And Other Lessons Learned On An 85 Mile Adventure Race Through The Smoky Mountains
“You Know They Launched a Helicopter on You Guys, Right?”
These were the first words out of the race director’s mouth when we finally appeared at CP8 (check point #8) a couple hours behind expected arrival. A shrug of the shoulders was all my teammate and I could muster at that particular moment for a meaningful retort.
It wasn’t that we were looking to come off smug or even aloof. It was, however, due to the fact that we had become extremely lost in the depths of the Smoky Mountain foothills, trekking through virgin forest, logging 15 extra miles onto an already 70 mile race. We got lost. Which, I might add, is very easy to do even for seasoned Adventure Racers, which we were not. We were beyond exhausted.
Lost and Exhausted
Have you felt this way when it comes to your own efforts in social media marketing? The feeling of being completely lost and the sinking feeling that you’re just spinning your wheels making no real progress? I certainly have. It’s no fun. You feel unproductive at the end of the day, or week, and the lack of headway can be disheartening. Time to shoot off a flare and bring in the helicopter for rescue? Not quite yet! Take a couple of deep breathes, a tug on the Camelback hydration system to wash down the energy jell and reach into your pack and grab the one thing that will put you back on track and headed in the right direction.
Life Is An Adventure… Race
Now, for those uninitiated to what adventure racing is, think of a triathlon in the mountains. A typical triathlon encompasses 3 disciplines of running, biking and swimming. Minus the swim portion of the race, the remaining activities of a triathlon are carried out on city streets or roadways. However, in an Adventure Race, the running portion is predominantly over undulating mountain trails. The cycling is handled on mountain bikes over a myriad of terrain, mostly mountain trails and logging roads, and the swimming portion is replaced with a paddle via kayak or canoe. Oh, and throw in a rope course element, usually repelling down a 150 foot cliff face, just for fun. All of this is accomplished with everything you will need throughout the race in a pack on your back… about 15-20 pounds worth.
If the comparison to a triathlon might be a bit of a stretch, here’s where the similarities truly end. Where Adventure Races differ from a traditional triathlon, or most organized races for that matter, is that the race course is not marked out for the participants. You are left to find a group of flags, in succession, scattered throughout the countryside with no more than a topographical forestry map and a compass. No GPS gear, etc. are permitted. Now, to be fair, the flag locations are relayed the night before during a pre-race meeting in the form of coordinates rattled off at the end of a safety and rule briefing. Then it’s a “Good luck!” and “See ya’ in the morning at race start.”
And this relates to social media how?
Grab Your Map
The afternoon leading up to the safety briefing is all abuzz about the maps. Once the maps were handed out, they were as precious as life itself, most literally. The maps were placed in heavy plastic pouches (to keep sweat, water, dirt and grime from smearing the image) often times hung around the neck of the designated keeper via a lanyard for quick reference once out on the course. It was an important piece of kit as much as the water, the first aid kit, an extra pair of socks, take your pick. It was the one thing that told us where we needed to go.
Same with your social media. If you do not have a road map, a defined direction, you’ll flounder in the wilderness, become increasingly frustrated, tired and with the onset of dusk, might even throw your hands in the air in utter disgust and yell out to the heavens “I GIVE UP!”
It doesn’t have to be that way. Give yourself a fighting chance. Survey the landscape, figure out what your goals are for your social media and put together a rough, maybe even rudimentary, road map on how you plan to pick your way through the social media terrain and arrive at your defined targets.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not necessarily. The very first adventure race was an absolute disaster. Prior to the event, my race partner and I had logged countless miles in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains preparing our bodies for the rigors of such an endeavor. We even took a few online courses and watched more than a few YouTube explainer videos on map reading, compass use, etc. But, until you are standing deep in the middle of the woods, lungs and legs burning from maximum exertion, it’s a mystery on how you might perform and navigate when an unexpected obstacle pops up.
What does your road map look like? Is it a calendar? Is it a strategy that is aligned with your business goals? Is it complete with KPIs to measure success? If the answer is anything but a resounding , “YES!”, you have some work to do. But, don’t worry. What follows is a list of steps to help build a road map you can design specifically to your individual business needs/goals.
Grab Your Map And Plot Your Points
First things first… you must know the lay of the land, where you will be operating, and get an overview of the terrain. After you survey the landscape, what is your ultimate goal? You will want to…
Increase traffic to your website: A website is among one of your most valuable digital marketing tools and will play an essential role in generating leads and finding new customers. Social media helps drive traffic to your site, but it must be the right traffic if it is to convert (people actually interested in what you have to offer). Therefore, your content is key. In making your website a well of relevant information for your target audience, you will increase traffic and make incremental deposits into developing your brand as an industry authority.
