June 20, 2012
Social Infiltration: London Games To Be First "Social Media Olympics" — Twitter and Facebook Are Ramping Up for Heavy Traffic as This Summer's Competition Is Expected To Be the Most Tagged, Tweeted and Liked In History
Tweet this: The London Games will be the first Olympics told in 140 characters or less. This summer's competition will be the most tweeted, liked and tagged in history, with fans offered a never before seen insider's view of what many are calling the social media Olympics, or the "socialympics." Hashtags, @ signs and "like" symbols will be as prevalent as national flags, Olympic pins and medal ceremonies. Some athletes may spend more time on Twitter and Facebook than the playing field. Organizers expect more tweets, Facebook posts, videos and photos to be shared from London than any other sports event in history. The 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver offered just a small glimpse of what's to come. "Vancouver was just the first snowflake," said Alex Hout, the International Olympic Committee's head of social media. "This is going to be a big snowball," he added, an AP news release reports. Twitter is already braced for a surge of traffic, as it has become a key outlet for sports fans to trade messages during live events. Users sent 13,684 tweets per second during a Champions League soccer match between Barcelona and Chelsea in April, a record volume of tweets for a sporting event — busier even than the 2012 Super Bowl. Chances are good that will be one of the records broken in London. "It could be the 100-meter final or something unexpected," said Lewis Wiltshire, Twitter U.K.'s head of sport. At the last Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, Twitter had about 6 million users and Facebook 100 million. Today, the figure is 140 million for Twitter and 900 million for Facebook. Sponsors have also taken their Olympic campaigns online — Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Visa and BP are among those using Facebook to reach younger consumers. Samsung is even offering to paint the faces of Internet users with their national flag — virtually, of course. Later this month, at trials in Calgary for Canada's Olympic track and field team, athletes will even wear Twitter handles on their bibs — encouraging fans to send messages of support as they race.
"In Sydney (2000) there was hardly any fast Internet, in Athens (2004) there were hardly any smartphones, and in Beijing hardly anyone had social networks," said Jackie-Brock Doyle, communications director of London organizing committee LOCOG. "That's all changed. Here, everyone has all that and will be consuming the games in a different way," Doyle added, the AP release reports.
"They key difference from four years ago is that now almost everyone has a smartphone, which means everyone can participate in real time," said Adam Vincenzini, an expert at Paratus Communications, a London-based PR and social media marketing agency. "You used to have to be sitting at your desk to access various social media platforms. Now you can have your phone or tablet on your lap while you watch, whether that's at the pub or the stadium," he added, reports the release by AP writer David Stringer.
The IOC, with 760,000 Twitter followers and 2.8 million on Facebook, will host live chats from inside the Olympic village with athletes, allowing the public to pose questions using social media accounts. It has already created an online portal, called the Athletes' Hub, which will collate posts from their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Under IOC rules, athletes and accredited personnel are free to post, blog and tweet "provided that it is not for commercial and/or advertising purposes" and does not ambush official Olympic sponsors and broadcasters. Social media posts should be written in a "first-person, diary-type format."
Facebook launched an Olympic page on Monday that groups teams, sports, athletes, broadcasters and in one place. The site has pages dedicated to specific Olympic sports and links to Facebook sites for 60 national teams and 200 athletes, including Michael Phelps, LeBron James and David Beckham.
LOCOG also plans to announce new Olympic tie-ups with Twitter and Google.
But London Olympic organizers have drawn up strict rules for their employees and the 70,000 Olympic volunteers — they have been told not to share their location, any images of scenes in areas that are off limits to the public, or details about athletes, celebrities or dignitaries who they find themselves in contact with.
"We are not stopping people from using social sites," Brock-Doyle said. "We say there are lots of things about your job — procedures, places you'll be and do — that remain confidential. There are elements of your job you can't share with wider groups of people."
Athletes, too, will need to navigate the social media world carefully. Australian swimmers Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk have already been punished after posting photos of themselves on Facebook in which they cradled pump-action shotguns and a pistol in a U.S. gun shop. The Australian Olympic Committee ordered them to remove the photos immediately. The swimmers have been banned from using social media for a month starting July 15 and will be sent home the day the Olympic swimming program finishes.