Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Faster, higher, Twitter: Social media and the Olympic Games

The Olympics are something of a social-media conundrum. The Olympics– as an event — embody the spirit of community and multiculturalism better than anything else I know, and they’re already inspiring tons of  activity across a range of social networks.

Yet the  Olympics — as a brand — have a fairly anemic official social presence.  The result is an interesting case study in community development and social brand management.

Alexandra Samuel argues that the games are practically tailor-made for social media. Yet most of her analysis is about the ways organizations that are tangential to the games — the host city, the local media — are using social technology. The closest she comes to actually discussing the games is in talking about social efforts by one of the projects of the Cultural Olympiad. She’s not writing about the Olympics as an organization so much as she is describing a cultural force.

I don’t mean to be too critical of the Olympics in this regard — it’s worth noting that they have some special challenges to overcome. Part of the issue is the partners the Olympics have in this undertaking, such as NBC and the host city of Vancouver. Many individual teams, athletes and other partners have their own social presences. There just can’t be a single voice here. There’s also the question of language and cultural barriers. Finally, there’s the fact that folks aren’t interested in talking about the Olympics in general — they want to talk about individual champions. Much of the discussion of Twitter today wasn’t about the Olympics directly, but about individual athletes such as Alexandre Bilodeau.

It’s a familiar story: We’ve got a well-known brand that lots of people are very passionate about, but organizational considerations make sure the brand’s social presence remains subdued. What breaks that logjam?

The answer, in part, might be something along the lines of publishing  lists of Olympic athletes who tweet. For an event like the Olympics, fostering discussion around your brand might actually be preferable to having a top-down social presence. If the stories of the athletes are what get people talking, then playing to that strength may pay better dividends than striving for direct corporate engagement. The moral of the Olympics’ social-media story may be that playing to your organization’s strengths is a better bet than following some arbitrary playbook.

What do you think of the Olympics’ social presence? Is direct engagement always better than indirect? What are some other ways organizations can get around logistical hangups and find indirect ways to embrace social media?

Image credit, goldhafen, via iStock

Much of the discussion of Twitter today wasn’t about the Olympics directly, but about individual athletes such as Alexandre Bilodeau