London 2012 Games will be 'first social Olympics'
Social media will play an important part in this year’s Games
The Olympics Athletes’ hub combines Facebook and Twitter on to one platform
776 BC - news of first athletic competitions held in ancient Greece at Olympia spreads mainly by word of mouth
1896 - first modern Summer Olympics where newspapers and stamps are equivalents of social media
1900s - the newly-emerged popular press such as the Daily Mirror covered the 1908 Olympic Games
1920s - the 1924 Paris Olympics were the first to be broadcast on public radio
1930s - opening ceremony of the 1936 Berlin Olympics relayed live on CCTV in 'viewing halls'
1940s - the BBC paid £1,000 for the television broadcast rights of the 1948 London Olympics
1960s - the Rome Olympics in 1960 broadcast live via the Eurovision TV link
1970s - advent of email and e-bulletin boards enabled online communities to start
1990s - the public Internet arrives and with it early social networks like Geocities
2000s - smart devices enable fans to exchange voice and data messages as sport events occur
Social media has introduced a whole new dimension of engagement between all parties involved in the Games, from spectators and sponsors to athletes and their supporters.
The London 2012 Olympic Games are upon us, and the hype, hope and expectation has reached its crescendo. It almost goes without saying that those people who were not lucky enough to score tickets to the 100m sprint final will whip up their own frenzy through social media, but those with tickets will also reap the rewards from a Games that has substantially been built on social media foundations.
It is worth remembering though that, even as recently as the Beijing 2008 Games, social media did not have such a fundamental role in how the event was experienced. Sure, the Internet was central to the coverage of proceedings, and the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics certainly experimented with more orchestrated social media surround; but it is this summer's London Games that are being widely dubbed as the first 'social Olympics'.
Of course, this is just the latest in a long tradition of technologies that have helped to disseminate the excitement of the Modern Games since the 1890s. Social media falls into line behind such technological trends as the mass-circulation newspapers and magazines around the turn of the century, radio and newsreel coverage between the world wars, and television with its endless broadcast standards, innovative camera angles and improvements in definition since the 1950s.
Social media was integral to the planning of the London 2012 Olympics from the off. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) showed insight in recognising from the outset that social media's influence would assume the proportions it has. Speaking at the IET Pinkerton Lecture 2008, LOCOG's head of new media Alex Balfour pointed out that"The majority of people online, which is the majority of the country, are using social media, so if we fail to communicate to this growing community through social media, people will never know what we are about."
He added"Print and broadcast media won't go away, but in many ways it is important that we are part of the digital Games not only to interact with everyone across the world, but to send the message out to young people."
Around the time of Balfour's 2008 lecture social media websites Facebook and Twitter had around 100 million and six million users respectively; current figures are some 900 million and 140 million.
"Social media has had a significant social effect worldwide – we want to use this effect to inspire change at the London Games," Balfour continued in his Pinkerton address."The London 2012 vision is to create new media content which is seeded into places where people are having conversations about the Olympics. We plan to take this model forward into 2012, so everything we do will involve a digital channel, allowing people to be active and let us engage with them." Even in this era, combining social media and a major global sporting event is still a discovery process.
Balfour explained that the IOC began to experiment with the use of social media in preparation for the London Games by inviting the public to send video clips and photos of celebrations which were broadcasted on 33 live screens across the country at events the IOC held, including the Olympic torch handover at Buckingham Palace in May 2012. The videos were uploaded onto YouTube and Flickr and the net result was 1.5 million views, ranking number three on YouTube. The IOC's global 'Show Your Best' campaign was set up to promote further participation. It involves encouraging people to demonstrate personal talents and skills with the chance to win a trip to the London Games, appear on TV, and be shown in Olympic venues and broadcast around the world.
Foursquare to the fore
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on 23 June its partnership with mobile, location-based social networking site Foursquare as part of its plan to make social media an integral part of the Games. Users of the Foursquare software 'check in' to wherever they may be around the world. Each check-in awards the user points and sometimes badges or even 'mayorships' for, say, being the person who has most checked in to the IET's headquarters at Savoy Place, London.
