Yesterday was the running of the Boston Marathon, one of the oldest races out there. Like a lot of American distance running enthusiasts, I had my eye on the progress of Ryan Hall, the fastest native born US marathoner - ever. It was very interesting watching his style of race. Getting my race coverage from a live blog on the Boston Marathon website, I would see Hall with the lead pack, then he'd be off their pace by about 15 seconds, then 20 minutes later he'd be leading again. What was he thinking?

It wasn't that he was running a sporadic careless race. He stayed consistent the whole time. He avoided the surges thrown in by the lead pack and ran his own race. His takeover of the race at the half-mile point appeared to be a gutsy move but he was doing his own thing, knowing that he had to cover 26.2 miles and that leading at the 15K mark wasn't going to make or break his long term goal. He didn't win but he made up a lot of ground the last 5K and finished with the fastest time ever by an American at Boston.

So what does this have to do with social media?

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen in social media use is visualizing the process as a sprint. Individuals or organizations open up a million accounts, follow or connection (friend) request hundreds of people and only use their timeline to blast information about their company, deals, sales or events that YOU need to attend. With a lack of a proper advertising budget - or strategy for that matter - social media is being used as a cheap advertising medium and not an engagement tool.

These are easy rookie mistakes to make but they are fogetting one important element to social media. The difference between social media and traditional advertising is that you have a selective audience. Your listeners have to choose to want to listen to what you have to say. They have to click "Follow" or "Become A Fan" (or "Like" now) to allow your messages to infiltrate their news feeds.

How is this permission granted?

It's not something that can be achieved in a matter of a couple of weeks. Unless you are a very well established national brand you aren't going to gain a huge following very quickly. It takes time to build relationships with people, establish trust and prove your credibility with a few. Eventually, provided you take the time to engage and not purely self promote, your network and audience will grow and your brand will prosper as a result.

Like Ryan Hall in the Boston Marathon, don't let the erratic pace of others dictate your goals. Establish your own course and keep your eye on the long term goals. Social media isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. Would you agree?