30 Jul 2012
London 2012 is unfolding as the largest event in social media history. With more tweets recorded during the opening ceremony than in the entire Beijing Olympics, platforms like Facebook and Twitter with free-access audiences of hundreds of millions, are the most powerful media for spreading Olympic news and the much-fussed-over Olympic spirit.
But despite the well documented rise of social media, the organisational bodies charged with promoting ‘everyone’s games’ – the IOC and LOCOG – didn’t quite know what they were in for.
With outdated restrictions on sharing Olympic content, and weak attempts to get on the social media horse before it bolts from the stable, they don’t seem to have much of a grasp on the voraciousness of social media and it’s ability to really include ‘everyone.’
Since the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the number of Facebook users has increased 900% to 900 million accounts worldwide. While Beijing’s Facebook page received 330,000 likes, the London 2012 page is currently sitting at 1.1 million and this is sure to rise as the event continues. Twitter has also skyrocketed from six million to 500 million users, with over a million of those subscribed to London 2012’s feed, and increases of hundreds of thousands each week.
Three years ago the IOC didn’t use social media at all. Now, in a quote that sums up their attitude quite tidily, Mark Adams, IOC Communications Director, says of social media ‘There’s not much we can do about it so we might as well take part in it.’ You don’t get the feeling he’s quite on board with capturing the magnitude of social possibilities with an event this size in the most sophisticated and open era of communication in history.
Their underestimation of the power of social came to a tee on Sunday when a broadcast network collapsed under the weight of mobile data being generated through Tweeting at an event. Mark Adams, true to form, suggested that users might ‘consider only sending urgent updates.’ Good luck with that.
Still, they get a prize for participation. Despite having probably the most uncool page on Tumblr, and their social search engine The Hub failing to ignite the enthusiasm of the public in contrast to Facebook’s more comprehensive portal, the London 2012 Facebook page is reaching record ROE’s for a page with over 100,000 likes and their Twitter account is running off the chart.
But this is all a testament to the click-happy excited fans who are creating tidal waves of hype in every corner of the social media spectrum, rather than as a result of London 2012’s efforts to engage them.
The main hurdle to be put in front of the socialympics is the level of restriction placed on athletes, fans, and anyone generally interested in talking about the Olympics. The IOC social media guidelines are seriously outdated for this day and age and run contrary to the whole notion of social media which is to facilitate open, free communication, giving a voice to anyone that may want it.
Athletes are encouraged to post and tweet so long as their messages don’t mention any brand that isn’t an Olympic affiliate, and they must be in the spirit of the games (ie not lightly homophobic, racist or NRA supporting). And they’ve done pretty well, with only a couple of incidents between all 10,500 athletes, though they’re increasingly speaking out against the restrictions, particularly being unable to support the brands that sponsored them and helped them to achieve their Olympic goals.
And then there’s the ten million ticket holders. While photos are allowed to be taken and shared on personal social pages by attendees at the events, video uploads are forbidden and any small business, community or group page is barred from sharing the Olympic spirit with the rest of us. Some venues have even tried to ban photography by disallowing cameras and even mobile phones to be brought inside.
On top of this some bizarre restrictions have been flung about, such as banning the 70,000 Olympic volunteers from posting anything at all about the games. And the out-of-control sponsor shielding to the point where onsite police were not allowed to eat food with any branding on it whatsoever, and the IOC suggesting that if a fan showed up to an event wearing a Pepsi t-shirt they may be barred from entry for fear of breaching the rights of some sponsors.
Clearly issues around public broadcast are not being dealt with properly by the games’ regulations, which have been in place since the early 80’s when the internet was still in the hands of the US Federal Government and Usain Bolt (and his seven million facebook fans) was still in nappies.
There’s no doubt a more modern and inclusive approach would have only fostered the hype and created more goodwill between the organisers and fans. It’s unlikely the games would have been hijacked by non-sponsor brands for commercial gain, at least no more than they have been already.
To draw contrast with the attitude of another major event, the US Super Bowl earlier this year gained a viewership of just over 110 million and up to 12,000 tweets per second. The Super Bowl organisers didn’t set out any restrictions around tweeting or posting during the tournament, instead they encouraged any and all participation from fans, making the event truly open and available and more engaging for everyone.
It’s predicted that London 2012 will gain up to 4 billion viewers worldwide so suffice to say Twitter is going to take an absolute hammering. With these games reaching more people than ever before, LOCOG and the IOC should have embraced the possibilities of social media, which will be the real reason why they are in the end, ‘everyone’s games.’