Commentary

The Anti-Social Olympics

On your mark… Get set… Tweet!  Or rather, tweet at your own risk; keep it personal; and if you take a picture of another athlete at the Olympic Games, be sure to get his or her permission before you share it!  At least that’s what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is telling athletes and other “accredited persons” in its remarkably archaic and anti-social social media guidelines.

Despite a promising opening sentence in their four-page document -- “The IOC actively encourages and supports athletes and other accredited persons at the Olympic Games to take part in social media” -- the guidelines are the work of wishful thinking rooted in the 20th century, when “antisocial” simply described a shy jock and not an absurd attempt to control the uncontrollable. 

Based on IOC’s stringent guidelines, I’m imagining a swimmer from Albania (one of the 79 countries that have never, ever medaled) chasing down Michael Phelps with a release form in hand, begging him in broken English for permission to post his picture to Facebook. Or a hapless high-jumper from Papua New Guinea who posts a video of himself during the Opening Ceremony on YouTube, only to discover that he has violated IOC rule #4.

Lest you think I’m being unduly harsh and alarmist, let me offer a few words of praise for the Olympic Athletes’ Hub, which is how the IOC hopes to channel (i.e., control) social media energy. The Hub is easy to join via your Twitter and Facebook accounts and is “gamified” to encourage ongoing participation. And while the Hub is not the only sanctioned social venue, it is the place the IOC wants you to connect with its socially obedient athletes. 

And if this Olympian Hub isn’t enough for you, NBC just announced its partnership with Twitter to aggregate “millions of messages from Olympic athletes, their families, fans and NBC television personalities” on a single Twitter page. That’s a lot of up-to-the-minute content that will no doubt keep the IOC’s social media police on their toes!

However, if you are an ordinary person or business, you should think twice about using the word “Olympics” in your tweets and posts over the next few weeks. Simply put, non-sponsors are not allowed to endorse, promote, support or align themselves with the Olympic brand, teams or athletes. So plan to speak in factual terms with scintillating tweets such as “Today, the Games begin.” 

The guidelines for non-sponsoring businesses are outlined by the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), and of course, are designed to protect Olympic sponsors who spend millions upon millions for the rights to use the rings. Having worked with Olympic sponsors like Panasonic, I totally understand and appreciate the need to prevent ambush marketing by non-sponsors, but a tweet here and Facebook post there does not an ambush make! 

In the end, restricting athletes from tweeting in the third person or asking attendees not to share images on Facebook or videos on YouTube seems downright anti-social -- a fool’s errand at best and a PR nightmare at worst, especially if the IOC or LOCOG start issuing cease-and-desist orders for personal posts. So while this Olympic fan can’t wait for the Games to begin, I sure don’t have to “Like” their approach -- or their Facebook page. 

 

 

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4 comments about "The Anti-Social Olympics ".
  1. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship , July 27, 2012 at 9:23 a.m.
    Thanks for a great post Drew. Seems to me the IOC is stuck in legacy framework that is bound to fail and only cause them controversy. It’s plain and simple—censorship on social channels is a disaster for brands. We can no longer control the message, folks. The social framework is “bigger and stronger” than our puny frameworks. Instead of fighting it every step of the way, USE it to your advantage, or you’ll pay a steep price in diminished return. The athletes and participants (unleashed) can be wonderful additions to the IOC and an International voice and advocacy that crosses all boundaries... and can be the best way to humanize and personalize the entire event. Too bad the IOC is so behind the times and still thinks they can control the message. It will move beyond them... it already has.
  2. Jennifer Thompson from Insight Marketing Group , July 27, 2012 at 10:35 a.m.
    Whatever. They need to just deal with it. This will be very interesting to see how it unfolds.
  3. brooke browne from SmartMPM , July 27, 2012 at 11:02 a.m.
    Ha! Just as people have an urge to say 'bomb' on an airplane, I feel the need to simply tweet: 'Olympics! Olympics! Olympics!'
  4. Drew Neisser from Renegade , July 30, 2012 at 1:56 p.m.
    Thanks for your comments Ted, Jennifer and Brooke. I suspect the violations will be rampant especially among the athletes and other attendees. Hope someone out there is counting them up. Would make a good follow up story.