“Was London 2012 the First Socialympics?” is the topic for one of Social Media Week Glasgow’s events this year. Prof. Andy Miah, Director of the Creative Futures Institute at the University of the West of Scotland and co-author of “The Olympics: the Basics” will give a talk on the social Olympics. With that in mind, I’ve been thinking a bit about whether or not online networks have broadened our view of the games.
Social media has changed the way we experience the Olympics. London 2012 was online and mobile, pinned and blogged, tweeted and re-tweeted, hash-tagged and shared. The BBC broadcast the events on 24 website channels. That meant we could curate a personal view of the games, by choosing the sports and competitors we wanted to follow.
In total, the BBC streamed 2.8 petabytes of Olympic coverage in the UK. In the United States, the NBC television network teamed up with YouTube to deliver live video to US residents from its Olympic site. (Ironically the broadcaster was heavily criticised for not showing the opening ceremony live, in parallel with related Twitter traffic.)
Many athletes, not just the most popular, appreciate their fans and engage with them through services like Twitter. A study, published in the International Journal of Sport Communication in 2010, categorised the nature of a sample of their tweets. The research found that while only 5% of the messages were “promotional in nature”, 34% were direct communication with fans and other competitors.
One of the great things about international sport is that it can absorb you in the progress of an underdog or an outlier. For example, Italian Kayak Sprinter Josefa Idem lives an interesting story. A mother of two, she is forty-eight this September. This is her 8th Olympiad. In total she has won 5 medals, for both West Germany and Italy.
It wasn’t only those who made the finals that posted good commentary. Andrew Steele, a British 400m runner who competed in China 2008, didn’t make it this year, after suffering from the Epstein-Barr virus. He still wrote and tweeted about the events for some 3,300 followers.
Facebook Explore 2012 was the leading social network’s answer to the question “who should I follow?”. Through the portal, you could find pages for national teams, sports and participants. It wasn’t bad. It was OK but there were links to pages for less than 600 athletes. Over 10,000 participated in the Olympics, another 4,000 will compete in the Paralympics. If athletes use social media to the same extent as the general population, quite a few more than 600 must be Facebook users.
Similarly, only around 60 out of more than 200 nations were represented on the Facebook Explore 2012 site. It has 3.7 million users who ‘like’ the Olympic Games. Many of them may have been looking for a more nuanced perspective on the events than they could access through Facebook’s portal.
NBC’s Twitter Tracker also provided a way to personalise your view of the events. Its stories were a real-time compilation of tweets that discussed a specific contestant, sport or trending topic. In many respects it was a useful tool. The main page featured a beautiful montage of images to represent (some of) the sports. Below that there was a list of trending topics. The site kept track of the total number of Olympic-related tweets and what NBC called the TPM (Tweets per Minute) rate. On the first day of action, those numbers were 14 million and 1,800 respectively.
Many of us did enjoy a better experience of these Olympic games with social media, but our perception of who to follow was still limited by gatekeepers like the BBC, NBC and Facebook. There’s plenty of scope for social discovery tools to improve, ahead of the Winter Games, Sochi 2014, in Russia.
To find out about the impact of social media on London 2012, register for Prof. Andy Miah’s talk, “Was London 2012 the First Socialympics?” It will be held at Glasgow Science Centre on 25 September at 7.30pm.