Increase sales: Get familiar with Social Selling. It has been an emerging trend and is finding traction in the marketing universe. Today’s consumer is smarter, more savvy and alert to all the outdated marketing gimmicks. Nowadays, they are interested in connection… identifying with the personalization of the business. They are interested in transparency and real conversations (between real people). It must also be a two-way street with plenty of give and take on both sides. Interest is directly proportionate. The more interest you show in your audience, the more they will show interest in your message and your brand.
Increase sign-ups for newsletter: Email is still an effective marketing tool and should be a part of every marketing strategy. It’s another touch point and a great way to keep top of mind with your audience (updating them on offers, news, announcements, etc.).
Customer service: It is easy to vent behind the relative anonymity of a keyboard. Consumers can be quick to fire off a bad review or rant on social media before, or instead of, picking up the phone and calling into the office with a complaint. As such, it is important a mechanism be put in place to identify and swiftly handle these posts with genuine interest and concern.
Now that you have your CPs identified on your map, you’re ready to charge off into the wilderness and execute your social media strategy with confidence. Here are 9.5 race tips to ensure a successful “race”…
Race Tip #1: Run Your Race
There are many racers out on the course. You may look at them and think the key to success is being just like them - racing just like them. I promise, it is not. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses which may or may not align with yours, making it impossible to copy. Instead, you be the best you that you can be.
You know what makes you unique? That’s right, YOU make you unique. You and the other staff members all make up the unique attributes of the business. Show them off and connect with other human beings.
Of course, advertising your services and retail products are still a part of this, however, it should be done in a way that will resonate. A wall of sales, specials, promotions, discounts, etc. will make your account look like an ad circular. You know, the ones that clutter the mail box and are quickly discarded? No one likes that.
So when it comes to promoting a product, instead of a stock photo with “50% off”, film one of your technicians quickly talking about the benefits or showing how to use the 50% off product. Or better yet, grab a testimonial from a happy client!
Social media should be just that… social. Be real and transparent. Always.
Race Tip #2: Use Everything In Your Pack
Everything in your pack has a purpose to help you get through this race, even items to help should you get into some real trouble. However, as you wouldn’t use your clip-in bike shoes on the trail for running and vice versa, understand when to use what.
Some marketers make the mistake of posting the same messages, images, etc. across all of their social media platforms. Instagram’s typical user is 18-35. Facebook’s typical user is 35+. The aesthetic concerns of a 20 year old (acne, preventative maintenance, etc.) is much different than those of a 50 year old (deep, inset facial lines, body contouring, etc.). Of course there is a bit of overlap, but you are more efficient when your messaging is specific to the target audience.
Also, each platform has inherent differences. Where Instagram users expect content that is quickly digestible, Facebook can afford more fluffier content in storytelling form.
Race Tip #3: Keep A Sharp Focus
As the miles click by, the body gets tired. It’s hard to focus at times because you just want the physical pain to stop. This can lead to tactical errors and send you down a trail in the opposite direction of your next CP. Your social media focus should rest squarely with your audience.
Think about it… your success on social media is your following, your current and potential clients. This focus is not only exemplified in your messaging (copy) that accompanies your posts, but in the interaction through comments. Stay vigilant and answer all comments – good or bad – as quickly and as genuine and helpful as possible. All eyes are on this whether you realize it or not and an opinion is already being formed by observing your customer interaction.
PRO TIP - Don’t take it personally. Some businesses feel it is the perfect forum to prove they are right. It is not. It is, however, an opportunity to show potential clients your empathy and willingness to make things right. Definitely bad form to engage in an argument. Better to acknowledge their frustration with understanding and offer to correct the situation by directing them to continue the conversation off of social media via personal phone call.
Race Tip #4: Keep An Eye On Your Progress
This mental accounting of miles logged, water and other energy/hydration intake, etc. can help you track your progress against energy expenditure, a vital aspect of long form racing. It will help ensure you have enough in the tank to finish.
Same accounting of miles is demonstrated in the analytics of your weekly/monthly/quarterly social media information. CTRs, page views, likes, comments, impressions, etc. are all needed to determine if you’re moving in the right direction.
As the social media platforms realize their place in business marketing, they have included a myriad of metrics at a glance. Some more than others, but there is at least a minimal store of information to track progress across the platforms. Use it to identify what is working and what is not.
PRO TIP: Use it also to identify top performing posts for "recycled" content.
Race Tip #5: Scout The Competition
Follow some of the more seasoned racers (as long as you can keep up) to help pick your way through the woods. Those that have more experience are less likely to veer off on a wrong turn or trail.
