Yesterday was an uncharacteristically big day for me in terms of keeping an eye on sports.
Here in Ottawa, some friends were running in the Ottawa Marathon, so I wanted to know how they did (PS: WOO Karen!) In Indianapolis, one of my favorite drivers, Dario Franchitti, won a thrilling Indianapolis 500 victory. In Monte Carlo, the classic Monaco Grand Prix was won by Mark Webber.
But most important of all for me: young Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria, BC, won the Giro d’Italia. Ryder is the first Canadian cyclist to win a “Grand Tour”, as races like the Giro are called. Ever. To this cyclist, the accomplishment is superhuman. In three weeks, riders travel the equivalent of Vancouver to Sault Ste. Marie (or, if you’re an American, from the TransAmerica Tower in San Francisco to Harpo Studios in Chicago.) Along the way, they ride some incredibly difficult climbs, with gradients that can average over 10% and peak over 20% (think bicycling up flights of stairs). At the end of each day, the sprinters push their bikes up to over 40 mph and jostle their way to the ribbon.
And cyclists do this day after day (in the Giro and the Tour de France, there are two rest days in the three weeks of riding), sometimes after falling. Remember this from last year’s Tour de France?
The second rider falling was named Johnny Hoogeland. He went upside-down into barbed wire. He got 33 stitches. After he finished the day’s race! And then he finished the tour – 12 more days of riding. With 33 stitches.
My point is: cycling is a tough sport, an incredible feat of athleticism. In Europe, it’s also a massive sporting event. The budget for the Tour de France in 2009 was $140M US. 15 million spectators see the Tour pass by them, and it’s estimated that spectators spend more than $50M US. It’s broadcast worldwide, and there are 3.5 BILLION television watchers.
But in North America, it’s an extremely niche sport, even after Lance Armstrong. Most of my friends are casual observers of cycling at best. When I went to my local pasta shop yesterday, I suggested they do a Ryder special to celebrate the victory. I might as well have suggested a “Red Planet” special to celebrate the existence of Mars.
What’s all this cycling crap mean, anyway? What’s my point? Well, I have two.
When you’re doing social media work for your business, you need to have an intimate knowledge of your context, and your culture. If you’re selling baby clothes online, then don’t talk about Maxim magazine. If your chosen community is marathoners, don’t talk about swimming.
How do you figure out what to talk about? What matters?
Step one: LISTEN. To understand your audience, your community, your market, LISTEN to them before your start talking.
Step two: CONVERSE. Don’t pitch. Don’t sell. CONVERSE. Talk to people about what they do, talk to people about what’s happening in the interest that you share.
Just because you care deeply about something doesn’t mean your friends, your customers, or your community automatically does. Test the waters. Understand the culture of your community. Understand the context of your business. You don’t make the rules. The community does.
Except in this case, where I got to talk about Ryder Hesjedal.