In 2009, I battled through an experience only 45,000 other people in the world can say they conquered that day—The Chicago Marathon. With five months of training, nearly a million people cheering us on, and runners who became my heroes, I finished the race and crossed it off my bucket list.
Many nonprofit leaders experience a different kind of marathon that is often referred to as social media management. Instead of shin splints, there’s higher chances of carpal tunnel. Instead of getting sweat in your eye, yours are just dried out from staring at the computer screen. Instead of losing your lunch like many marathoners do, you’re losing your temper because the friends who promised to like your Facebook page are too busy liking pictures of their pets. Don’t fret, you can learn from my running experience to avoid social media burnout.
Stay The Course
As excited as all the runners were to start, there were more than a few disqualifications during the race. These runners either decided they couldn’t finish the 26.2 miles like everyone else or were so delirious they ran through the barricades to finish at world-record pace. My assumption is they tried taking shortcuts because the task at hand seemed too daunting. And many social media managers go through the same thing. You’ll soon realize creating content that no one wants will do more harm than not creating any content at all. There are tens of thousands of reasons to browse the web. By showing conviction in your writing, videos and other media, you will begin to build a following. If you’re all over the place, how can you expect people to understand you message and what value you bring to their Internet experience?
You should do one thing and do it well. Once you’ve mastered that one thing you should feel confident to move on to another. For example, many nonprofits sign up for several social media sites and stretch themselves too thin to grow a loyal audience. By focusing on one or two platforms at a time, you can develop your voice, create a culture, and reward your audience in unique ways. When starting out, you should have time to respond to everyone’s comments and inquiries. Each one is an opportunity to strengthen ties and leverage partnerships.
Reward The Little Victories
The day of the marathon, I stood awestruck at the sheer magnitude of the event. When I started the race alongside 45,000 others, I felt like if I stopped no one would know or care but me and the few people who were cheering me on. I was so wrong! To my surprise, at mile 12, I reached a party of epic proportions. Music blasted, volunteers cheered us on as they offered us energy drinks, Powerbars, and most importantly a congratulations for getting that far. Obviously the end of the race is the ultimate goal, but them rewarding us with much needed goodies and support strengthened our collective resolve. The next mile—another raucous celebration of the human spirit. Each mile was an accomplishment and they wanted us to acknowledge that as well.
When it comes to social media, you should consider taking the same approach. Remember when you had 0 likes, 0 followers, 0 comments, and 0 page views? And you felt like the first few you got in each category didn’t count because your friends and family felt guilty for not getting on board sooner? But then came the day a stranger “favorited” your tweet or shared a link of your blog post. I hope you thanked that stranger profusely. He or she had so many other things they could have been doing but they decided to read your content, watch your video, and let their friends know that it was quality stuff. Do me a favor: the next time a stranger acknowledges your existence on the web with a share, retweet, follow, etc., send them a personal note. Give them a few sentences about what that little victory means to you. And I can assure you those little victories will turn into something grand.
Run Social Media, Don’t Let it Run You
I’m apprehensive about admitting this next part but it helps set the tone for those nearing a social media meltdown. Ego aside, there was a point I didn’t think I was going to finish the marathon. At mile 20, the pavement felt like quicksand, my shoes felt heavier than my first computer screen, and I felt like my arms had been hauling furniture all day. The marathon was beating me and I had no recourse for overcoming it.
My clients have felt the same way with their social media efforts. To give you a sense of what I tell them, you have to take control and take ownership of the social identity you’re creating. Inconsistent posts, boring videos, and tweets about how much @random_person doesn’t deserve to be as famous as they are will only add to the noise that already exists. Instead: Create value. Offer solutions. Build relationships. Gain respect. All this will come when you become a pro at media channels you utilize. One secret is to create a great piece of content and have it pushed to one or two platforms automatically. A website you’ve probably never heard of does exactly that. It’s called If This Then That. They do a much better job of explaining how their service works than I could, but once you’ve used it, please comment below on how it’s your new best friend when it comes to automating the content you produce.
Everyone’s a Winner
You don’t have to be the best at social media management to accomplish your goals. When I was running the marathon, I felt a sense of community. We were all pulling for each other. Not everyone can run like a star athlete and not everyone can be the Gary Vaynerchuk of social media. Everyone who finishes a marathon is a winner. And if you put your best foot forward in social media management, the same is true. People will ultimately recognize your commitment to the good cause you’re passionate about and will do something to help.
Realizing When Social Media Is Junk Food
Preparing for a marathon wasn’t just about running around the neighborhood a few days a week. The training was an entire lifestyle change. I had to be in top form and that included changing my eating habits to maximize my performance. I had never been on a diet before then; I love food too much for that. But I knew running the best I could would take discipline and a commitment to healthy living. Late night snacks and junk food can ruin your regimen and have a detrimental effect on race day. When social media becomes pervasive, listen to that same inner-voice when you enter a McDonald’s at 2am: You gotta get outta there! When social media language invades your real world conversations, “Hey dude, was it just me or did you all LOL throughout the entire movie. I’m sure you guys would agree that last scene was hashtag—epic! Right, Right? I’m definitely updating my status on the ride home.” Get outta there! When you’re following three times as many people as the Twitter followers you have…Get out! Get out! Get out!
Slow and Steady Wins The Race
I learned the hard way at mile 20 of the marathon but I ended up finishing with my hands raised like a champion. When it comes to social media, use it to incrementally build your brand and execute on a legacy that will take years to develop. Trying to bounce from social media craze to next one may leave you in the dust. So foster a quality community with quality content on your favorite social site(s). And when the time is right, take smooth strides towards the next logical platform. People can recognize authenticity from a mile away, so use it appropriately as new and old supporters cheer you on to the finish line.