Keep an eye on your competition, not only to see what they are doing to engage with their audience and what their audience is returning (comments, likes, reposts, etc.) but also what is not working. Keep on the heels of the elite and you can avoid amateur mistakes.
Don’t forget to cross train… widen your gaze and look outside of your industry. Find social media accounts that have nothing to do with your business. Gain insight and inspiration from them. Since social media is about connecting on a personal level and not about pushing product, the same tactics to gain engagement will work across all industries.
Race Tip #6: Designate The Map Tender
Obviously, the person more experienced and adapt at reading maps will be the one tasked with plotting our course throughout the race, keeping us headed in the right direction. Each person has different talents. Lean heavy on them when needed to move the team forward.
You can’t be an expert in everything. Nor should you be. This is where you take stock of your staff/team and identify strengths and where they can be utilized most effectively. Plus, when the workload is spread among the team, it can foster a greater sense of ownership in the efforts of the entire office. With members identified and responsible for content creation, strategy, customer interaction, etc. you ensure everyone is pulling for the same goal.
Race Tip #7: Race Strategy Is Key
Strategy is the competition within the competition. No champion has ever crossed the finish line and afterwards responded to the throng of media eager to know the key to their success by saying they showed up to the race and just “winged it”. It’s not only WHAT you are going to do (the race) but HOW you are going to do it (the strategy).
A successful campaign takes a fair amount of tactical awareness. Knowing what to post and when to post has as much to do with the success of that post as the content. Post at the wrong time, for example, and it will be so far down their feed they will never see it. Post too infrequently and your message may be lost within the shuffle of the massive amount of content they are already inundated with on a daily basis.
Create a content calendar to help identify times, type of media for each channel, video, holidays, highlights, etc. Your social media strategy must contain the plot points for executing and distributing your content for maximum effect.
Race Tip #8: Spend a Little on Good Gear
Best gear helps big time. Lighter bikes won’t blow your legs out on the steep climbs up long logging roads. Better components will operate more efficiently and won’t sap much needed strength for continued effort.
Organic growth is great, but a little out of pocket for paid advertising can expose your message to a brand new set of eyeballs and increase your reach exponentially. These are the eyeballs that are not currently following you on social media. It doesn’t have to break the bank either. An investment of as little as $50 might do the trick depending on your target audience and message. And social media platforms are becoming more adept at offering methods to get your message in front of the best prospects for maximum ROI.
Race Tip #9: Mark Your Hydration Stops
Knowing where the water stations are (designated areas containing water to refill depleted stores in your pack) is key to a successful race. Hydration is crucial to ensuring the body can do what is asked. It is so important in fact that the world’s top cycle race, the Tour De France, has a designated cyclist within the team of 8 to fetch water and distribute to the other racers when out on course.
Like water is life to your body under heavy exertion, so too are followers to the success of your social media account. Spend some time researching different interest groups. Find out where your customers hang out online and what they respond to outside of your brand. This insight will give hints as to how you might craft your message for maximum engagement.
Once this is accomplished, you can begin to “cross promote” between your social media platforms to drive even higher engagement.
Race Tip #9.5: Look The Part
Show up without the proper gear and you’ll be eaten alive. Even though it was a “fun” charity event, try telling that to a majority of the racers. And if you show up not looking the part, the psychological race is lost before you even log mile one.
Visuals are important. The visual representation of your brand can be the difference between a viewer and a follower. If a prospect sees your message (post) and is intrigued enough to follow the link to your page, it is the visual presentation of your brand that will encourage them to click the “follow” button or not. Instagram, for example, is highly focused on the visual aspect. A poorly designed channel can be a turn off if it is perceived to be inconsistent and haphazard. Even more so if you are in the health and beauty market.
To Wrap This Up
As you head out on the race course, make sure you grab your road map with all of the appropriate coordinates clearly marked and a solid strategy in place to get you and your race partner across the finish line (hopefully in one piece). And like Adventure Races, unforeseen obstacles will more than likely pop up… a busted chain, flat tire, rain storm, bent derailleur, etc. and you will need to adapt and adjust. That’s ok. There will be issues that might threaten to derail your social media strategy (COVID, for example) but you make the necessary changes and keep on chuggin’!
Run Your Race
So, whether you are full of nervous anticipation at race start, deep in the woods and wondering how best to break the news to your race partner you have no clue where you are or clickin’ along keeping the leg cramps away with liquefied electrolyte goo, we’re pullin’ for ya’! And, if you need us to launch the helicopter and get you out of a bad situation, we can do that too! Send your emergency flare up to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll swoop in and getcha.
And don’t miss out on following us on social media for inspiration, education and maybe a smile or two when you need it.