Using data and social media to support marathon runners: TweetMyTime case study

Using data and social media to support marathon runners: TweetMyTime case study

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Running can be a lonely business, and running in a race can be equally so. The people you are running with are friendly, you’ll meet people and make friends on the course, but as any runner knows you are only really racing against yourself and against the clock. Social media has had significant impacts on supporting people as they train (notably with apps like Runkeeper), how can it also support people as they race: let people know their time, promote the causes they are running for and provide a record of their race.

A simple experiment back in 2009 helped to show the value of this. A simple app called TweetMyTime was used during the Columbus Marathon that connected the timing chip that runners have on their shoe with their social profiles. If you opted into the service, the chip would now update your Twitter profile with your split times during the race.

This is a simple but effective use of data – Tweeting when you got to 10km, halfway and the finish; telling your friends and followers how well you were doing and letting them click through to the race site and your profile there. Connecting data and social media (and offline experiences and the online) in this way is logical and provides a number of benefits:

  • Makes it easy for friends, family and contacts to follow the progress of the runners – it is impractical for people to come and support and this brings the data to them
  • Provides the runner with a record of their split times
  • Prompts more conversation about the race online during the race (Columbus found they were the most searched for term on Google during the marathon)
  • Drives awareness of, traffic to, and money raised for the causes runners may be running for – whilst many people will sponsor in advance, it is likely that when they see a runner actually running the race they will be more likely to convert to sponsorship

So benefits for all parties.

This is a simple and effective use of data in social and shows how the offline and online should connect. We create so much data as we go about our lives – some useful and some less so, and as consumer behaviour and technology changes I would expect to see more and more data used and shared in this way. In the meantime, I would love one of my upcoming races to support live Tweeting – it might even help me reach my fundraising target for the NSPCC.