The Socialympics

The rise of social media has forced major sporting events to rethink how they interact with their younger audience. Here, Vision explores how the Olympic Games have successfully adopted an integrated multi-platform approach

Few events have the power to bring the world together like the Olympic Games. Each edition attracts billions of television viewers across the globe and dominates the day-to-day conversations of sports fans and non-sports fans alike as they marvel at the achievements of the world’s finest athletes.

The explosion of social media in recent years has now made it easier than ever for people to join that conversation wherever they are in the world, with the London 2012 Olympics resulting in 116 million Facebook posts, 150 million tweets on Twitter and more than 670 million posts across the Weibo micro-blogging platforms in China.

With such huge online interest in the Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recognised the importance of joining the digital conversation, allowing it to engage with Olympic fans like never before. For Mark Adams, the IOC’s Director of Communications, social media has presented a new way to bring people together through the Olympics.

The International Olympics Committee wanted to leverage social media to ensure the fans didn’t feel disconnected

“The way I like to think about the IOC and our relationship with social media is that the Olympic Games is one of the oldest social networks that has ever been,” he says. “Everyone has an experience and shares that experience with their friends and their family – everyone has an emotional attachment to the Games. We’re just digitising that experience.”

The IOC’s social media activities originally took root following the 13th Olympic Congress in Copenhagen in 2009, where recommendations were made to take advantage of the new opportunities presented by the digital revolution to interact with a youth audience. The subsequent launch of the IOC’s Facebook page, shortly before the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, attracted an unprecedented 1.5 million fans in just one month.

Since then, the IOC’s social media activities have grown rapidly, so that now it regularly interacts with more than 50 million fans in nine languages across a wide range of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Weibo and VK. According to Alex Huot, the IOC’s head of social media, this integrated, multi-platform, multi-language approach enables it to reach the widest possible audience, keeping fans engaged between each Olympics and building excitement ahead of the next edition.

“To date, the IOC has built communities of over 50 million subscribers, who can be engaged long after the Olympic Games have to come an end,” explains Huot. “This results in a lasting digital legacy for future Olympic Games that can benefit the whole of the Olympic Movement.”

social media sport
The Olympic Athletes’ Hub pulls from the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds of more than 6,000 athletes

To help increase the interaction between fans and the Olympics, the IOC also launched its own social media platform in 2012, allowing fans to easily connect with their favourite Olympians online. The Olympic Athletes’ Hub (hub.olympic.org) pools together the verified social media feeds of more than 6,000 athletes from around the world, across every Olympic sport.

“The Olympic Athletes’ Hub was born out of our desire to connect Olympic athletes and their fans more intimately than ever before,” explains Huot. “With the launch of the Hub, we created a paradigm shift in the communication around the Olympic Games, offering an opportunity for greater engagement and interaction between Olympians and their fans.”

For Karla Geci, Director of Strategic Partner Development at Facebook, the IOC’s approach to social media has allowed it to capitalise on the opportunities presented by these global platforms.

“It’s incredibly important to engage with fans in this way,” she says “The IOC recognised that and used the opportunities available to do it in a really smart way. They recognised that it’s a global platform and people of all ages are going to be talking about and sharing their Olympic experiences, so they wanted to facilitate that and make it easy and open. They ultimately wanted to make it a really good experience for all the fans – of course the Games is about the athletes, but the IOC wanted to leverage social media to ensure the fans didn’t feel disconnected. Fans should feel connected nowadays.”

With more than five billion impressions on the Olympic Games Facebook page alone during 2014, it’s clear that fans of the Olympics are more connected than ever before.