The Social Olympics: The Effect On London 2012

While the 2008 Games are only four years in our rearview mirror, it seems now like a whole generation ago, especially when it comes to the social media landscape. Look no further than the infographic Mashable recently published comparing social media numbers from 2008 to 2012. In 2008 Facebook was still in its “infancy” with 100 million users; Twitter hadn’t exploded and was still driven by techies and angry music bloggers. Instagram was nonexistent, not even close to being a company for which Facebook would write a $1 billion check. Social media has gone from techy subculture to mainstream event necessity, consolidating and validating the hallowed “second-screen experience” with all ages of global consumer users. With the biggest global sporting event looming, what does this all mean for the 2012 Olympic Games in London?

Imagine dropping a boulder in a baby pool: the 2012 games are set to explode in popularity due to social media. In addition to television ratings steadily climbing year by year, in April the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released its new Olympic Athlete Hub, a website where fans can go to interact directly with their favorite Summer Games athletes. 

Brands with investment in this year’s games are already rolling out their latest digital campaigns. One example includes Proctor & Gamble’s online video entitled “Best Job” about the moms of Olympic athletes, posted on their “thank you mom” Facebook page, but otherwise spread organically through Twitter and Facebook and which, as of this writing, already has over 2.3 million views. Additionally, longtime Olympic supporter Coca-Cola has recently begun talking about its new “Move to the Beat” Olympic campaign. The ad was pushed out through Coke’s Facebook page, Twitter and YouTube, as well as being promoted through supporting articles and blog posts. The campaign will also feature a mobile app where Coke fans can create their own remix to the song and share it to Coke’s “Global Beat” web page.

Regardless of Mark Cuban’s latest rant, or the disappointment that lingers over Chicago losing the 2016 bid, the majority of sports fans are excited about the London games. But it’s worth noting that the IOC is already sweating profusely over what these “social games” mean for controlling their Olympic rights. Already infamous for its tight sponsorship enforcement, the IOC now has a pretty lengthy social media policy for not just athletes, but even for the approximately 70,000 unpaid volunteers who will help make the Games happen. The IOC policy limits participants and volunteers from uploading pictures and video, which even it admits is “unenforceable.” The policy also strictly prohibits online posting of any “first-person content and any promotion or advertising of brands.” 

The athletes’ rights are also being affected as many U.S. athletes have recently sued Samsung, a top sponsor, for using their names, faces and background information in their new social marketing Genome campaign, “How Olympic Are You?” The game pulls Facebook users’ information and then matches them with Olympic athletes from their hometown or athletes with similar interests. The USOC had even signed off on the program!

Even if the case can be made for a policy for the volunteers, does it make sense to prevent spectators at the Games from posting photos or videos of Olympic events on social networks such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook? How might the IOC even go about trying to logistically enforce such a policy with spectators for the Games expected to top out at 500,000 a day? That’s a massive legal staff. (But, apparently Twitter has said that it will not allow non-sponsors to have “promoted tweets” about the games).

The IOC’s policy is akin to trying to put a muzzle on Ozzie Guillen – hopeless.  In the past what has made the IOC so successful has been its ability to control and guarantee exclusivity of its rights for stakeholders such as sponsors, broadcast partners, and licensees. In exchange for billions of dollars, this offers incredible value for everyone paying for the right to use the infamous Olympic rings because the rights cannot be guaranteed anywhere else. If there’s misuse, the IOC has the resolve and the resources to shut it down. So, one can’t blame the IOC for wanting to protect these rights. But, this now has become a daunting task. Can the IOC take a deep breath, sit back and watch their games break many social media records? (After working in Switzerland, I’m afraid that’s not going to happen from the IOC staff). 

Take the most recent Super Bowl and the UEFA Champions League semi-finals as recent examples. If these sporting events can crush tweets-per-second (12,233 and 13,684, respectively) records, imagine what a notable moment in Olympic basketball, track and field or gymnastics will do. Social media really shines during times when we are all gathered around a significant moment and we want to comment on it. It’s as if we were all together in the biggest living room of all time watching events unfold.  

The social media game is too big to control as the conversation has become a widespread global phenomenon. The NFL recognized this and instead worked to simply enhance the Super Bowl experience for fans. In Indianapolis for the 2012 Super Bowl, the NFL launched a Social Media Command Center to monitor all posts on social media sites pertaining to the game. If fans, A-list guests or event athletes had any issues about their stay in Indianapolis, the Command Center would flag the message and then work quickly to resolve the issue as fast as possible (be it a pothole in a road or an issue with the guest list for a celebrity). My advice for the IOC would be to take a similar approach, to accept its lack of total control and join in, making this summer in London the best second-screen experience yet – and build a whole new level of global value for the Olympic movement.

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