Just How “Social” are the First Social Media Olympics?

|Brandon Carter

The idea that the London 2012 Games are the “first social media Games” seems equivocal at this point. More so than any other time in Olympic history, athletes and their fans have open lines of communication thanks to social media, and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) has taken a number of preemptive steps to support — and to a large degree regulate — those outlets. The Olympic Athlete Hub aggregates the official Twitter feeds of Olympic athletes and lets users interact with them in real-time in a safe environment. On the heels of two-time gold medalist Rebecca Adlington announcing her plans to quit Twitter during London 2012 due to trolling, the IOC’S move looks even more sensible.

At the same time the London 2012 Games are also the most “corporate” games in Olympic history. London’s original bid to host the Games was $5 billion. That number is now expected to surpass $15 billion. Global economic conditions being what they are, the IOC has to lean as heavily as it ever has on corporate sponsorships and participation to pull off such a logistically staggering feat.

Brands are diving in head first. Robust marketing campaigns now include fully realized social media concepts and content marketing efforts that are ten times what they were during the 2008 games. The result has been an all-out Olympic blitz that has left many — notably London’s very own residents who are in the midst wide-spread protests — in a bit of a sour mood.

Inevitably the question arises: Can the self-appointed “social media games” co-exist with the corporate image that has at times threatened to erode the euphoria?  Surely users and athletes would connect on Twitter and share YouTube videos on Facebook during the Olympics without the efforts of the IOC and its partners to facilitate the sharing for them, wouldn’t they? With Facebook at more than 800 million users and Twitter at 150 million, it would seem the London 2012 Games would be the most social games ever no matter what.

Yet it is precisely these inherent viral activities that the IOC is seeking to regulate. Fans could be barred from sharing on Facebook any YouTube photos and videos of themselves enjoying the action. Athletes have already been instructed that they will not be allowed to tweet photos of themselves with products that aren’t official Olympics sponsors or share photos or videos from inside the athletes’ village. Likewise, some protestors have already had their Twitter accounts suspended due to IP concerns.

In the context of the summer that produced the much-maligned Facebook IPO, a real danger can arise when corporate interests and social media appear too closely aligned, especially if it comes at the cost of the grassroots energy behind social media networks.

So how do brands, genuinely eager to partake in the uniqueness that social media lends to these Games, mitigate the risk of backlash? By adhering to a time tested Olympic trope:


The Olympics are about stories — the stories of the athletes, the journeys they’ve taken to arrive at the Olympics in the first place, and quite often the legacy of their countries at the Games. And then there are the Games themselves and the inspiring narratives that arise from athletes expanding, and then transcending, our notions of what is possible for the human body.

Brands like British Airways and Coca-Cola have wisely invested in this notion with their “Boy” and “Move to the Beat” campaigns, respectively. The former is a moving 9-minute film about a father’s tribute to his son’s passion for cycling that invokes neither British Airways nor the Olympics specifically but instead makes subtle allusions to both.

Even the staunchest skeptic would be hard pressed to ignore the sheer emotive power of the video (and you’re looking at one!).

With its “Move to the Beat” campaign, Coca-Cola’s capitalizing on what it’s always been able to count on in its traditional ad campaigns — the “global youth” movement, for lack of a better term.

Embarking on an ambitious sound collage with the likes of British super-producer Mark Ronson to create an Olympic anthem, Coke has vowed to get fans involved by offering up, among others, a desktop app that accounts for a user’s sports and music interests and then creates individualized beats based on that data. The customized music creations can then be uploaded to The Global Beat , a worldwide online community that brings together individual beats to create an ever-evolving global music collaboration.

Sounds cool, but tellingly, Coca-Cola is supporting the interactive platform with an hour-long documentary about the process of making the anthem, following Ronson around the world as he meets athletes and gets their contributions to the song.

The film nicely illustrates why Ronson and Coca-Cola are doing it in the first place, and this allows them to tell a more inspirational story about individualism and globalism through sports and music.

Ultimately, value is what lies at stake in the Olympics sweepstakes. Brands must be mindful to create it for their audiences, not merely extract it from them.

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Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter is a Content Specialist at Outbrain. He began his career as a staff journalist for the Maine weekly... Read more

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