How social media turned me into a marathon runner

How social media turned me into a marathon runner

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18 months ago I took up running again after many years with a short 2 mile run in a park in London. Today I am travelling to Edinburgh to run my second marathon in just six weeks. It would not be an understatement that social media has helped me get from there to here. For all that is written about social media, the popularity of sites such as Facebook and how brands should make the most of these, we risk forgetting a more important role of social media. Fundamentally changing the way that people interact with each other.

The bigger changes that are happening using social tools, and the behaviours that brands need to understand and learn from come not from social network, such as Facebook, but from online communities. Places where people connect with each other not because they know each other, but because they have a common interest, passion or concern.

It is in these online communities that we are seeing much more fundamental changes in behaviour and communication. We see people getting support from others that they don’t know (and probably never will). We see people finding others with similar issues or problems and getting support. And we see people changing they way they act and behave – be that what they purchase or what they do. For me, running was an example of this.

Any change in behaviour is challenging. Traditional support offline means there being people in your local area that have the same interests as you, you then finding them, and then you all being available at the same time to support each other. Social media breaks each of these restrictions. You can easily find people with similar interests and concerns (even if you don’t know them). You can support each other even if you don’t live nearby. And you don’t have to be doing things at the same time.

With running a combination of forums, Runkeeper (a mobile running app), my own social networks and game dynamics provided the motivation and support I needed.

  • The Runners World forum was full of people, many of whom will never really know each other, sharing advice, building training plans for people and providing the motivation you need to get out on a long run on a rainy winter’s day.  As with most forums you can find people you want to take advice from based on the other things they have said and what they say about their runs and races. You identify people to trust and then either ask them questions or just read what they say and take their advice.
  • Motivation also comes from the simple application of game dynamics, a mobile app and simple peer pressure. The Runkeeper app records every run I take and is a useful tool for me to track my own progress. The social elements are even more important. By sharing every run I ever do I know (or at least tell myself) that people are watching and assessing my training. I’m not alone but am broadcasting what I do every time I run. And if I skip a run they know that too. On afternoons when I really can’t face that run, I Tweet that I will be running later and then feel the pressure to do it. Nobody may ever read these, but they motivate me.
  • Finally social media has helped me to find others that are training like me. We don’t run together and we don’t even know each other, but we do leave comments and thoughts on each others’ training runs. And I spent a sunny day watching the London Marathon to spot and cheer on six people I’d never met but who have supported me online.
These changes in behaviour are just an example of how online communities are making fundamental changes in what we can do, the nature of relationships and how we get support and motivation. Social media is changing behaviour and brands and organisations need to be aware of this and what it means for them. And this is nothing to do with Facebook.