Engage and inspire during the Marathon

With five and a half hours of coverage on BBC1, the Virgin London Marathon is a golden opportunity to engage and inspire. Here are some ideas for using your digital communications to connect with current and new supporters.

I always find Marathon day emotional. Watching the thousands of ‘fun runners’ slogging their guts out in the rain / snow / heat of a Sunday morning, many of them in ridiculous costumes is addictive. I love seeing so many charities represented in such a huge event. It’s such a positive day with all the coloured vests and logos and the cheering crowds egging the runners on. That so many thousands of people have been inspired to do such a significant physical test by events in their lives is humbling. I can’t be the only one with tears in my eyes while watching the short interviews with the parched runners sharing that they are doing it to support their mum / friend / children in Africa.

Watching all this has not inspired me to don my trainers and sign up for an event myself (am not really a jogger) but I have been inspired to make a donation. There are millions of potential armchair supporters and potential runners out there, here are thoughts and examples of how to use your digital comms to engage them into action before, during and after the big event. It’s a super busy fortnight for charity communications with all the work related to the Marathon but the potential to engage and inspire is huge, so give it all you’ve got!

Your comms should be doing three things:

  • engaging your runners and supporters
  • inspiring future runners
  • inspiring donations.

1. Celebrate your runners and supporters

Whether you have one runner or a team of 500, you should be taking many opportunities to say good luck and thank you in the before and after the big event. Social media is obviously brilliant for this as you can get a quick informal or creative message out there. It is very effective to get a thank you from a person (rather than the organisation). Whether this is from someone within fundraising, the chief executive, a celebrity patron or a beneficiary of your charity, a message from a real person is important. Include a photo or even better some audio or a video. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Take a look at this good luck message from Rachel tweeted by Muscular Dystrophy this morning. <Update – and lots of other inspiring good luck messages pre Marathon curated by Kirsty Marrins)

Video tweet from @TargetMD

As brilliant as social media is, don’t forget how effective it is to receive a personal email. A simple good luck and thank you email landing in your inbox can mean a lot when you are balancing the excitement and nervousness before the race. A final pep talk message may work well, as well as a link to timings, locations and safety information.

The way that you write is important too. Show that you understand how participants are feeling. This page from WhizzKids is a good example of empathic writing. It has strong personality and conveys enthusiasm and a buzz in the build up to the big day (eg delighted to have you on board / the spectacular support etc). The Marathon is a chance for you to put some personality into your communications.

WhizzKidz marathon page

With so much to do over the fortnight, use all the tools in your arsenal well. Applications such as TweetDeck are invaluable here as you can schedule messages to be sent without you having to press the button. Write your group tweets in the week before – schedule good luck messages in the days before and half an hour before the start, say thank you at the end of the day and again the next morning.

Runners want to share their moment instantly, updating your website next Friday is too late. Share photos (on Flickr or Facebook) as soon as possible.

Celebrate all that your runners and supporters have achieved. Share stats (how many runners, how much raised so far, what will this pay for, how many volunteers, how many smiles, how many umbrellas). Share stories (assuming your runners have given you permission). Share success.

All of this is a lot of work but worth it to show that you are taking care of your runners and appreciate all that they have done.  Your poor runners have had to train through this horrible winter and raise money in tough times, it’s time to show them some love.

2. Inspire future runners

All the coverage will naturally inspire future runners. Plan how you might try to convert ‘I’ll do it one day’ runners into ‘I’m signed up’ runners. Think about what motivates someone to do a marathon. Think about how to communicate with them to give them that final push to sign up. Also think about what might stop them signing up (usually procrastination or not knowing how). During the weekend, tweet, post to Facebook and highlight on your homepage, details of your future running events including how people can sign up to the Marathon 2014. Simply:

  • prominently promote future events
  • make it easy to sign up for other events / register interest for 2014 – can you publish a short temporary form?
  • check that your sign up forms are optimised for mobile (see checkout guide for some ideas)
  • pledge to reply to each form by the end of the week – don’t let the momentum go to waste.

Use Sunday’s event to gather inspiring material – take photos, record interviews, take video or audio of the atmosphere to use throughout the year to inspire future runners. See Children with Cancer’s video from 2012 which has such energy as well as personal stories and thanks from the charity.

<Update (again) from Kirsty Marrins who has gathered some videos that inspire post Marathon)

3. Promote TextGiving

Use an event like this to channel extra fundraising and make it easy for people to give. Use twitter to keep your followers involved with what is happening and help them feel like they are part of it all by showing them how to donate. A smart use of #hashtags may also help attract new followers.

Shamelessly tweet your JustTextGiving details to your followers and encourage them to RT. Not everyone knows someone who is running so help your followers and supporters make a donation. If they are out and about, or watching the TV coverage while watching twitter, a quick SMS donation is the simplest thing for them to do. Make it easy for them.

  • Have a short standard TextGiving tweet which can easily be retweeted.
  • Use #hashtags to join in with the buzz and potentially connect with new supporters – #vlm / #londonmarathon
  • Send one ‘this is what we do’ tweet (eg We have XX #vlm runners raising money to help children with XX)
  • If you have a target, share it (last year we raised XX, can we raise XX+X this year?).
  • Share stories of how the money helps.

Conclusions

Whether you are running, supporting, working or just watching from your bed, have a wonderful Marathon day. I’ll be there with my tissues.

Here are some other useful Marathon-related guides:

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