Social media has become the great equalizer between brands and fans and followers. It allows celebrities, brands, and public figures to interact at a personal and direct level with interested individuals such as you and me. As I’ve mentioned in the previous two blog posts in the series, a high level of interaction between an athlete and the online and real world community plays a large role in attracting sponsors and keeping them happy.

More followers, or friends, or tweeps, means a higher level of exposure for you to promote your brand, and in turn the brands of your sponsors. So how exactly can you use social media to your benefit? The specifics can be a little overwhelming for the social media newcomer, but here’s a quick run through with some good examples of social media brands for each.

Facebook offers a few options for how to register your profile, and if you happen to have more than 5000 friends then you actually will need a public figure profile, but if you’re like the rest of us chances are that your existing profile will do the trick (FYI, if you’re reading my blog I’m just going to assume you have Facebook already, if you don’t… well then…).

Most people know how to use Facebook and I suggest you continue doing so keeping in mind that as your fan base grows it will be important to maintain social interactions balanced with the level of privacy that you are comfortable with. Responding to friend requests often means others will be able to view your pictures, your status updates, and interactions you have with others.

The expectation around Facebook is that it is kept fairly current with status updates at least every few days. That being said, communications initiated by other users should be responded to within a day or two. A couple really good examples of interactive Facebook users would be Michael Phelps or Craig Alexander. They obviously have very different fan bases, but both offer up information themselves rather than simply having a Facebook wall where others admire them but they don’t actually post anything themselves. Note that Crowie has way more fans that Macca, also note who uses their profile more.

Twitter is a bit trickier for the uninitiated. Its pretty common that some people simply ask, “whats the point?”. To put it simply, Twitter is a medium for an ongoing, online conversation between friends and strangers, celebrities and fan, or brand and consumer. In 140 characters or less you can talk about what you did for training today, your thoughts on the latest current events and trending topics, ask a question for the masses, and the list goes on.

This Twitter 101 page actually provides a really good crash course on how to use Twitter, because I know that disseminating hash tags from @ symbols can be a bit tricky at first. With Twitter the trick is to not be intimidated and to get involved in the conversation. It can be a great resource to establish new connections and build your brand since you can converse with people without really “friending” them. If you see a trending topic or search for a particular keyword you have an opinion on, feel free to engage others in a friendly and concise manner.

There are actually quite a few really good Twitter using athletes out there like @LanceArmstrong (or his triathlete alter ego @JuanPelota), or @MirindaCarfrae but I want to give special mention to @MyTrainerBob and @KSwiss. I’ve found that Bob Harper from The Biggest Loser and K-Swiss actually do a really great job of interacting with their followers on a one on one basis in spite of the popularity of their brands and huge number of specific mentions they receive.

Lastly, with Twitter, frequent interaction is key, if you’re not tweeting at least a couple times a day, you may find you may get some unfollows. Additionally, try and keep the topics you tweet about limited to two or three main topics, plus current events. For example, I try and tweet about sports and marketing, plus whatever is trending or current that I have an opinion on. Try and keep the useless personal tweets to about 1/10, people like to see that you’re a real person who runs errands and watches movies, but they don’t really care that you couldn’t find your socks this morning.

Blogging is another component of the social media mix that is worth doing if you have the time. Its more time consuming and harder to fit into your schedule than Twitter and Facebook, but it can be a very rewarding way to document your triathlon journey.

Similar to other social media channels, people often wonder what to talk about in their blogs, even when it comes to training and racing. Simply put, it could be similar to a journal where you talk about how your training is going, how your races went, and how far you’ve come. Triathlon is a sport of challenge, adversity, and learning, so reading about how others handle everything from tough training sessions, to challenging group rides, to balancing sport with life can be very enlightening.

As with training for the sport of triathlon, consistency is key when it comes to blogging. I know that I break my own rule here a little bit since my blogs seem to skip a week every once in a while, but once every week or two is ideal. As for length, use your own discretion, sometimes you’ll have lots to write, sometimes you’ll just have a few sentences.

Networked Blogs has a fairly comprehensive list of some of the most followed blogs pertaining to triathlon, check it out for ideas.

Anyways, thats the quick rundown on social media. As I said at the beginning, social media is a great equalizer that can be an excellent channel for brands, consumers, public figures, and the general public to communicate. Its important to take advantage of the reach that it can provide to build your own brand, broaden your base of sponsors, keep your friends and fans updated on progress towards your goals, and of course recognize all the people that help and support you towards those goals.