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Lessons social media practitioners can learn from gymnasts: Part I

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As a former gymnast, I am an Olympics nut. I’m pretty much going to turn into a couch potato for the next two-plus weeks. I wholeheartedly admire the athletes that represent any country and I believe in the spirit of the Games. Those of you who have competed in or committed to a sport in some shape or form know the discipline, persistence, sacrifices and hard work it takes to perfect a skill or improve your speed.

As I think about gymnastics, inevitably my mind starts drawing parallels between this graceful yet challenging sport and social media. Here are some lessons social media practitioners can learn from gymnasts:

Dedication: If you’re not committed as a gymnast, you will not be able to reach your full potential. This applies to social media, too. If you’re not dedicated to keeping your channels alive with engaging content, you will not be able to reap all the benefits of social media. Social is not just about campaigns or amplification—it is about delighting your audience with ongoing engagement in a conversational manner.

Focus: Can you imagine performing flight series and multiple aerial elements on the four-inch wide (10 centimeters) balance beam that is 4.07 feet (124 centimeters) high without staying focused? If the athlete loses her focus, she will wobble or maybe even fall, which will be reflected in her score.

The same concept is true in social media. Know your target audience and stay focused on delivering what matters to THEM. By doing so, you can help them tune out the noise and cut through the clutter. In addition, it will help you stay on budget and efficiently use your resources.

Conditioning: If you have ever wondered where gymnasts get their bodies from, look no further than conditioning. Conditioning is a system of different exercises that help an athlete build strength, power, endurance, flexibility and agility. It is needed before the gymnast can learn or master a new skill, or perform high-intensity routines lasting up to 90 seconds. As you can imagine, this is an ongoing activity and a key part of the training regimen.

In the world of social media, “conditioning” is getting your house in order through gaining buy-in from your executives (blog 1, blog 2), educating your employees on your social media policy, training them on social media how to’s and recruiting subject matter experts not only to provide functional expertise to your audience, but also to help your company scale its social media efforts.

A quick tip: it is very important to revisit the topics mentioned above and adjust your deliverables on a regular basis. Don’t just set things up at the beginning and then walk away.

Visualization: This is a technique many gymnasts use to “see, say and do” a routine or skill. Without really performing the routine or skill, the gymnast moves his or her body using small arm sets (i.e. “little movements”) to feel the movement in the body and says his or her words while visualizing the skill. Essentially the gymnast plans out what he or she is going to do and how, and projects the desired outcome.

This reminds me of the principles of social media planning and aligning your plan to your business objectives. The more thoroughly you plan, the more concise, consistent and powerful outputs you can deliver.

Let’s pause here for a second. When I say planning, I mean not only planning your engagement (i.e. talking) but also listening. Lead with listening (In fact, you should listen twice as much as you speak). This is a common challenge. As eager and enthusiastic you may be to jump in right away, it’s highly beneficial to listen first. Listening to (and familiarizing yourself with) your target audience’s care-abouts, pain points, competitive considerations, etc, can help your engagement strategy tremendously.

Stay tuned for Part II of my blog next week.

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