How parkrun is building a community through stories

Parkrun Feature 1

Cropping up in parks all over the world are groups of people that make up the parkrun community. parkrun is an organisation that holds weekly, 5km timed runs around the world. They are free, friendly, open to anyone and joined by more than 2.5 million participants – including me.

parkrun is now the world’s largest running event. But how did it get there? I think it’s through stand-out storytelling, creating a global community of parkrun runners, ambassadors and volunteers. 

So what can charities learn from how parkrun is harnessing storytelling?

User-generated content

User-generated content (UGC) is a really effective way of gathering stories from your ambassadors. It can help you demonstrate your impact, and reach even more potential volunteers and supporters.

parkrun is brilliant at motivating its supporters both on and off the track. They crowdsource content from their runners including powerful blogs, quotes, photos and videos.

They have a dedicated website to publish regular blogs from participants and volunteers sharing their experiences of running, and encouraging others to join in.

Check out this great example from Dawn Nisbet, describing the impact the parkrun community has had on her happiness.  She wrote it after her parkrun photo went viral last year.

Themed photography

Each week parkrun create a new theme and encourage their followers to dress up under that theme and snap and share a photo.

This is a great way of tying the communications about the runs into topical events and awareness days. Themes have included Christmas, ‘bring your parent to parkrun’ and Where’s Wally? to name a few.

It also keeps the call-out for content fresh and interesting, meaning people can engage with the ask week-on-week.

Take a look at the Northala Fields parkrun celebrating Chinese New Year and Valentines.

Email encouragement

On the Friday before the weekend runs, subscribers get a motivational email in their inbox. This acts as a reminder but also shares stories, news, articles on the benefits of participating, competitions and puts a spotlight on a different parkrun location each week.  

These emails give an extra opportunity for people to get involved: sharing stories of the week and putting a call-out for more anecdotes and photos for Facebook and Twitter.

And if you miss a few weeks, you receive an email to let you know you’ve been missed, keeping it really personal.

Engage, don’t broadcast

To grow your community through social media, it’s vital that you’re using your channels to engage and interact with people, rather than broadcast.

parkrun use their Twitter and Facebook channels not to broadcast information but to interact with their followers. They have regular conversations with parkrunners around the world.

Keeping this personal element to their social media makes their communications feel a lot more authentic, and their community feels valued. The #Loveparkrun hashtag brings together all of their communities.

Play to your platforms

parkrun are on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Each channel harnesses storytelling in a different way:

  • On Instagram they share photographs on-location at parkruns with quotes from their runners.
  • Twitter is all about gathering UGC and talking to their supporters.
  • Through their Facebook page they share news, offers, stories and have dedicated pages for each parkrun city – maintaining the local feel to each run.

They also harness the power of Facebook Groups, which is a great way to nurture communities, allowing participants to post questions, share experiences and connect with each other. The main parkrun discussion group on Facebook has over 20,000 members.

What remains consistent across all their platforms is the celebration of their participants and volunteers. This is key to their organisation’s storytelling.


Why not take inspiration from parkrun’s storytelling and try some of these tips at your charity?

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Jude Habib is the founder of sounddelivery, an award-winning digital media company set up to help charities embrace the changing digital media landscape and find new ways of telling their stories. Find them on Twitter at @sounddelivery.