The Columbus Marathon has long been on the forefront of social media. Working together since 2011, we’ve spent the past three years helping the marathon use its blog, Facebook and Twitter to build a year-round online community and establish itself as a go-to customer service resource for runners. Then, in 2012, we also helped Columbus become the first marathon to join Pinterest. Together, these reflect one of the marathon’s overarching social media goals: to continue finding new ways to engage participants and supporters – providing content and conversation when and where they want it. So when nearly 700 photos were tagged and shared on Instagram during and immediately following the 2012 race (without the marathon actually having a presence on the network), we swiftly decided that it should be incorporated into our 2013 social media strategy.
Instagram opened the doors to a new way for us to connect with the marathon’s online community, providing an opportunity to show – not just tell – fans and followers what was happening behind the scenes as the team prepped for the race. Even more importantly, it provided a way for us to cheer on our marathoners on as they shared their training progress through photos posted on the network.
- Add at least 250 followers within the first week of using the network
- Triple the marathon’s Instagram following by race day – October 20, 2013
- Increase the number of photos posted on race day by at least 30% (compared to 2012)
THE START LINE
We decided to leverage RunFest – the marathon’s annual expo to kick off training season – to launch Columbus Marathon on Instagram. To do so, an image highlighting RunFest details, paired with a call-to-action to attend, was one of our first photos shared on the network. That same image was then shared on the blog, e-newsletter, Facebook and Twitter, with each post including a call to follow the marathon on Instagram for more information. To expand the reach of our promotions, we also partnered with six online influencers – each of whom had a strong local following on Instagram – to serve as RunFest Ambassadors. These six ambassadors promoted RunFest in the days leading up to the event, plus posted live photos as they attended the event. We “regrammed” the ambassadors’ photos, plus shared a few of our own throughout the day as well. All photos posted before and during RunFest mentioned @cbusmarathon, helping us build up our following in the process. By July 8 (two days after RunFest and one week after posting our first photo), the Columbus Marathon already had 300+ Instagram followers.
HITTING OUR STRIDE
After successfully launching at RunFest, our ongoing Instagram strategy centered on sharing a combination of behind-the-scenes photos and videos, marathon news and updates, training tips and inspirational quotes. Additionally, Instagram was used to extend the marathon’s partnership with Nationwide Children’s Hospital by “regramming” the hospital’s photos and introducing the 2013 Patient Champions, the hospital’s patients who cheer on runners at each mile marker during the race. As the race drew closer, we used Instagram to extend the reach of “26 Tips for 26.2 Miles” and “We Ask, You Answer,” two series of blog posts that featured tips and crowdsourced advice on what to wear, when to arrive and how to prepare for race day. We also leveraged the popular #TBT (Throwback Thursday) hashtag to share photos from previous marathons while building excitement for the 2013 race.
THE FINAL STRETCH
In the final two months before the race, we launched a second Instagram Ambassador program. This time, we partnered with six online running influencers who were participating in the race and regularly used Instagram to share their training and connect with fellow marathoners. The ambassadors provided weekly photos for the marathon to share, based on a prompt – a marathon-related theme – we provided each week (i.e.: Where do you run? What are you wearing? How are you feeling?). The ambassadors’ photos gave fans a glimpse of their training adventures, plus helped us expand the reach of @cbusmarathon’s Instagram network.
THE FINISH LINE
Lastly, Instagram was one of the cornerstones of the marathon’s race day social media strategy. Throughout the day, we posted photos and videos of athletes and scenes from around the course, coupled with heavy interaction with people tagging #columbusmarathon or #cbusmarathon.
As a result, @cbusmarathon had 988 followers on race day. Additionally, more than 1,000 photos were posted with the #cbusmarathon hashtag during and immediately after the race – a 42% increase over 2012.