Before they even began, these games were deemed “the first social media Olympics,” and that title has carried even more weight than originally expected. From Olympic-sized trending topics to players being expelled for their social media snafus, the Internet is ablaze.
Let’s take a quick tally of the carnage:
- A Swiss soccer player was banned after tweeting racist comments about his opponents. A Greek track star also was shown the door for the same reason
- A fan was arrested after tweeting offensive and threatening messages to an English diver, and even went on to become a trending topic: #GetRileyy_69Banned
- A British journalist’s Twitter account was suspended after writing angry messages about NBC’s delayed airings and ultimately exposing an NBC executive’s contact information, which may or may not have already been public knowledge (his Twitter account has since been reinstated, with an apology)
- Sponsor relationships have been banned from appearing in athletes’ social media posts, causing anger amongst many competitors
And many more minor-to-five-alarm-sized brushfires…
How did we get here? Go back to the last summer Olympics, the Beijing Games of 2008. Events were either televised live (or, yes, tape-delayed in some cases) on NBC, or via a YouTube account set up by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Spoilers weren’t a significant issue, because there wasn’t the constant fear of someone posting something on Facebook or Twitter — news came from news sources, not friends or followers.
Now we’re in a different world:
- Since 2008, Facebook users have increased from 100 million to 900 million
- Twitter is on track to have 500 million users by the end of the year — 250 million of which will be active users — compared to a mere 1 million users in 2008
- YouTube had 15 hours of video uploaded every minute in 2008. Now, a whopping 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute
And one other fun fact to note: this year’s opening ceremony generated 9.66 million tweets, surpassing the total number of tweets related to the entire Beijing 2008 Olympics in a mere 24 hours.
NBC and the IOC are well aware that these enormous increases can’t be ignored. The IOC made the official Twitter hashtag for the games ‘#London2012.’ NBC and Facebook have created Talk Meter, a tool accessed by “liking” the NBC Olympics fan page that allows users to track the sports and athletes fellow Facebookers are talking about. This data tool then gives insight to NBC about what to feature and the amount of coverage it should provide on events during prime time airings.
With NBC and the IOC’s new embrace of social media, they are keeping a watchful eye on both their athletes and their fans.
Athletes cannot mention sponsorships on social media due to the fear of ‘ambush marketing,’ when advertisers associate themselves with an event — as opposed to a single athlete — without paying event sponsorship fees.
Compounding the issue of athletes being thrown out of the games left and right for posting insensitive messages is the ongoing battle between network and audience. Many fans are in an uproar over the fact that social media is spoiling the Olympics for them, since NBC waits to air coverage until prime time.
“Let’s face it, nearly all of us are online now and we don’t engage with content in just one place any longer — those days are gone,” according to John Ward, DGWB head of digital strategy. “We want to watch our favorite athletes and then see what they have to say on their Twitter or follow the pictures they took on Instagram. Social media extends content and creates a personal connection to personalities and brands.”
A recent Harris Interactive study stated, “This year, 40% of people plan to follow the Olympic Games on more than one device, with 35% checking in on their tablets and 27% using their smartphone.”
“The London Olympics are proving that out in both positive and negative ways,” says Ward.
So do a ‘social media Olympics’ make for a good Olympic experience? It depends on how you look at it. Regardless of your thoughts, we can safely say #London2012 is the first Olympics of its kind, and the integration of social media is sticking around for a while.
[Image credits: Top via Techni; Middle via Facebook; Above, via Wired]