Social Media and the Olympic Games: Lessons Learned in London; Looking Ahead to Rio
By Andrea N. Geurin, Ph.D.
New York University
Hello, fellow NASSM members and welcome to the first-ever NASSM blog post!
As part of the Promotions & Publicity Committee, I offered to write the first post in an attempt to show everyone the types of pieces we hope to publish on this site. We have a great line-up of writers and topics for the next few months so there will be plenty more examples to come. The committee’s hope is that the blog will serve as a place to connect industry and academia.
I was fortunate enough to get a visit here in Australia from my friend, colleague, and Chair of the P&P Committee, Bri Newland, a few weeks ago. Bri and I had a wonderful couple of days to catch up, go to the beach (it’s summer here!), and also brainstorm ideas for this first blog post. One thing that she and I both love is the Olympics, and we discussed our mutual excitement for the upcoming Games in Rio. This led to discussions about the last Summer Olympics in London and how it was dubbed the “social media Olympics”. Before I knew it we had devised an idea for a blog post on social media – lessons learned from London and looking ahead to Rio.
About a week after this conversation with Bri, I was on a Skype call with some colleagues in the U.S. to discuss research ideas relating to social media and the Rio Games. A very interesting outcome from that call was that none of us could recall much research that had been done on social media at the London Games, which seemed quite peculiar to all of us given the amount of attention that was given to London and social media when the Olympics were taking place. I personally published a piece about online news coverage of the Games in six different countries, and we were able to find a handful of studies that involved social media, but the amount of literature on this topic was definitely lacking. This led me to create a list of three lessons I think we can learn from London as we look ahead to Rio:
1) There is room for (and a need for) researchers to examine the role of social media in Rio.
While it is fairly easy to collect content from social media accounts for analysis, it would be far more beneficial for both our academic field and sport management practitioners if researchers were able to partner with industry organizations (e.g., national governing bodies of sport, Olympic sponsors, the Rio 2016 organizing committee, etc.) and develop mutually beneficial research projects that the industry partners could utilize before/during/after the Games, while also providing important data that would help the literature on sport and social media grow in a meaningful way.
2) From a practical standpoint, broadcasters like NBC must evolve with the times.
I lived in the United States during the London Games and one of my biggest frustrations, and one that I know many other friends and colleagues shared was that NBC waited until the evenings to broadcast the marquee events. Since these were shown on tape delay, I rarely watched anything without already knowing the outcome because of social media posts or news websites’ reporting. It isn’t realistic to believe consumers will avoid their computers or the Internet all day in anticipation of the events like gymnastics, track and field, swimming, etc., so it would be better for broadcasters to show the events as they are happening, and also to encourage more online conversations about these events. Inviting fans to attend virtual “tweet-ups” during certain Olympic competitions or hosting photo competitions on Instagram in which fans are asked to imitate their favorite moments from the Games would help to bring together fans from around the country or even the globe. NBC (or other broadcasters) could do a better job facilitating these conversations and also acknowledging or highlighting these conversations on the live broadcasts.
3) There is an opportunity to better educate Olympic athletes on how they can use social media during the Games.
For any of us who are on social media, we know that athletes love posting to these platforms. During the 2012 Olympics, however, many of them seemed to clam up or appeared nervous about what they were posting. That witty runner you loved so much suddenly wasn’t displaying his hilarious sense of humor, or the volleyball player who regularly posted behind-the-scenes pictures of herself and her teammates suddenly didn’t post anything. This is most likely due to the International Olympic Committee’s “Social and Digital Media Guidelines”, which athletes are expected to follow during the Olympics. For many of these athletes, the Olympics are their one chance at making a name for themselves with an audience beyond the hard-core fans of their sport, and social media is one way in which they can accomplish this by reaching a wide range of fans and potential sponsors. I’ve heard from many of the 2012 athletes that because they didn’t fully understand these guidelines, they were nervous and decided not to post anything, or to only make a few posts during the Games to avoid getting in trouble. This presents an opportunity for NGBs to engage their athletes in greater social media training prior to the Games to make sure the athletes understand the rules, and guidance during the Games to ensure that athletes are posting in a way that follows the rules but also showcases their personality and shares their experiences in Rio. This might also be an interesting opportunity for academics to partner with NGBs to assist in providing this training and guidance.
These are just a few of my thoughts and suggestions on making the social media aspects of the Rio Olympics more effective than London. What additional ideas do you have that would make social media better in Rio? Please share your comments below!