London 2012 was dubbed the “first social media games” or indeed the “Socialympics”.  The IOC and LOCOG, as well as their sponsors, worked hard to harness the power of social media and generate unprecedented public engagement with the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sponsors, the IOC and LOCOG

Visa, Cadbury, and Samsung were just a handful of those who used Facebook pages, apps, Twitter and YouTube to seek and reward consumer participation actively.  Facebook itself had an Olympics page to group teams, sports, athletes, and broadcasters in one place; a page which gained almost 3 million ‘likes’. The official website was the most popular sporting website visited in the world with an excess of 38bn views, transferring an astonishing 1.2 PetaBytes of data.

BT, the official communications partner, was responsible for carrying every official photograph, call, London 2012 official website visit, email and text via their infrastructure – vital for social media. In addition to installing 1,000 wifi hotspots around the Olympic Park, it was estimated that 7,860 megabytes per second were processed via their network.

BT played one of the most important roles working alongside CISCO, the official network infrastructure partner, to delivery communications technology for the Games. Working together, amongst other technologies, the companies provided a hosted voice service connecting National Hosting Committees with LOCOG. The number extension features meant that there were 16,500 handsets available across 94 London 2012 sites.

The opportunity for combining social media with the Olympics was unprecedented.  EDF’s “Energy of the Nation” campaign combined their role as the official electricity supplier, with their sponsorship of the London Eye.  The result was “the world’s first social media driven light show”, where an analysis of the sentiments of UK tweets was projected onto the London Eye every night.  A downcast nation turned the Eye purple; a more victorious day seeing it shine a golden yellow.  Similarly, tweets and discussions were used as an instant feedback system by BT, who monitored social media websites as a way of identifying problem areas within their services in the Park.

Adidas’ campaign #takethestage, was billed as its biggest ever marketing spend. The campaign, focusing on Team GB athletes, was an integrated campaign publicised across digital formats, television and out-of-home.

Perhaps most telling was the IOC and LOCOG’s own emphasis on social media as an integral part of the Olympic experience, as they actively encouraged athletes to “post, blog and tweet their experiences”.  Alex Huot, the IOC’s Head of Social Media, personifies their commitment to embracing and using Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare and others, describing the Olympics as the “first conversational games”, and emphasising the IOC’s wish to engage with viewers around the world.

The official multiplatform (iOS, Android, BlackBerry) London 2012 Join In App was a huge hit. The App provides live updates, commentary, and a full guide to ceremonies and events. The iOS version even allowed users to join in the national bell ring commencing the start of the Games.

The UK authorities got off to a good start when the army and police were called upon to fill G4S’s personnel shortfall, not only was this an excellent last minute fix but the social media world received sustenance from the constant segue of adoring females whose Olympic experience had been improved by the army presence.  The police also shared in the adoration when BBC Sport’s Frank Keogh captured seven police officers in a tribute to Usain Bolt.   Bolt was one of about 150,000 to retweet the image.

Social Media Pitfalls

All was not rosy, however, as strict attention was to be paid to the IOC’s “Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines for participants and other accredited persons at the London 2012 Olympic Games”.  Indeed fears that social media was taking over were enhanced when, Mark Adams, the International Olympic’s Committee’s (IOC) head of communications requested that people reduce their tweets which were interfering with identity chips in the bikes in the road race. The all important GPS data was carried via mobile phone networks that became overloaded. Had the mobile networks been notified in advance of LOCOG’s decision to use such a platform, issues caused could have been avoided.

The danger of the exposure gained through the social media interaction, of which the competitors were encouraged to make use, was highlighted before many of the competitors arrived in the UK.  Greek athlete Voula Papachristou managed to save herself the journey through a tweet which was deemed racist.  This was again highlighted when Australian swimmers Nick D’Arcy and Kendrick Monck, posted a photo of themselves brandishing guns on Facebook.  As a result, they were banned from the closing ceremony, and expelled from London the day the swimming program finished.

The nemesis of Socialympics however, was thrust into the fore when a Twitter troll sent Tom Daley a tweet stating “you let your [deceased] dad down i hope you know that.”   Thankfully order was restored when @Rileyy_69 was swiftly shown the door – behind which the police were waiting.

E-lympics 2016?

London 2012 has thus necessarily been paired with social media and technology, for both good and bad and in a big way.  The emphasis on instantaneity and consumer participation provided light shows, instant feedback and increased awareness. However, the accompanying problems are evident as the IOC works hard to protect their branding, athletes attempt to stay focused and bullies attempt to abuse the non-policed playground.

Whatever sentiment you are left with regarding social media’s involvement in the Olympic Games it is clear that Rio is already welcoming the opportunities provided.  Dmitry Chernyshenko, chief executive of Sochi 2014, site of the next winter Olympic Games, was a prominent 2012 tweeter and Sochi’s integration of its URL into the Olympic logo is a small but insightful initial step toward the Rio E-lympics 2016.

The Olympic Legacy – What have we learned?

  • When using wireless connectivity to carry race data and spectator interactive traffic, be sure to provide sufficient burst capacity and consider whether the medium is appropriate for official race data.
  • Ensure athletes, employees and talent have effective, practical social media training to prepare them for engaging with spectators and fans. Be wary of endorsing products via social media unless you clearly indicate that you have a commercial relationship with the brand in question.
  • Check with your regulating body and event organisers what their policies are around social media.
  • Build followers and have a strategy for expanding and building upon your fanbase following the event.
  • Don’t forget about putting in place enforceable terms and conditions where  crowd sourcing content around social media and experiential events.
  • Sponsor an app; it can be a highly effective means of exposure at an event. But don’t forget about who owns it at the end.
  • Review service level agreements carefully with technical and commercial teams to ensure that your chosen means of communication can handle the traffic.