Faster, Higher, Stronger – 5 lessons we can learn from the ‘social olympics’.

The term Social Media Olympics has been bandied about relentlessly over recent months, with countless statistics backing up the fact that London 2012 will be the most digitally connected Olympics of all time.

The Olympics has always united a global audience and social media has made this audience more tightly connected and participatory than ever. Technology has changed the way in which consumers connect with the Olympics, their national teams and individual athletes. Genuine social conversations between athletes and the public have broken down barriers and made the London Olympic Games more inclusive and engaging.


If it wasn’t clear already, the responsive dimension of social media has now forever changed the very concept of event broadcasting.  Even to the point that the NBC (which only broadcast the opening ceremony on delay) was slammed by digital users for ruining their Olympic experience.

Most of us however, are not in the game of global event management.  Nonetheless, the Olympics allows us to see social media use on a potentially unprecedented scale.  There are some great lessons to be learnt by what has gone on online in the last 4 days and will continue as the Thomas Heathwick’s beautiful Olympic flame continues to flicker.

Here are some of the “golden” rules of social media execution that have been reinforced by the ‘social Olympics.’ [NOTE: this will not be the last bad Olympic related pun in this post].

1. Great content moves faster than Hussain Bolt.

While I missed the early bird opening ceremony worm, choosing to wake up at 7.30am in time for Mexico to enter the arena, I did not have to wait until the 2pm replay to get my fix. A quick check of my Facebook and Twitter feeds allowed me to quickly track down the best bits of the ceremony (as filtered by our northern hemisphere friends) and discovered parachuting Lizzie before my toast has popped fifteen minutes later.

Produce compelling content that appeals to the specific tastes of  your audience and it will be shared.

2. Teamwork is critical to success.

PR, Social Media Managers and the Executive must work together to ensure time sensitive news is contained.

Danny Boyle managed to keep the secret of the opening ceremony under wraps by issuing a stern warning to participants and even developing the twitter hashtag #savethesurprise to appeal to both rational and emotional triggers of his performers.

Closer to home, social media speculation was blamed for the leak of Lauren Jackson’s appointment of flag bearer – said to be only known to 6 people at the time. In a world of social media, ‘embargos’ can no longer be safely managed by corporate communications departments. All employees must understand the company information that they can and cannot talk about online.

3. Never forget your fans.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) deserves credit for attempting to embrace the enormous impact social media will make on the London Olympic Games. The challenge of having to protect Olympics sponsors and broadcast rights, keep aspects of the opening ceremony a surprise and maintain positive PR around everything from transport to security is fully at odds with a world that has grown accustomed to sharing, liking and tagging all aspects of their lives. What are the take-ways?

Communicating the way your audience communicates.

A far cry from the ‘Herogram’ I proudly sent to Lisa Curry via Australia Post costing about 4 weeks of pocket money in 1984, the introduction of the IOC’s Athlete’s Hub has allowed unprecedented access to athletes for free!

A quick search and your favorite competitor can be found and tweeted – like Lauren Jackson below who has been providing her 55,000 hub fans regular updates and responding to individual comments and queries.


Managing community expectations.

Not all athletes have chosen to do this. British gymnast Louis Smith waved goodbye to his Twitter followers when he moved into the Olympic village last week.

“It’s important to show the public who we are, but this can reflect our whole life depending on what happens,” he said.

“I really want to put everything I can into this Olympic Games. If that means not tweeting and staying off Facebook then that’s what I need to do.”

Most  organizations do not require instantaneous social media responses. Your social media channels should work for you.  By setting expectations with your audience via community guidelines,  you can engage on social channels at a level that suits your needs and resource levels.

4. Don’t be a dope – make sure guidelines make sense and are in context.

The IOC has released both social media guidelines for athletes and other ‘accredited persons’ as well as moderation guidelines for their official communication channels. At first glance they seem overly simple for an organisation that has prevented even butchers from displaying their sausages in circles .  However, they are ultimately structured in the correct way; linked to an agreed set of behaviours (in this case the Olympic Charter – (or employee code of contact)) that must be reflected on online channels.

We have seen them in action first hand with with Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou who was quickly removed from the competition due to a racist tweet.

Sometimes guidelines are not enough and the IOC may have helped its athletes with some practical examples of what is and is not acceptable online.  (This may have helped Nick and Kendrick to no end).

5. Integrating social media channel programming for maximum impact.

In what has to be my favorite twitter backchannel ever, inventor of the protocol upon which the Web is based, UK scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, live-tweeted from the stage. The tweet was displayed in lights in the stadium, as well as going out to Twitter’s global audience.


While creating the world’s biggest stadium backchannel is an example of ultimate social media channel integration, many of the mega global brands have not integrated social media channels into their strategy after signing up to some of the most expensive sponsorship deals ever on offer. There are only five brands, in fact, for which Olympic-related words are in the top five related topics posted via social media since early May 2012.

Want to improve your social media record? Speak to Kate and we’ll see you on the dais!