There’s no denying the power of social media when it comes to running a sustainable event.
Whether you’re already active on social media or you haven’t yet dipped your toes in it, you’ve no-doubt recognized IRONMAN as the social media powerhouse it is.
While the IRONMAN World Championship is different than most races in that athletes must qualify to compete in the event, many of the social media initiatives can be leveraged by a wide range of events to not only increase brand awareness but also drive registrations.
Social media is a complex tool with a variety of platforms that change on an almost-daily basis, but to keep things simple we’ll concentrate on the “big three:” Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We’re not talking paid posts here—these basic rules will increase engagement without requiring any additional investment (besides potentially hiring a social media manager).
From being consistent across all social media platforms to using video wherever possible, we unpack seven high-level social media takeaways from the IRONMAN World Championship for race directors.
Consistency Across All Platforms
One of the most valuable aspects of using social media is to increase brand awareness. One way to do so is to make sure you’re being consistent across all of your platforms.
Create a brand style guide—this should include rules for images and video, your voice and tone, logo and color palette. It’s all about creating a cohesive social media marketing campaign so your users know it’s your brand, no matter what platform they’re on.
IRONMAN executes this flawlessly. All its profile pictures feature the now-iconic M-Dot, it uses similar wording and emojis throughout its posts and its images all elicit the similar “feeling” or “vision” of the brand. Especially during the IRONMAN World Championship, IRONMAN tailors each of its social media posts to work specifically for each platform, and although there might be some variance between the posts, they all undoubtedly on-brand.
Post Regularly and With Intention
A race director is required to wear multiple hats in the months and weeks leading up to the race, but it’s important to take a step back and create a social media calendar. This calendar should include the copy, hashtags and images/video (these visuals also require planning) for each post, as well as the day and time each post will be scheduled to go out.
Take a look at the IRONMAN World Championship social media profiles—not only do they have race previews and iconic shots from previous years, but they’ve created “countdown” graphics in the days leading up to race day. News flash: All these posts were likely planned out weeks if not months in advance.
Create a #Hashtag
While IRONMAN has consistently incorporated several hashtags into its social media marketing campaigns over the years (#IRONMANtraining or #IRONMANtri, for example), it’s also tagged all of its posts across all of its platforms with “#IMWC” for any posts related to the IRONMAN World Championship. Create a hashtag for your brand and the specific race.
Use these hashtags on all posts from the race’s official Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, and encourage your followers to use the hashtag in their own posts. Many native users will inherently search for these hashtags to expand their own personal reach, but by using it consistently, your athletes will be more likely to follow suit. It’s also important to keep your hashtags clear and concise. The more complicated or lengthy it is, the less likely people are to use it.
Leverage Your Athletes
The beauty of social media is the ability to exponentially expand your reach past those individuals physically at the event. Luckily, your athletes will naturally want to show off their accomplishments with their personal social media community.
When your athletes and their families share their experiences on social media, encourage them to use your hashtag and tag your accounts. As mentioned previously, simply being active on the official race account goes a long way, but like IRONMAN, you can encourage this even more by highlighting and sharing these posts (Facebook and Instagram stories are great for this), or simply by liking and commenting on them.
Video, Video, Video
According to Cisco, more than 80 percent of all internet traffic is expected to be video by 2021. If that stat doesn’t hit home, consider this: According to Forbes, 90 percent of consumers say video helps them make buying decisions, and 64 percent of customers say that seeing a video makes them more likely to buy.
What does this mean for you as a race director? Use video whenever and wherever you can. Look at IRONMAN—it makes video posts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, its Facebook cover photo is a video and it has embedded videos into all of its event landing pages.
The IRONMAN World Championship takes this one step further by incorporating a professionally-produced Facebook Live stream that runs throughout the entirety of the race. We know most don’t have the budget for this, but you can use an iPhone and go live on Facebook occasionally throughout your race or leave it running at the finish line. The Facebook algorithm rewards accounts that go live with higher engagement numbers.
Use the 80/20 Rule
This one is simple: 80 percent of your posts should be fun, lifestyle posts, and only 20 percent of your posts should be about pushing registrations or sponsored products. Remember, you’re trying to persuade athletes to register for your race, and by creating a rich social media experience full of athlete testimonials, high-quality imagery, engaging video and more, you’ll be fostering a strong brand image an athlete will want to be a part of.
The other 20 percent of your posts include things like, “only 100 spots left, register now”, “only 24 hours until the price increase” or “use this promo code for a discount.”
Take a look through one of IRONMAN’s accounts—most of the posts are athlete-focused and talk very little about registrations or products. It’s clever, though, and incorporates sponsored products and logos in many of the “active” shots (think Ventum or HOKA ONE ONE). If your event is sponsored, include some social media posts in your agreement (this goes both ways), but be careful not to oversaturate your feed with sponsored content or content that “sells” to the athlete.
Find Inspiring Storylines
Nobody does this last point better than IRONMAN. While it certainly focus on its top-level professional athletes for much of its social media coverage, it also post about inspiring athletes (underdogs, amputees, cancer survivors, athletes who have overcome weight issues) toeing the line at the IRONMAN World Championship. Not only is this more relatable for many of us, but it’s also a storyline that’s captivating and shows the true essence of perseverance—something all endurance athletes can understand.
Find some especially inspiring athletes and conduct a few pre-race Q&As to get their backstory, then post updates on their progress throughout the race and write up a race recap once they cross the finish line. Don’t forget your hashtags, and video, video, video!