Social Media Is a Journey, Not a Marathon or Sprint

Posted on September 3rd 2011


Winding road

There are countless articles and blog posts comparing how social media is more akin to a marathon and not a sprint, but I only partially agree with this premise.




While, I believe these three key salient points are spot on…

  • Plan: Just like you would never run a marathon without proper planning (up to a year in advance), you should never kick-off any social media activity before you have identified your overall objectives and target audience.  You know when this not happening, when the first question is: ‘How do I set-up my Twitter handle?’ followed by the answer to your ‘why’ question by ‘because I need to get [pick your number] followers’.
  • Practice: Most experienced runners will tell you that they will start off by practicing brisk walks before they even start to run when preparing for a marathon.  I would argue that when it comes to social media, we are not even able to crawl yet.  Next time you get the question above, ask the person to engage in an existing external community first (whether it is a blog, LinkedIn group, etc.), or even better yet, an internal community if you happen to have those in your company.
  • Prepare for the long-haul: As any experienced runner will tell you, pacing yourself, especially during the first half of a marathon is key, both mentally and physically.  Similarly, when you are starting off with social media, you need to be mentally prepared and focused on a few activities and succeed with those before attempting to do more.  This will not only help you learn and showcase your accomplishments (which could be handy when you have to go to your manager asking for more budget), but will also teach you the discipline to be patient and consistent.

…I also believe there are at least two very fundamental differences, and hence the title of this post…

  • Social media has no destination (i.e., it is a means, not an end): This may seem counter-intuitive since conventional wisdom says that everything has to have a destination, doesn’t it?  While I absolutely agree that having a plan and strategy is key, I also believe that unlike a race (regardless whether it is a 50m sprint or a 42.195 km marathon), there is no end. My premise is that social media is a means, not an end – you know you have succeeded when social media has permeated your business so it’s just another lever you have at your disposal.  The gurus call this social business; you can read my point of view here.
  • You have to fail, no playbook exists:  Ever since Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persian invasion in 490 BC, humans have been perfecting the art and science of running marathons.  You can now find many articles and books on the best marathon strategy, from planning and practicing before the race, to warming up, developing your pace strategy, etc.  Unfortunately no such a playbook exists (yet) for social media, and the only way to discover what works and what does not, is to experiment.  In the process of doing so you will fail, and I would argue if you don’t, you are not trying hard enough.  Of course, the key is to learn in the process.  Read point #4 here for more information.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome....


Ted Sapountzis

Ted is an enterprise technology veteran, student of Marketing 2.0, entrepreneur, angel investor and aviator.  He most recently led marketing and product management at NextPrinciples, an enterprise software startup helping companies extract true value from social media.  Prior to NextPrinciples, Ted was VP of Social Marketing at SAP where he led many of the company's social marketing initiatives. Ted was previously a management consultant with McKinsey & Company and has spent most of his career helping companies leverage analytics to optimize their operations. You can connect with Ted on TwitterGoogle+ or visit his personal blog here.

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Posted on September 3rd 2011 at 10:18AM

It is a great post, however I think there is a bigger issue to deal with for this particular brand. Pepsi has never done a great job at evolving the brand and products alike (when you compare to Coke for example).
No matter how good a brand campaign and engagement plan is, you can’t force people to love your product, even through social media, however you can get people to admire the brand. Unfortunately this disconnect, which we see in Pepsi, requires significant product changes in order to deliver the results they’re looking for.
Good luck Pepsi.

Posted on September 5th 2011 at 6:11PM

Yes indeed I agree, Social Media campaigns are quite a journey & results should not be expected overnight. People have witnessed the success of Dell's Social Media campaign, but they did fail initially too. But also, at end of the day, your brand needs to be loved & then liked by people on social platforms. My advice has always been to invest wisely.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Posted on September 7th 2011 at 3:47PM


Thank you.  Indeed perseverance, patience and consistency are key....


Posted on September 6th 2011 at 12:13PM

While I like the journey metaphor, a marathon runner can run more than one race. For instance, you can equate marathons to social media campaigns. Subsequently, both metaphors work.

Posted on September 7th 2011 at 3:45PM


Thank you for your comment, interesting analogy and I guess you can see it that way.  My biggest point is that however, unlike marathons, social campaigns have to be integrated into something bigger and not seen as a standalone effort, hence my point of a means and not an end.



Posted on September 7th 2011 at 4:11AM

Definitely more like a sprint. In the realtime world, every second counts.

Posted on September 7th 2011 at 3:51PM


Thank you, while I agree with your statement, I also firmly believe if you expect magical things to happen overnight, you will be disappointed, hence my statement around patience.


Posted on September 8th 2011 at 5:19AM

Hi Ted,

This is a nice piece - short & sweet.  You hit the nail on the head with your metaphor in my opinion.  Social media is all about building relationships, and the best ones are sincere and built over a longer rather than shorter period of time.

Great job!

Good vibes your way!

Warm regards,

Posted on September 9th 2011 at 6:02AM

Thank you Monique for your kind words, sincere relationships and perservance are indeed two very key success factors

Posted on September 8th 2011 at 8:53PM

Hi Ted,

Don't know if you were referring to my blog post (6 Reasons Why Social Media for Business is Like Training for a Marathon) or not, but thank you for adding to the conversation. My post was more about the training for a marathon, not the marathon itself per se, and about the though process regarding the planning and implementation of social media for business.

You make excellent points with regards to not having a destination (which I finish off my social media presentations with in every speech) as well as that there is no playbook.

Your post is refereshing in that it hopes to inspire new thought - and for this I thank you.

Looking forward to your future posts here on Social Media Today!


Posted on September 9th 2011 at 5:59AM

Neal, thank you for your kind words.  While I had not seen your post, I am pleasantly surprised at how similar our views are, I look forward to this ongoing debate.  There is so much opportunity in social, only if we could get past the 'new shiny object' syndrome...

Posted on September 9th 2011 at 1:27AM

I love these kinds of posts.  The ones that show that social media is not a quick fix solution.  I wrote about this about a year ago on my blog -

Social media is ongoing and long-term, and the real results start to show after so much effort has been put in.  Great post Ted.