While watching the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics 2012 Olympic Trials this past week, I suddenly found myself looking up the profiles of my favorite gymnasts on Twitter during commercial breaks, reading through their Twitter streams as well as the Twitter streams of both journalists reporting about the event and people in live attendance, watching certain instant replays posted of routines through NBC’s web site, and interacting with other exuberant fans online when suddenly I realized I’d entered the world of real-time social media engagement!
According to a recent article “Olympic Social Media Guidelines Muzzle Athletes,” media outlets are billing the upcoming London Summer Olympic Games as “the first social media Olympics.” Specifically, the article mentions:
During the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, Facebook had 100 million users and Twitter six million. This time around, athletes, coaches and other participants will address 900 million Facebook members and 140 million Twitter members. The Internet Olympic Committee (IOC) is aware of both the benefits and pitfalls of participants communicating directly with fans. It also recognizes that social media will be a huge part of the Olympic experience.
For a complete explanation of the current social media strategy for the 2012 Olympics, you can watch Alex Huot’s keynote speech from The Next Web’s 2012 CxO conference, who is the head of social media for the IOC:
In the video, Huot mentions that the focus of the 2012 social media strategy will be based on facilitating connections between fans and athletes, and paying close attention to what types of interactions the fans prefer. While the organization is encouraging athletes to blog, tweet, and use Facebook during the games, it has also issued guidelines that must be followed by participants.
The Power of Individual Athletes and Their Effect on Brand Engagement
Of course, many people already interact with their favorite sports teams in a similar fashion to what I outlined above, as I wrote about in a recent blog post entitled “America’s Favorite Pastime in the Digital Age.” It’s why there’s a USA Gymnastics Facebook page with 232,000 likes, a YouTube Channel that’s had over 26 million views, and a Twitter page with over 30,000 followers. But what I find interesting is the rate at which individual athletes are becoming more influential than the brands they represent.
Perhaps it’s always been that way, but this time numbers tell a story. For example, where the USA Gymnastics Twitter account only has 30,000 followers, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson has 169,074 followers and Nastia Liukin 89,671. Or take Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams (who my husband interviewed this past week, which in part led to this post), who has 153,964 followers on Twitter as opposed to the St. Louis Rams’ 66,669. What will be interesting to see is how 16-year old Gabrielle Douglas’ profile changes throughout the year now that she’s secured a spot on the Olympic team. I would bet that within the next few months her profile will be re-branded and the number of her followers will skyrocket:
In 2010 there were only 17 athletes with over 1 million followers on Twitter. By 2011, there were 22 athletes that surpassed the 2 million mark. Now, in 2012, the numbers have grown even higher with one particular athlete, the Brazilian soccer player Kaka (unbeknownst to me) who currently has over 11 million followers! (For a list of the “Top 10 athletes on Twitter,” click here.) There is even an annual awards event, now in its fourth year, known as the Shorty Awards that recognizes some of the top Athletes in social media. The web site claims that “Hollywood has the Oscars. Broadway has the Tonys. Now Twitter has the Shorty Awards.”
Now it’s your turn: how do you plan to follow the Olympics this year and will you be relying on social media? What sports athletes do you currently follow and how have their tweets and/or posts positively or negatively influenced the brands they are affiliated with? What are your thoughts on the IOC social media guidelines for 2012?