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Competitor Inc’s Social Media Lesson

Engaging your customer in a conversation via the Internet is great approach for companies to take when they are trying to raise awareness of their product and build a sense of community. Competitor runs a print magazine division and is also the parent of the Rock N Roll Marathon and 1/2 Marathon series. The race series has a presence both on Twitter (@rocknroll) and it seems many of their races have a fan page on Facebook. The marathon that I filed my 2010 Country Music Marathon Race Report on yesterday has its own Facebook page. I am sure when these outlets were set up, the content owner was thinking how great it would be and everyone could stir each other into a frenzy and increase signups.

Flash back momentarily to the days before 2004. This company and these events would have their own websites to broadcast information and might have forums where people could post comments. These facilities would be provided by the company, be hosted on the company’s servers, and the tone of the content would undoubtedly be monitored and if need be censored by the company. With Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets – this level of control is gone. Given the lack of planning I described yesterday, I’m willing to bet no one at the Rock N Roll series planned for what would happen if the masses turned on them.

Seemingly, that is what has happened. There is little official comment on the Country Music Marathon race site. The results page, which did have open comments going, has had the comments purged and ability to comment closed. But there is no closing Facebook and twitter. Here’s a quick sample of what people are saying on the Country Music Marathon and 1/2 Marathon Facebook page:

David Threm writes, “$100 for race entry 800 miles driven, $160 on gas $175 for hotel Being diverted at mile 21 in a slight storm and having finishers complete hours after I (any many others) would have, plus; no decent communication from race officials PRICELESS!!!”.

Mark Wagstaff shares my sentiments when he states, “Still upset. Still feel cheated. 20.5 miles only feels like 1/2 a marathon. It is the last 6 miles that is the difference between a marathon and a training run.”.

Amy Cox sums it up soup to nuts in her statement that “What a terrible experience. Traffic getting to the race was a nightmare, and I say this even though I live in Atlanta. Even though I only ran the half marathon, I attended the event with a friend who was running the full. It was announced that because of the weather, anyone not on time to finish the marathon in 4 ½ hours would be diverted at the 11.2 mile split. Why then was he diverted at the 21.5 mile mark? And the race was started 15 minutes early with no notification? And it was hours before we could get out of parking lot N after the race. We were only able to get out when we did because a private citizen took it upon himself to stand in the rain and direct traffic. There were plenty of police officers around bu

t they certainly weren’t directing traffic.I will not attend any more of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series events.”.

And Jim Toel really sums up the root cause of this problem as communication. “I too was pulled off at 21 miles and I am very disappointed. More so that I have not heard or read any official comment or press release from the CMM people on how they intend to handle us. I understand I did not run a full marathon but I did not run a 1/2 either….. Unlike my official posted finishing time on the website. I really wish they would tell us what we should do!!!!!!”

We marathoners are a rare breed and a tight group. We’re crazy. And we’re also forgiving. At the end of the day, we just want acknowledgement and to know that we are heard. It’s a cliche, but after 48 hours of nothing official from race organizers, the silence has become deafening.

Clearly this is a public relations nightmare for an organization that wants to continue to bring in race entries and sponsors. How will they respond? We’ll have to wait and see. As I alluded to yesterday, most participants did the half marathon and thus were not affected. Even the ones still on the course 1 hour after I was pulled off (yes, I could’ve covered that 10k in about an hour). I am anxious to see their response and how this race is handled in the future.

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