A New Media Paradigm or Mismanaged Effort? Social Media and the London 2012 Olympics

August 2nd, 2012 by Tina Hua

IMG_5649As the self-declared first “Social Games,” the London 2012 Olympics are currently wowing audiences worldwide with an arsenal of tactics for every social media outlet imaginable. In our digital age, the instant, hyper-specific gratification of Twitter and Facebook is playing a huge role in how fans engage, interact, and react to the show. It’s so big that there’s an entire page devoted to the social aspects of the Olympics on the games’ official website.

The London 2012 Social Media dashboard on the official website shows the number of growing fans for the Olympics on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also view where to check in, which hashtags to use, and what are the most recent tweets from @London2012. Twitter leads with 1.39 million+ followers, while Facebook is edging up with 1.37 million fans. Google+ only has 698,647+ followers. By so prominently playing up the social media count, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) is encouraging athletes and fans to interact through these platforms — but snafus like the pearl-clutching fuss made over a US soccer player’s personal Twitter account or blaming fans for outages of sharing-heavy networks have caused many to be harshly critical of the International Olympics Committee’s handling of the issue.

Aly_Raisman_GoldMedalIn addition to the three social media platforms mentioned above, fans can also watch “Gold Medal Moments” and behind the scene interviews with coaches and Olympic athletes on the Team USA YouTube page. If you can’t decide between the eight official Facebook pages to like or the five different Twitter accounts to follow, you can just check out the Olympic Hub page for the latest updates from your favorite athletes. The current top three most followed athletes are LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Roger Federer — as if that was any surprise. But the Olympics are also a time for the non-celebrity athletes to shine and create those true ‘Olympic moments’ with their world records and flawless routines.

As with any large scale operation, there’s always potential for bumps in the road. One notable disadvantage of all the social media frenzy is that American viewers, who are 5 or more hours behind Greenwich mean time, often get the outcome of the events spoiled before being able to watch the competition itself. The NBC tape delay caused a stir with fans when they preemptively learned about the results of the games while waiting for prime-time TV. Some took to Twitter with #NBCFail to voice their complaints about the prime-time delay, while others made their voices heard on Facebook.

Another social media mishap occurred during the men’s cycling road race when, according to Reuters and Gizmodo, the IOC asked fans to stop tweeting because it was interfering with their broadcast and to only tweet when it’s “urgent.” Later IOC blamed the issue on an “oversubscription on one particular network.”

It’s indisputable that the new prevalence of social media, particularly Twitter (which has grown exponentially since the 2008 Beijing games), adds unparalleled amount of richness to the Olympics experience. Fans around the world can watch favorite athletes getting their gold medal, peep Missy Franklin’s fan gifts or get second-by-second updates from six sources at once. However, its immense presence can lead to downsides — even athletes have reported the negative effects of the constant distraction, and many have levied complaints against the IOC’s restrictive policies.

Whether you’re tuning into the Olympics via live stream, on the tube or even with a list of Twitter feeds, you’re experiencing something completely new in the world of communications and of sport. However strong the effort, though, the IOC’s handling of it has been less than pristine — Search Influence CEO Will Scott weighed in on this very topic in Forbes earlier today, saying “The moment the IOC set restrictions that limited the voice of the athletes, they made the Olympics less relevant to the Millennials… They have taken a large, influential group out of the equation.”

How do you think the Olympics have handled their social media presence so far? Is your experience better for all the new options, or is their oversaturation taking away from the games themselves?