2012 London Olympic Lessons in Social Media

Friday, 03 August 2012

Not only is London is the first city to have hosted the Games three times, and the first to include women’s boxing; it’s also the host of the first truly social Games.

The opening ceremony, with its continuous on-screen social feed, left people in no doubt that the London 2012 Games signifies a turning point in the history of large scale event broadcasting. The ceremony, and the buzz leading up to it, had a tangibly interactive vibe: spectators were even encouraged to use personalised ‘pixel devices’ behind their seats during the opener, to create user generated content which played out on our tv screens at home (/ in the pub).

Commentator, Spectator or Participant?

Social media is blurring the boundaries between participant, commentator and spectator: we now have a myriad of ways to get involved in the Games – it’s all new because social media was heavily restricted in the 2008 Games due its Beijing location.

Is Social Media Changing Sport?

The reporting format of the world’s biggest sporting event has been dramatically altered by social media. There has been criticism of the way the IOC has been implemented its strategy; but there’s no denying that social media is allowing people to participate in the world’s largest sporting event in a completely new and exciting way.

How Can I Get Involved?

Twitter has been proclaimed the gold medallist of Olympic communication – 98% of social media commentary during the opening ceremony happened there.

The Guardian has launched a range of social media initiatives including a live blog, experts’ network and readers’ diaries. The FT has a dedicated Olympic Twitter feed, and the BBC has a great app you can download to keep up to date on the go.

The official Olympic Athletes’ Hub integrates with your Twitter or Facebook and allows interaction with the athletes. You’ll also get free access to real-time updates and behind-the-scenes content from the Olympic villages. Athletes have been encouraged to get active on social media – although strict limits have been imposed on promoting products and services from sponsors or tweeting about other athletes.

Teething Problems + Fine tuning

Like any intrepid exploration, the Olympic journey into social media has thrown up its fair share of teething problems:

Problem #1: Trolls

An illiterate thug on Twitter gained notoriety after Tweeting a succession of abusive messages at UK diving hopeful Tom Daley. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to avoid trolling in your online media activity – the best strategy is to encourage genuine followers to retweet positive messages to drown out the few who spoil it – try to avoid giving them a platform. (Don’t feed the troll – take note Dorset Police)

Problem #2: Social Spoilers

Organisers have been living in fear that spoilers about the ceremony and events would be leaked on social media. Viewers in America were also constantly reminded that they were watching the ceremony hours behind the UK. The hashtag #savethesurprise was introduced to encourage people to keep the secret, but also build a buzz.

Problem #3: Overload!?

The IOC claimed to be the victim of its own social media success at the opening of the Games  – it blamed problems transmitting race time data to BBC commentators on the volume of Tweets crashing the system.

Problem #4: Heavy handed policies

The IOC has been accused of being too strict in its rules about athletes: they are banned from mentioning their sponsors or reporting on events other than their own performances.

No matter how many medals we win or lose on home soil, you can be sure of one thing: the 2012 Olympic Games will be remembered for its quintessentially British quirk: the moaners, the Queen; the anarchy – and for leading the way in an online industrial revolution – a revolution of official, large scale events broadcasting on digital media.

What do you think? Have Olympic organisers ruined the chance of being a social success with their rules? Have you taken to Twitter to cheer our teams?

P.S – Go Team GB!