The London 2012 Social Media Olympics

The London 2012 Social Media Olympics

With just a couple of weeks to go, tension is building as the world’s media spotlight turns its glare to London and the 2012 Olympic Games. This Olympics is going to be different than previous events as traditional media outlets will be vying for viewers’ attention alongside a raft of social media alternatives. Like many aspects of the Olympics, we await for events to unfold, yet one thing is for certain: before the first hurdle is jumped, javelin thrown or shot put, this will be the most tweeted, tagged, “liked” and discussed Games in history. The 2012 “socialympics” (#cringe!) comes at a time when social networking has reached levels that would have been deemed almost preposterous during Beijing 2008.

In those four years it seems that now everyone has acquired a Smartphone and can access social media with ease. Twitter users have risen from 6m in 2008 to anything up 500m according to Wikipedia (although many reports quote around the 150m mark). During that period Facebook has grown from 100m users to 900m, and now in 2012 more than 800 million unique users visit YouTube per month.

The sheer weight of numbers and ease of access means this will be probably be the most connected social media event ever. However it does come with a few ground rules. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has published Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines for participants and workers at London 2012.

In summary, participants are encouraged to tweet, post and blog their experiences – but not for commercial or advertising purposes. And to differentiate from general reporting, they have to be in a first person “diary type-format” and must not comment on the activities of other participants. Video and audio of activities and events at Olympic venues, should be used for personal purposes only and cannot be posted onto public sites. I think broadcasters such as NBC who paid more than $4 billion to retain US Olympic television rights to 2020, might agree with this approach!

Olympic employees and the legion of volunteers or “Game Makers” as they are called face tougher restrictions. They will not be allowed to post details of their roles, locations or backstage activities at events they are working on, or about the athletes online. They will need prior permission from Olympics spokespeople to make public statements. This may at first appear slightly draconian, but in reality it is little different from working for any large organisation where corporate reputation is at risk. Throw in the heighted security fears with the very real risk of libelling Olympic athletes and you can see why the organisers would prefer volunteers to re-tweet official statements.

So what can we expect social media to bring to the Games? Social media research will uncover the winners and losers in the online media landscape over the next few weeks. So as we move into slightly unchartered territory, here are some social media predictions for London 2012, including the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

The London Games will offer a richer media experience than ever before. For example the BBC will offer access to “up to 24 live HD streams and 2,500 hours of coverage” via their BBC Sport website on PC and laptop. In addition a free mobile app will allow access via hand held devices while viewers are on the go. As a result more people will be able to view more events than ever before. Combine this broader coverage with the ability to follow live commentary of tweets and posts during events in virtual real time and I think people will enjoy a much more engaging media experience. It will also be fascinating to see how online viewing figures compare with traditional ones.
We will also get greater insight into how athletes are preparing for events, how they cope with the stresses of completion and they feel after winning or losing. The IOC has created “The Athletes’ Hub” as a portal for Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of those athletes taking part.
And for those who want to interact in debate and discussion, people can feel more a part of the games than ever before. Those disappointed not to get tickets can still get involved as can viewers in other countries. The combination of the internet and Olympics will bring everyone closer together.
It will also of course be a great opportunity for brands to raise awareness. Organisers have clamped down hard on potential guerrilla marketing activity to safeguard rights for official sponsors, but organisations that can create unusual and compelling content around the Games may emerge as surprise gold medal contenders in the ongoing communications battle. It would be an interesting social media research project to see whether official sponsors come out on top in terms of digital coverage in the earned media space

The Games will also probably produce its own share of unlikely champions and celebrities. Imagine the next “Eddie the Eagle” or “Eric the Eel” going viral - it will create some very interesting online media sponsorship angles. Getting digital champion to endorse a product may well be a better way of driving online advocacy.

The Bad

Security will be a major issue and the traditional press will be keen to highlight any gaps or breaches. It’s only a matter of time before someone tweets something which is considered a risk to Olympic or national security. Let’s hope it’s the message and not the medium that get’s carries the blame.
Journalists will also be waiting with unrestrained glee should any athlete post or Tweet something untoward. Despite the IOC guidelines, expect some hastily removed accusations about fellow athletes cheating or drug taking and the ensuing media storm around it.
Social media will also provide a powerful microscope beneath which every aspect of the Game’s organisation will be held under intense scrutiny. Cue complaints about heavy handed and inflexible officials, travel chaos, lengthy queues to get into the Olympic Park and the food prices once inside. Olympic organisers will need to be on top of their active web listening in order to highlight and deal with complaints from disgruntled customers will be telling. If they have the right social media research set up, they should be able to quickly identify frequent pain points and hot spots and be equal to the challenge.

The Ugly

Unfortunately, if the coverage in the run up to the Games is anything to go by, branding and sponsorship activity will be hotly and, perhaps even legally, contested. Any brands falling foul of the tight restrictions put in place by the Olympic organisers are likely to be fined or end up in court. Content placed and discussed on social networks will represent a massive grey area, and could up in a series of legal challenges. Differentiating between the views or individuals, endorsements from celebrities/influencers and branded messages, I predict, will be increasingly complex. Accurate social media monitoring will need to be used to track and aggregate online conversations.
However, to be clear, when looking at the overall package, I believe the good will far outweigh the bad. Roll on the first Social Media Olympics and, for that period across July and August, let the Olympic Village become a global village boasting within which everyone can get involved.

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