Olympic bosses are feeling antisocial about new media
A challenge awaits during the London Games, and it has nothing to do with any race, PB or battle for gold. It’s a social challenge, a fight that will see officials attempt to control the near impossible, the unwinnable war against Facebook and Twitter.
London has been dubbed the “First Social Olympics”. During the Beijing Games, there were 100 million people on Facebook. Today there are close to a billion. Twitter back then was barely two years old, with two million tweeters, now it has over 140 million. Many of these users are going to want to post pictures, tweet updates and document their experience of the Olympics using social media, whether they’re an athlete, official or a fan.
These days everyone with a smart phone is a photographer, cameraman and potential reporter and Games officials fear they are going to struggle to keep control of their product. There are massive multi-million dollar sponsorships and broadcast rights deals at stake and the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) says the tough new guidelines for fans, officials and athletes are imperative to their security, viability and exclusivity.
Spectators at the Games will have to fall into line with LOCOG’s somewhat draconian ticketing guidelines. Posting videos or sound recordings online, including on social media sites is forbidden and photos will have to be for personal and domestic purposes only, not for commercial use. Fair and simple enough, but where do you draw the line?
There’s murky, grey water lingering here and it’s not from the River Thames. Say I take a ridiculously funny or just interesting photo at the Games, I’m wearing my Nike T’shirt with the famous tick prominently positioned. I post it on facebook and my 1000 friends see it, they comment on it therefore further exposing the photo to that person’s 1000 friends, another gets tagged in it, expanding its reach to another web of friends, one of their’s comments on it…and so on and so on. It was an innocent post but great (and free) advertisement for Nike and they haven’t put a cent into the Games with Adidas the major sponsor.
Policing this threads a whole other web of problems. Monitoring Facebook sites globally to make sure no one has posted videos or their photos can be used in the wrong way, is a ludicrous task and by LOCOG’s own admission, there’s simply “not much we can do about it”.
The Athletes and officials have to play by the rules too and the pressure is on to make sure they’re wise with their words. According to the IOC Social Media Guidelines, their posts should be in “in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist - i.e. they must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons”. Again, there’s so much grey area here and there are no prior precedents to go by, though they’ll all be set this Olympics…
An athlete talking about their performance in the wrong way or simply mentioning another competitor, whether it is a friend or rival, has the potential to land them in hot water. The IOC is urging athletes to report the misuse of social media to them using a specific monitoring website too… So it’s safe for athletes to just talk about how they’re feeling and what they had for breakfast… oh hang on… not even that.
They won’t be able to promote any non-Olympic sponsor brands, products or services in their posts. Athletes won’t be able to tweet about their breakfasts or meals in the village if they’re not the brands that have outlaid the big bucks.
Many athletes have their own lucrative sponsors backing them, but they won’t be able to promote those, even ever so casually in their tweets. Usain Bolt for example, won’t be able to twug (tweet and plug) about his Pumas or about drinking a Pepsi, with whom he has lucrative deals – when Coca-Cola and Adidas are the main sponsors and have paid in excess of 100 million pounds for the rights. A blackout period isn’t new, but never has it had to compete with the size and power of today’s social media network.
But bumbling the brands isn’t the competitors only concern but when and how athletes use their twitter accounts. Glittering careers can come crashing down faster than it takes the pinky to move to the shift key and the middle finger to reach for the number 3 to construct a #hashtag from one simple post.
Stephanie Rice sure wishes she had chosen her 140 characters more wisely when tweeting about the Wallabies win in South Africa in 2010, a tweet which cost her the “girl next door” image and a heck load of sponsors.
But this may not be such a bad thing, as some of our athletes get a little too caught up watching their “followers” tally tick over and admittedly need some pulling back on the thumb hockey. The AOC was recently forced to tighten its grip on the athletes’ mobile phones after being shocked to hear competitors were tweeting during a recent Olympic diving test event.
Clearly there’s a time and place to tweet and during a competition isn’t one of them. The potential for distraction and loss of focus for any athlete is massive if they’re accessing their accounts throughout competitions. It also opens up a whole different can of worms when fans can place bets on sports, mid competition too.
Cycling Australia has also put in place strict restrictions, banning athletes mobiles and tablets during training sessions and competitions.
Tweeting, even innocently, can prove a disruptive distraction but a controversial tweet, can do a whole lot more damage. British Olympic swimming legend Sharron Davies has called for a blanket twitter ban for all GB athletes during the two weeks, fearing boredom could lead to an athlete tweeting the wrong thing and overshadowing all the great stories coming out of the Games.
We all saw the potential for this to happen just last week when Olympic swimmer Kenrick Monk posted photos of himself and Nick D’Arcy wielding guns at a gun shop in the US. Whether you agree or not that they were doing something wrong in that post, there’s no doubting it hogged the media spotlight for days, overshadowing many other stories out there. If it wasn’t for Facebook, the photos may never have made it to your newspapers and televisions, much like those taken of the Australian swim team in 2007 at a group bonding session at a Canberra rifle range. The AOC placed a blanket Twitter and Facebook ban on Monk and D’Arcy throughout the London Games, the pair then extended it further yesterday by announcing they’re on a self-imposed social media ban from now until the end of the Games.
But all is not lost and forbidden when it comes to social media at the Olympics. In an effort to combat the problem, LOCOG launched the “Athletes’ Hub” last month. In what could be seen as a “can’t beat them join them’ move, the website integrates Facebook and Twitter to allow fans to follow athletes’ tweets and posts and feel closer to the athlete. Fans will have to log into the site and as an incentive to use the Athletes’ Hub, can earn points for every athlete searched, video downloaded etc, these points can also earn you rewards such as pins, T-shirts etc.
But will it work? How much of a role social media will play in these games for the future of the Olympics’ lucrative sponsorship deals will be tested in those two weeks in July and August…will 140 characters cost careers and contracts? Or will the social media landscape grow faster, higher and stronger than the IOC can control?
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