want to share photos of their latest projects, establish a new album or photo stream that makes it easier to do so. If they’ve hijacked your hashtag, accept that it has a new meaning. Then pay attention and learn from what they tell you through that new motif. Create and maintain a hospitable environment, and while your community might not always agree with you, they’ll still let you listen to their conversation.

I didn’t own my marathon experience. I and the 979 other runners entered in the race would not have been able to run if a team of race officials and volunteers hadn’t mapped the course, set up the online registration, marked the course with cones, contracted with the city police to direct traffic around us as we ran, set out and offered up water and gels, or designed a smoothly flowing finish line area. The cheer zones and other spectators lining the course kept me running when my legs ached and my feet were crying for relief.

Your social media pages wouldn’t be the hub of activity that they are (or that you want them to be) without a team of members, industry professionals, and other interested parties providing commentary, photos, videos, links, and camaraderie. You may have established the page, but it is your constituents who keep it running (no pun intended) along.

3.  If you can crowdsource content for your social media channel, do it. Your fans will tell you exactly what they want to see and talk about while giving you content.

You could say I crowdsourced my training plan and marathon prep. I researched training plans, nutrition, marathon clothing advice, and sleep advice online. I asked running friends about their past marathon experiences. These sites and friends told me exactly what to eat, how much to run, and other things to expect. They were more informative than any one book or magazine could have been.

Similarly, crowdsource your online conversations and comments. Pose some questions and let others pick up the conversation. Let others post their photos and links to your page and bring a different point of view to the page. (Yes, this means make your account public, open up your Facebook Wall to anyone, and take the passwords off your Flickr account.) The chance that someone will post something negative is small compared to the chance that your channel will turn into a hub for informal, fun networking and idea exchanges.

Social media management isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. It takes continuous training, focus, and a dedication to becoming faster, stronger and better equipped. But you aren’t in it alone. Your community is there for you the same way other runners and spectators were there for me during my training and 26.2 miles.

What steps can you take to start becoming a crowdsourced social media hero?


Kelly Donovan is the team leader for online marketing at Naylor, LLC.