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London Olympics a New Bar for Social Media
Written by Betsy
Tuesday, 10 July 2012 12:13


Summer 2012 Olympic buzz is well under way. In the consumer arena, much of the talk is revolving around how social media will be used and who will be the best in class. A July 8th Mashable article by Sam Laird takes a concise but entertaining look at 2008 versus 2012 activity levels on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, making the point that Four years is an eternity in Internet time. Clearly, the Olympics in London mean big business in social media terms. But what are those terms, exactly? How will success be quantified? Much has been said about how sponsors, with the U.S. Olympic team sponsors Team USA sponsors including names ranging from Coca-Cola and McDonald’s to one of the 2008 Olympics social media “pace setters”, Nike. As anticipated, budgets exponentially increased in order to develop engaging, relevant content. Likes, Followers and unique visits will shape the story here, separating the winners from the rest of the pack. But beyond the sponsors, attention will gravitate around the athletes themselves.

For sponsors, competing countries, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) alike, there exists some degree of risk – as well as the potential for great reward – in how these athletes decide to harness social media. What should the limits be, if in fact there can be limits? Based on the IOC Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines, it can be deduced that athletes and the media covering them/engaging with them will be under scrutiny. One excerpt in particular states that “Postings, blogs and tweets should at all times conform to the Olympic spirit and Olympism as contained in the Olympic Charter, be dignified and in good taste, and not contain vulgar words or images.” In an effort to make following favorite athletes more efficient and consolidating Olympic news and event updates in the same place, The Olympic Athlete's Hub centralizes the most popular sorts of information sought. But not every athlete has 10 million+ Facebook Likes like Kobe Bryant or Roger Federer, where a world-class PR team will guard against social media missteps. And Big Brother may not be able to keep tabs on each and every one of the approximately 14,000 Summer Olympic athletes. And ironically, the money could be in the missteps.

Getting to know the athletes on a personal basis in a short amount of time is a major advantage of social media. With many of the sports entering the widespread public conscience just once every four years, this could be the only chance for some athletes to become household names…and cash in on rather fleeting fame. Enthusiastic Tweets by 17 year-old U.S. swimming sensation Missy Franklin may soon be read by an exponentially larger audience [than her current 18,000 follower] should she medal in any of the seven events for which she has qualified. Those followers are of course a captive audience for sponsors, both current and future. But equally – or perhaps, more – lucrative is the social media flurry generated by Australian swimmer and three-time Olympic champion Stephanie Rice posting photos of herself in a bikini or writing off-color comments about the South African rugby team. In fact, the somewhat controversial Rice was named the post popular Australian athlete leading up to the Olympics, and little has come in the way of censoring her Tweets. Presumably, sponsors may flock to Rice ahead of the censors.

Expect the 2012 Summer Olympics to set a new precedent for social media as a sponsorship driver. Most social Olympics thus far? Yes. And talk is not cheap, in this case.