This past weekend I was a bystander and team-supporter at the ING New York City Marathon. The NYC Marathon is a major event and a massive undertaking in New York City: this year, 43,0741 participants ran the 26.2 miles through all 5 NYC boroughs – from Staten Island up to the Bronx, and then back down to the finish line in the heart of Central Park. Two million spectators came out to cheer them on, and about 30 million more viewers followed the race from locations worldwide.
The marathon has been a tradition in NYC for 40 years now, but this year’s crowds owe a lot to social media. For example, my team raised over $14,000 for a charity called Team Continuum, primarily through fund-raising efforts on Facebook. Participants alerted their networks to the fact that they were running for this charity, provided links to the fund-raising page, and sent out frequent updates on their progress toward meeting the financial goal. They also kept their networks posted on their training progress via newsfeed (i.e. “in agony: ran 17 miles”). With buzz generated for the various charities and the marathon itself, you could say that I (not to mention my team of friends who were actually running!) was pretty keyed up for the race on Sunday.
The ING New York City Marathon as an organization used social media in an interesting way on race day, although there are still opportunities to optimize their efforts (more on that later). Marathon sponsors The NY Road Runners Club created a system that allowed spectators to track up to ten participants. By entering a runner’s name into the system up to three days in advance, you would receive an email or text when that runner crossed each 5K interval up to the finish line. While you could not actually interact with the participant while they were running the marathon, this system allowed spectators and supporters a level of “participation” in the event. To take this interaction to the next level, in the future NY Road Runners could allow the system to tweet or send a facebook newsfeed alert from the runner each time they crossed one of the 5K marks. This would allow the participant’s entire network to know how the runner was doing.
Another interesting (although mildly disturbing) phenomenon I observed was that some runners were using their cell phones to call friends during the race: “Hi, yeah, I’m here at mile 14 and I’m pretty tired. Are you at the bar with our friends? Ok cool, see you there in about 2 hours.” I can just BET that some of these same people sent mobile photos to their facebook pages while running…! While none of the runners I knew did anything like this, they still posted a ton of pictures to facebook after the race to let their networks know about their accomplishments. The photos and other newsfeed updates generated a ton of praise and congratulations… and rightly so!
In all, the event was seriously inspiring, and social media played a major role in drumming up support and excitement before, during, and after the race. As I said on my facebook status on Sunday: congratulations to all of the participants!!