Social Media Is the Message for Olympics

The Olympic Games in London are set to begin this Friday, July 27th. The official motto is “swifter, higher, stronger”. If a lot of marketers, fans and athletes have anything to say, these Games will be the first Social Media Olympics — the “Socialympics,” as some are even calling them. Even the Olympic movement, which sometimes shifts into the future with great caution, has warily accepted the idea.  Here are some ideas from the NY Times about the growing relationship of the social media and the 2012 Olympics along with the controversies that surround it.

2012 Summer Olympics and the Social MediaThe biggest social media platforms have been around for several previous Olympics, including the Beijing Summer Games of 2008 and the Vancouver Winter Games of 2010. Facebook was founded in 2004, YouTube in 2005 and Twitter in 2006.

“Just as every new election is now called a social media election, every Olympics is now a social media Olympics,” stated Stanislas Magniant, a social media expert at MSLGroup, a public relations agency, in Paris. “But this is going to be vastly bigger in scale and magnitude.”

There are several reasons for this. First, summer Olympics are much more widely followed than their winter counterparts, so the Vancouver Games did not register in the same way in the social media stakes. Also, uncertainty about Chinese censorship of the Internet probably restrained social media activity before and during the Beijing Games in 2008.

Since the Beijing Games, social media platforms have taken off. Facebook has gone from about 100 million active users to about 900 million, Twitter from six million to about 150 million. Many more people now have smartphones, so they can react immediately to something they have seen in a stadium, arena, court, pool, ring or velodrome. Clearly the London Games will be tweeted, tagged, liked, blogged, mashed and rehashed like no previous Olympics.

All of this has created opportunities for the Olympic organizers, sponsors, participants and spectators. At the Beijing Games, the Olympics organizers did not even have a coordinated social media presence. At the London Games, there will be an “Olympic Athletes’ Hub,” to help fans follow competitors’ Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. The International Olympic Committee now has its own Twitter account and Facebook page, as well as separate areas for the public and the news media.

“We are at a dawn of a new age of sharing and connecting, and London 2012 will ignite the first conversational Olympic Games, thanks to social media platforms and technology,” Alex Huot, the I.O.C.’s head of social media, said via e-mail.

Athletes have taken to Twitter and Facebook with considerable enthusiasm. Rare is the Olympic competitor who does not have a Twitter account, monitored and updated 24 hours a day, either in person or via an agent. Olympic sponsors are perhaps even more active. Procter & Gamble has released a far-ranging social media initiative, as part of their marketing campaign called “Thank You, Mom,” which highlights the behind-the-scenes roles that mothers play in the lives of Olympic athletes. While the campaign began with a television advertisement, it quickly developed into a social media phenomenon. The video of the ad has been watched 25 million times on YouTube and other online video sites.

All this sharing and connecting has also created some new headaches. There is grumbling, for instance, about the restrictions that the organizers of the Games have imposed on this most freewheeling of media formats.

Local Olympic organizing committees always go to great lengths to protect sponsors, who sometimes shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to associate their brands with the Games, from so-called ambush marketing by companies that try to get free rides. Sometimes, as in the case of the London Games, special legislation is enacted. During the 2012 Olympics, the guidelines include provisions for social media, detailing what marketers can and cannot do. Among the banned actions are the use of certain word combinations in social media content: Nonsponsors have been warned not to try writing, “twenty-twelve” and “gold” in the same tweet.

Athletes and spectators face restrictions, too. Neither will be permitted to post video footage of sporting events to online forums. Participants are allowed to post on blogs or Twitter, but the postings must be in a “first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist,” the guidelines state. “They must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons, or disclose any information which is confidential or private in relation to any other person or organization,” the rules say.

Two Australian swimmers, Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk, have already gotten in trouble. They were disciplined by their country’s swimming team after they posted a picture on Facebook showing them with weapons during a visit to a gun shop in the United States. The two are now prohibited from using social media during the Olympics and will be sent home immediately after their events.

Mr. Magniant thinks that organizers would probably have to focus on the most blatant violations, like user-generated videos showing substantial portions of an event, thereby undermining official television coverage. They might have to turn a blind eye to minor misbehaviors — because they want to encourage fans to get involved.

“It’s a difficult line to walk,” he said. “It’s an all-out social media effort, but it’s a very controlled effort.”

Source: NY Times, July 1, 2012. Author, Eric Pfanner

Do you think that organizers will be able to enforce the guidelines once the Games get under way with millions of Facebook postings, Twitter messages and other social media activities taking place in real time on a global scale?

How do you feel about the restrictions that the athletes and spectators of the 2012 Summer Games face?

What do you think the social media will be like during the 2016 Summer Olympics?

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