In social media terms, viral is a good thing. A viral post is one that’s shared widely, garnering plenty of attention and engagement. Viral social sharing often happens by accident (think crazy cat videos), but there are several things you can do with organic (i.e. free) social posting to help make your race go viral.

Curate Your Content

Don’t post willy-nilly about anything and everything. Instead, create and curate content that is:

  • Appealing, clever, funny, positive and/or evokes an emotional response
  • Easily shared
  • Image and video-rich
  • Brief
  • Never boring

Write Killer Hashtags

Hashtags are critical, especially on Twitter and Instagram. They’re not just about sounding clever (although that helps); they’re about making your event searchable and increasing engagement. People search by hashtags that interest them. You can search by your hashtags to find people talking about your event. Search engines pick up hashtags. A frequently used hashtag has a chance to become “trending.”

So, hashtags are a valuable tool. But what makes a good one? Be sure your hashtag is:

  • Short (be conscious of Twitter’s 140-character limit)
  • Relevant
  • Memorable
  • Positive and unique (run a search on each social network to make sure it’s not overused or used for something you don’t want to associate with)
  • Clear and free of double meaning (write it out in all lower case letters, then let a few people read it to ensure you’re not saying something unintentional or offensive)
  • Clever, inspirational, or actionable (consider incorporating a CTA)

Avoid Hashtag Overload

You may want to use several hashtags. For example, you may use one hashtag to identify your event (i.e. #leadville100mtb), another to add an aspirational effect (i.e. #embracetheepic), and still others to connect to broader social conversations (i.e. #motivationmonday or #mtbtrail). Remember that Twitter has a limited character count, so stick to a single hashtag for each Twitter post. Instagram allows you to go hashtag-crazy—but don’t. You can use several, but too much text in any post tends to be a turnoff. When in doubt—and this applies to every aspect of your social content—think about what you would like to read and see, as well as what would make you scroll past a post.

Create Contests

Contests of all sorts are a great way to give your social engagement a boost, and contests that utilize hashtags are ideal for increasing social conversation. Create a hashtag specific to the contest, and ask people to use the hashtag in order to enter. For example, the Miami Marathon might ask participants to post an image or video that best represents their experience at the race, using the hashtag #mymiami. Be sure to share the entries to generate extra buzz and new followers, and consider incorporating a sponsor that can contribute additional social sharing support and product prizes.

Think Visual

Think about your own behavior on social media. Are you more likely to look at a post that contains an image or video? Are you likely to skip over a post that is solely text? If you answered yes and yes, you’re not alone. Image and video posts receive the most engagement, so as often as possible, use them in your posts. Create a YouTube channel to host your video library.

Go Live

Social is all about the NOW, and new tools crop up all the time to help make your content as current as possible. Try Facebook Live and Periscope to create real-time video posts. Of course, make sure the content is meaningful and in the moment (there’s really no reason to make a course preview video “live”). A few live video ideas include:

  • Virtual athlete meeting/pre-race Q & A
  • “Ask me anything” with a sponsored pro
  • Live action from race day

Encourage Sharing

Sometimes, you need to spell things out for people. If you post an inspirational video of your final finisher on Facebook, a lot of your athlete followers will probably “like” it. A few may “share” it. But if you post that video, along with a message saying, “Share and show the world what it means to conquer the Boulder Peak Triathlon!” a majority of those “likes” will convert to “shares.” Make your CTA clear and compelling. This is also a great way to invite feedback and make your athletes feel they have genuine input. Deciding between two design options for your finisher shirt? Ask your audience which one they prefer.

Be Consistent

Social media is about so much more than race day itself. You need to invest time and effort into your social presence to build your audience and ensure plenty of people are watching and sharing all through the year, as well as when the action starts. A few tips to remember:

  • Post regularly (a few times a week is a solid strategy)
  • Respond rapidly to any questions, complaints, or compliments
  • Create “evergreen” content, such as training tips, course preview videos, and “behind the scenes at race HQ”—content that is relevant any time of year

Recruit and Reward Ambassadors

One of the best ways to grow your audience and go viral is to recruit ambassadors to help share the love. These are folks with a strong connection to your event. You can find them through hashtag searches, looking for repeat participants, and paying attention to the people who contact and engage with you the most. You can also seek out influencers within your community or sport. Ambassadors provide low-cost or no-cost marketing that usually comes across as more genuine than traditional promotions. Ask your ambassadors to share messaging, images, and hashtags and watch your engagement grow.

Break the Internet on Race Day

During race week and especially on race day, a majority of your audience should be tuned into your event. Be sure this is the case by letting them know where to find you (i.e. if your race day updates will all be on Instagram, make sure your Twitter and Facebook followers head there). Also tell them which hashtag to follow and use in their own posts.

In addition to your own on-the-spot posting, two of our Athlinks Services tools will greatly benefit your potential to go viral by providing personalized content—content which is highly likely to be shared/engaged with among your athletes’ friends and followers:

  • Athlete Updates allow athletes to subscribe to live updates that post on their Facebook page, tracking their progress through the race. Encourage your athletes to sign up and let their friends and family know to watch their page.
  • Free Athlete Images provide athletes with free race images that they are invited to download and share. Sponsors support this initiative, and in turn receive valuable exposure.

A Few Final Tips

Keep these points in mind when working on your social media presence:

  • Be a part of the conversation—like, share, retweet, repost, comment, and reply
  • Cross-promote your own social media channels on your website, blog, email communications, and other social networks
  • Experiment and learn—keep an eye on analytics, and you’ll quickly learn what works best for your event

Now go ahead and get your race trending!

Want even more advice on how to create and manage your social channels, plus an in-depth guide to paid social media? Download our two-part guide:

Race Director’s Guide to Social Media

Race Director’s Advanced Guide to Social Media