The IOC wants users to get involved by 'checking in' to sports venues around the world, including past, current and future Olympic stadiums and training centres. When the users check in to at least two affiliated venues and follow the IOC on Foursquare, they activate the official 'Get Fit for Olympic Day' badge and will be directed to enter a competition to win a trip to the London 2012 Games. The features also include historical facts about the Olympics,'information about stadiums and facilities, and will feature locations where athletes have trained and places that inspire them.
"Our integration with Foursquare and the ability to leave location-based tips from the athletes is one more way to serve highly engaged fans of the Olympic Games and to integrate social media directly into the Olympic fan experience," says IOC head of social media Alex Huot. "We wanted to do something fun and thank our fans who make an effort to stay fit by offering them a chance to win a trip to the Olympics."
Facebook and Twitter
The IOC is using leading popular social networking sites Facebook and Twitter to as the backbone to the Olympics social experience. A series of specific Twitter accounts have been created, the two most popular of which, @London2012 (700,000 followers) and @Olympics (850,000 followers), will enable Twitter users to interact with other fans and athletes and also be informed about Olympic Events. There are also accounts for each event, which will tweet start and end times and results.
The Facebook account 'The Olympic Games' works in a similar way, with users able to comment on activity such as photos, videos, and information posted on the profile page and also post images and comments themselves.
In June 2012, Facebook launched a dedicated Olympic Hub, which provides access to profile pages owned by athletes, teams and sport categories. Facebook users can 'like' the profile and in return receive updates from the Games.
LOCOG has "a lot of conditions, constraints, and restrictions," admitted the organisation's Alex Balfour speaking more recently at the Social Media Influence 2012 conference in London, "but Twitter is easy to work with because essentially it doesn't control much of its platform, so you can do things on it or from it."
The Athletics Hub
This year, meanwhile, the IOC launched an online athletes' headquarters, designed to serve as a social media platform finessing the digital connection between fans and competitors. The Olympic Athletes' Hub accumulates and posts the verified social media feeds from their Facebook and Twitter accounts from more than 1,000 current and former Olympians. The IOC established its own verification system, working with National Olympic Committees and International Sports Federations; as a result only the genuine athletes have accounts set up, rather than people pretending to be them.
By combining Facebook and Twitter onto one platform, the IOC has provided users the option to sign in with either their Facebook or Twitter details, meaning no new account is necessary. The Hub features a searchable directory of Olympians and it can locate athletes by country or by sport. Users can take part in a 'Game for the Games' competition; the more athletes they 'like' and the more tips and videos they watch, the more points they earn, resulting in virtual gold, silver, and bronze medals and real Olympic rewards, such as branded pins and autographed T-shirts.
Users can also unlock secret training advice from Olympic athletes, including Nadia Comaneci (gymnastics, ROU), Ed Moses (athletics, USA), Mark Spitz (swimming, USA), and Christopher Dean (figure skating, GBR). During the Games, interviews with athletes will take place from within the Athletes' Village, connecting fans and Olympians in real time.
In 2006, the UK Parliament passed the London Olympics Games and Paralympic Games Act, which, together with the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act 1995, offers a level of protection to the Games and their sponsors over and above that already promised by existing copyright or contract law.
Despite the various ways for Olympic fans, 70,000 volunteers and athletes to communicate with one another, the IOC has set compulsory rules, prompting commentators to label this year's event as the 'strictest' Games to date when it comes to protecting broadcasting rights and sponsorship deals from major backers like Coca-Cola, McDonalds, P&G, and Visa.
As part of the 'IOC Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines for participants and other accredited persons at the London2012 Olympic Games' policy it states 'the IOC encourages all social media and blogging activity at the Olympic Games provided that it is not for commercial and/or advertising purposes'.
At the same time LOCOG has set in place branding 'police' preventing athletes from tweeting, blogging and posting about their competitors, or tweeting mentions of branded products that are not official Olympic sponsors by monitoring online content. Twitter has already agreed to work with LOCOG in barring non-sponsors from buying promoted advertisements with hash tags like '#London2012'.
The policy says"participants and other accredited persons are not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a posting, blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platforms or on any websites". The volunteers are restricted from posting updates, photos and details of their roles and the locations of athletes. Spectators will be barred from uploading video footage of any Olympics events on YouTube or photographs from the inside of the Olympic Village on Facebook or Twitter.
