Creating an online identity for your race should start with your race website. Second to that, you should put your energy into a social media strategy and there is no better place to start than Facebook.
Facebook has by far the largest online community of users and wealth of features than any other network. According to Running USA’s National Runner Survey, 44% of runners use the platform as a primary source of race information.
So when it comes to marketing your race on Facebook, where do you begin?
In the rest of this article, we take a look at all the different tools Facebook has to offer for marketing your event, discussing each one’s strengths and weaknesses – starting with your Facebook page.
Your Facebook page
Facebook has long aspired to offering its users a self-contained experience, that includes anything from their daily news to their shopping – sort of like a mini-internet within the internet.
In that sense, the best way to think of your Facebook page is to think of it as your website on Facebook. It is the place where you provide information about your brand and where your fans should turn to first to hear what you have to say.
Your Facebook page is your race’s voice on Facebook. As such, it is primarily intended for broadcasting your brand rather than creating discussions around it (that’s what Facebook groups are for). You can use your page to post updates about your brand, share images, video and other content and receive messages from Facebook users. Very importantly, you can use your Facebook page to advertise on Facebook, as well as host Facebook events and linked groups.
Your Facebook page should sit at the core of your Facebook marketing strategy and should rank in importance in your digital identity second only to your website, only because your website allows you greater control and ownership over your visitors. So, wherever you provide social links for your race, such as in your email signature or website header/footer, you should be pointing to your Facebook page.
If you decide to embark on a social media presence, start with a Facebook page – be responsive, post worthwhile content and don’t cut corners. Your investment will soon pay dividends.
Facebook events are often confusing to event organisers, whose primary brand/product is itself an event.
That is understandable. When you run a clothes store, for example, and want to promote the launch of your new collection, the distinction between store (promoted through a Facebook page) and event is clear. When you organise a race, however, knowing how to use your page and events and what content to post on each takes a bit more thinking.
Let’s say you organise “ABC Marathon” with a couple more distances – say, a half marathon and 10k – taking place on the same day. What should go under page and what under event?
Hierarchically, you should think of your event (“ABC Marathon”) as an ‘umbrella’ over your races (the marathon, half marathon and 10k). Your event should be your Facebook page and your races should each be a Facebook event under that Facebook page.
In your page you should post content relevant to ABC Marathon the brand, e.g. sponsorship deals, community initiatives around your event, news from race ambassadors etc. More race-specific content, such as details on arriving at the start line, weather or course conditions etc should be posted in the respective Facebook event page. Significant race-specific content, such as the opening of registrations, should appear in both your Facebook page and Facebook event.
You need to remember that Facebook events have an event venue and an event date, and after that event date expires the Facebook event expires as well. So you don’t want to invest too much in building up your Facebook event. Thankfully, Facebook gives you limited options in doing that. What you want to do is grow an audience under your Facebook page which you can engage with at any time.
You should always add Facebook events for your races under the respective Facebook page you manage. Since posting on Facebook events is open to the public, they provide excellent Q&A forums for prospective participants and help create a gentle peer-to-peer joining nudge amongst Facebook users.
Facebook groups are online communities of Facebook users interested in a common topic. Groups are set up and managed by administrators who control posting permissions and other group settings.
Groups can be public (anyone can join), closed (users can request to join) or private (like closed with the added feature than these private groups do not appear on searches). Groups can also be linked to a Facebook page in a way that allows the page to post in the group alongside regular Facebook users.
Facebook groups used to be a Facebook page’s poor cousin, but this is changing with the dramatic shift by Facebook earlier in the year towards linkedFacebook groups and community-building. As a result, Facebook is undergoing a groups revolution that has made groups linked to pages a very attractive proposition for many races.
There are many things you can do with a Facebook group and some important things you can’t (notable amongst the latter being paid advertising). You can, for example, use groups to stimulate engagement with your participants and volunteers, as discussed in this detailed post. But you still can’t advertise a group or posts in it and many of the things that make the revamped groups more attractive – e.g. the ability to post in the group as your page – still make having a Facebook page necessary.
So, thumbs up on Facebook groups overall, but only if you have time to invest in the communities you plan to build and only after you’ve set up a Facebook page which should still serve as your main branding platform on Facebook – and within any groups you set up.
Ok – so this this leaves us with….
Your personal page
You shouldn’t be surprised to hear that your personal page has a role to play in your overall Facebook strategy.
Starting with the obvious, you will need a personal profile to be able to do anything on Facebook, such as create and admin pages and groups. You will also need a personal profile to post on other groups which could be useful for promoting your race. So you will need to mind what you do and how you come across your personal page as any personal activity will inevitably reflect back to your race and your brand on Facebook.
Your personal profile, however, is more than a liability of putting a foot wrong on Facebook – on the contrary. There are great things you could be doing to enhance your event that are only possible through your personal page, such as:
- Sharing content from your page with your friends.
Presumably a good number of those are either racers or race organisers who would be interested in you race. One word of advice, though: keep it selective. Share major race landmarks, announcements and press activity, but do not be tempted to share every single page post. There are laws of diminishing returns in doing so.
- Reaching out to individual participants.
There are many reasons why you might want to connect personally with participants in your race. As a page, you don’t have that ability, so the only way to do it is through your John/Jane Smith. Use your personal profile to approach disgruntled participants, prospective race ambassadors or to thank race evangelists (racers who feel so strongly positively about your race, you caught them singing its praises).
There you have it: there’s a place for personal, you just have to use it right and use it wisely. And never – ever ever – set up your race on a personal page. Ever. Please.