Let the (Social) Games Begin! A Handy Guide to Navigate the Summer Olympics Social Media Phenomenon

This year’s Olympic Games promise to be the social media event of the year. Are you ready?

“The London Games 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.'” 

One of the coolest things about this is that it makes the Olympics attainable for all. We’ve all seen the photos of the small villages with people crammed around a tiny antennae TV to watch their hometown hero win the gold (or, am I thinking of a Coke or Pepsi commercial?). Now, with more and more countries accessible via mobile and smartphone, the entire world can follow along in real time. The game (and the games), has changed. 

So, as true social media professionals (advertisers, marketers, PR, and more), what should you be looking at during these summer games? How can you learn from them and better your own projects and campaigns? Here is my “A-Z Guide of Olympic (Social) Glory”, not to be missed!

ADVERTISING Let’s not forget that beyond the grand influx of content around the games themselves from athletes, organizers and media; there are advertisers. Advertisers that pay big bucks to sponsor the Olympics (Coke, McDonald’s, etc.), and even those who are not official sponsors, are certainly going to capitalize on the social media opportunity with their campaigns across print, TV, online, mobile. I’m looking forward to seeing some cool advertising to rival the Super Bowl. (Does this mean I love to be sold to?) 

BACKLASH  As always, proceed with caution in a social world. A word of warning to Olympic athletes has already been made public as two Australian swimmers were banned from Olympic Twitter glory after posting some less than desirable photos.

COMMUNITY – Some great communities have popped up for the Olympics. 

  • Official Olympic Athletes’ Hub – aggregates Olympians’ Facebook and Twitter feeds into profile pages and lets users earn points and prizes for liking or following those athletes.
  • Official Facebook Explore London 2012 – a page where all teams and athletes have an audience. Fans and athletes can share their stories with the world, in a familiar Facebook setting. The page is available in 22 languages and the company said that there are more than 100 million connections between fans and athletes on the page

DESIGN – All eyes are on the websites, graphics, animations etc. to come out of this year’s Olympics. A true testament of B2C (and even some B2B) marketing, take notes from the special websites, hubs and more that spring up from the games. 

ENERGY – If you think that March Madness is crazy, just wait until the Olympics start. 

FANS – What a way to bring together a community, whether by sport, by country, or just by passion. The fans will really have an opportunity to speak during the Olympics.  

GUIDELINES – The IOC has made their social media guidelines public. Check them out. 

HASHTAGS – It’s going to be hard to keep track of what the official hashtags are, and many more are certain to crop up. A good project: a word cloud of every Olympic hashtag used.  

INNOVATION – What better time to see what’s new and different about social media? 

JOKES – The unspoken promise of all eyes on the Olympics means more room for error. I’m sure there will be a number of horrifying moments, caught in real-time and able to be replayed for all eternity on the interwebs. 

KEEPING UP WITH THE FANS  – So, what happens to all these newly created fans when the Olympics are over? All of these special pages and accounts are being created for Olympic teams and athletes. Do those pages and accounts die after the games are over? 

LISTEN – Let’s listen to the buzz. How do people want to interact online with an event like the Olympics? How ARE they interacting? Will people really participate online in the Olympic Hub or on Facebook? 

METRICS – I’m curious to know what kind of metrics are in place for all of these social media initiatives. Who is measuring success, and how?

NEW FANS – Will the number of “eyeballs” on the Olympics increase with the addition of mobile and social? 

OLYMPIC CHATS – The IOC’s head of social media, Alex Huot, said in an email that the chats will take place “where it makes the most sense for users and on the platforms that the athletes like to engage with.” Possibilities include an athlete’s personal Twitter account or the IOC’s @olympics account. The IOC is also looking at developing “chat widgets” that could simultaneously run the chats on the IOC’s Olympics Facebook page as well as on the hub, Huot said.  

Fans are encouraged to share their photos from the Olympics. Content is not, however, allowed to be uploaded to public sites. Watch to see how it’s enforced.

QUALITY – With so many ways to catch the games, does that diminish the quality of viewing the games? Gathering together around the TV to watch? Anxiously awaiting the next day’s print newspaper with results? 

ROI – Obviously a lot of time, energy, planning and effort was set forth in promoting and maintaining the official Olympic social media channel. Will it all be worth it in the end? (Here’s where those metrics come into play.) 

STAKES – With big stakes for all, the big question is whether or not the sites will be able to handle all of the traffic. “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.” That’s a lot of traffic. And, how will media outlets that are also furiously tweeting and posting cope when they can’t log on and share with the masses? 

TABLETS – How will iPads and other tablets hold up? Will there be special apps created for the Olympics? Consider that over the past years, we have been able to stream content live to our computers, then phones and tablets. And now, we are not only able to stream the actual games, but chat and share the results in real time.

USER INTERFACE – There is not just one experience for the Olympic Games social media sites, there are many. Should the experience be the same no matter what site you are on? 

VISION – We have seen what the IOC has wanted to achieve with social media, at the end of it all – were they successful? 

WORLDWIDE WEB TRAFFIC – What countries are sending the most people to these social sites? (The real WWW haha). 

X-GAMES – Don’t forget, these ESPN games were one of the first sporting events to adopt and invest in social media, with livestreaming, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, mobile apps and other tools. The Olympics could learn from their experiences.

YOUTH – Are there any special games, sites, apps, etc. set up for kids during the Olympics? How will youth who are used to engaging online react to the Olympic games? Consider a split between demographics of pre-teens and teens. Will they prefer to watch on TV, on a tablet, on their phone? Will they watch in real-time, or a recording? Will they even watch, or just follow tweets? 

“ZEBRAS” – Watch out for those Olympic referees. There is an opportunity for even more social media content. I’m not sure if this was approved or official, but check out this 2008 blog from some U.S. soccer referees. 

What do you think about the socialization of the Olympics?  What do you think is not to be missed? 

And, one last note – can you imagine if social media had been around during the Nancy Kerrigan saga?