The IOC says: "London 2012 is more likely to spawn a new method of engagement between broadcasters, sponsors and the public, but social media is not a competitor. It is, rather, a channel that can lead more people to discover and learn about them."
The statement adds"Our broadcasters and sponsors will leverage the power of social media websites to encourage fans to watch the Games or converse with them on their own platforms. Fans are free to take and share their photos and videos on websites, but to in order to protect the rights of the broadcasters that have paid to cover the Games, we request that video not be shared on public sites and be used privately. Both the photos and videos must be used non-commercially."
Mobile world moves
In the mobile sphere there are already many London Olympic apps, including the Olympic Torch Tracker, London Olympics Ultimate, and 2012 Olympic News; however, the two official Olympic apps are the 'Join In' and 'Results' apps. The free Join In app is a planning tool for both ticket and non-ticket holders and the Results app will provide results, live updates, sporting details, and athletes' profiles worldwide.
"We received some criticism about the downloading speeds from our Join In app," explained LOCOG's Alex Balfour at SMI 2012, "and this has been our biggest challenge. We stripped some of the data from the app, but when we took the app forward, there were still 10,000 items in there. The fully-loaded app on Android is about 80MB, and a lot of Android devices don't have that much memory available, and that's a huge challenge."
Balfour points out that anyone looking to exploit the potential of social media to support big events like the Olympics has to understand that like-for-like comparisons between the services available on websites and on apps are unfeasible and probably not realistic.
On the topic of operating system platform options, for instance, Balfour added that "Android itself is a challenge because there is so much difference between performance on different devices and from different manufacturers. While we are happy to have fingers pointed at us for how we have developed stuff' the simple truth is that smartphones are not that smart, and you can't do as much with them or on them as you can with a traditional website."
Timeline of audience engagement mass coverage tech evolves into Social meDIA
* 776 BC – News of first athletic competitions held at in ancient Greece at Olympia spreads mainly by word of mouth. Games commemorated on (souvenir?) pottery.
* 1896 – First modern Summer Olympics under auspices of International Olympics Committee, in Greece. Newspapers, magazines, stamps, are contemporary equivalents of leading-edge social media. Event news transmitted by telegraph.
* 1900s – The newly-emerged popular press such as the the Daily Mirror, plus serious broadsheets like the Daily Telegraph and the Times covered the 1908 Olympic Games through newspaper reports and photographs. Wireless telegraphy helps improve the speed with which news is communicated to the growing mass media.
* 1920s – The 1924 Paris Olympics were the first to be broadcast on public radio. Newsreel cameras started to convey scenes from the Games to cinema audiences. Portable cameras meant spectators could take their own snaps.
* 1930s – Opening ceremony of the 1936 Berlin Olympics relayed live on closed circuit television in special viewing halls – mass audiences able to witness proceedings remotely. Film-maker Leni Riefenstahl commissioned to shoot documentary feature film 'Olympia': its context supports National Socialist propaganda messages, say critics.
* 1940s – The BBC paid £1,000 for the television broadcast rights of the 1948 London Olympics (for viewers in London area only).
* 1960s – The Rome Olympics in 1960 broadcast live via the Eurovision TV link. Later Summer and Winter Games broadcast in colour for first time. Cheap photocopying means Olympics interest groups can distribute their own newsletters about tournaments.
* 1970s – Advent of email and bulletin board systems.
* 1980s – Special interest online communities grow-up: Olympic fans are able to exchange information and views with each other around the world.
* 1990s – The public Internet arrives. Early social networks like Geocities enable users to set-up their own unmediated special-interest websites for the 1996 Atlanta Games. Mobile phones mean that Olympic fans can discuss events almost in real time.
* 2000s – Smart devices enable fans to exchange voice and data messages as sport events occur. Websites enable spectators to crowd-source visual content captured digitally.
* 2012 – London 2012 Olympics first Games to have social media support factored into its planning and organisation.
* 2016-2020 – Next-generation social media might include 'mass-apps' like thrill meter implants to aggregate emotional response of spectators to specific Olympic events.
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