'R U Social? Then "Fully Engage" or Risk the Angry Mob

Four Communication Lessons from the Rock 'n' Roll Half and Full Marathon in Las Vegas

The negative tweets and Facebook posts poured in nearly as fast as the runners at the end of the 2011 Rock 'n' Roll Half and Full Marathon in Las Vegas on Dec. 4. And three days later the critiques are still flowing.Photo by Thomas O. Manning

One of my friends running the 13.1-mile race swore he saw someone tweeting while running, but I didn't see such craziness.

At the end of my 26.2-mile journey through Las Vegas, I only saw Miss Nevada as she placed the glow-in-the-dark finisher medal around my neck. Everything else was a blur of 40,000 people, several 100,000 spectators and bright lights. I was happy to have my first night marathon behind me at 3:22:22.

My personal experience

I loved my Vegas marathon experience minus a few issues. Sure it was crowded, but I expected it. My only major complaint was that the racing tracking I paid for didn't deliver a single update. I feel for the runners who didn’t get the medical help they needed, couldn't get water or even their finisher medals. 

Instant feedback

A normal amount of post-race commentary and even a little chaos is expected, but later that night as I checked the #stripatnight hashtag on Twitter and the race’s Facebook page, an angry mob was growing at the finish and online. It wasn’t pretty.

Many participants were upset, angry and frustrated.

Any event organizer or race sponsors — especially those like customer-focused Zappos.com — dread such a negative response. But #stripatnight feed and the Facebook page were virtual focus groups providing uncensored feedback in real time.  

As I wrote this blog on the plane back to Virginia, six fellow racers continued to mostly rant, but there were also a few raves. For communicators and marketing types, this information is priceless. Plus, it’s free. 

The lesson for communicators and event organizers – whether it’s for 400 or 40,000 – is if you are on social media then truly use your social media channels to not only listen but engage with your followers.

If you're using social media for events, conventions, concerts or destination marketing that involves masses of humanity, then here are four communication tips to make your social media efforts (and ultimately your event) a success.

1. Staff accordingly.

Learn from social-media savvy organizations like @jetblue and @marine_marathon. Ensure that you have properly trained social media communicators, especially for the day of the big event.

Social media shouldn't be part of someone's job, it should BE their job.

Depending on the size of your social media presence and event, it should be several people's jobs.

2. Listen and respond.

Be candid and acknowledge possible areas of improvement. Don't be afraid to respond individually to fans or followers even if it takes you weeks. A post-race survey is terrific, but don’t center the first question on the economic impact of what runners spent while in Vegas. 

3. Dial up the communication.

Acknowledge that sometimes even the best planning falls short, and don't be afraid to quickly put your CEO or another leader out there to convey your message via video and other channels.

If you wait 24 to 36 hours, you probably are too late.

4. Learn. Improve. Run On.

Use the rapid fire of comments, feedback and rants immediately after the race to improve on future events and explain that process to your customers. Combine informal research with official research, like virtual focus groups, to truly engage your customers and to keep them coming back for more.

Jonathan Rhudy loves his new racing bling and recommends the Vegas marathon for anyone looking for a fast, flat course in a fun town. The race can only get better next year.