The Social Media Olympics

The Olympic Games serve to showcase the incredible feats capable by the human physiology. But many things have changed since the first Games, held in 776 BC.... Jesse Owens flying in the face of German nationalism to claim 4 gold medals at the 1936 Berlin games, the tragic Munich Massacre of the 1972 games, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci scoring the very first perfect 10 at Montreal 1976, the Ben Johnson scandal of Seoul 1988, sporting legend Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic flame at Atlanta 1996 and the record-shattering Beijing 2008 Olympics, led chiefly by Usain Bolt's 100m and 200m feats & Michael Phelps incredible 8 gold medals.

So when fans look back in a few years time what will be the lasting memory of London 2012? For many it will be seen as the first "Social Media Olympics" or "Socialympics". Four years is an eternity in internet terms and since the last summer Olympics in 2008, social media use has increased exponentially.

Let's look at the numbers. Four years ago, during the Beijing Games, there were just 100 million people on Facebook. Now, the network has swelled to well over 900 million. There's a similar story with Twitter - six million users were signed up in 2008. Now, over 600 million people use the platform. This summer's Olympics is more connected than the five rings of its emblem.

"When I went to the Games for the first time it was back in Barcelona in 1992—those games had an internal email system, and it was ground-breaking," six-time Olympic British archer Allison Williamson told a press conference recently. "In London, I will be sharing photos of the Athletes’ Village and other fun things."

New data from TechBargains suggests 7 out of 8 London 2012 viewers plan to use social media to talk about the games. The data also suggests that:

• 53% plan to support specific athletes via social media or texting during the Games
• 77% plan to engage with other fans via Facebook
• 31% plan to use Twitter
• 57% will be using social media from laptops during the Games

Unfortunately for these viewers there will be restrictions on what they can share. The explosion of social networking offers huge opportunities to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but with much of its revenues dependent on the billion-dollar deals agreed with broadcasters, the body overseeing the Games will be keeping a close eye on our social outlets.

Fans inside any stadium will be allowed to use their smartphones to film Jessica Ennis on the track or Tom Daley in the pool, but they will not be allowed to upload it to Facebook or Twitter, in a ruling that is sure to surprise many tech-savvy fans.

Anthony Edgar, head of media operations for the IOC, admits that social media is an unknown entity for London 2012."You can't hold a camera when you're running down the 100 metre straight and do an exclusive broadcast. That's for the broadcasters," he told Reuters in an interview. "But you can certainly talk about it. You can certainly take photos of it. And you can certainly write about it.

"We're having to deal with things now that didn't exist in Beijing, with a voice that wasn't so loud. Everyone is allowed to film who goes into a venue ... but it's for personal use only."

However, there are not only the fans to worry about, many athletes use social media to connect with their audience and will come under similar scrutiny from their respective Olympic Associations.

"Um, so we've been lost on the road for 4hrs," tweeted twice world 400 metres hurdles champion Kerron Clement on his arrival to the UK, "Not a good first impression of London." The IOC and London 2012 organisers are obviously worried about how one athlete could change the perception of the games with just 140 characters.

The British Olympic Association (BOA) are set to take a hard line with Team GB particularly after Dai Greene fell foul of the organisation's guidelines. Greene, the 400 metre hurdles world champion and Britain's athletics team captain for the London 2012 Olympics was investigated by the BOA after using language that might be construed as offensive in a conversation with fellow British athlete Martyn Rooney on Twitter.

No punishment was handed down to Greene – but the Welshman's bosses at Team GB reminded all of their athletes of the need to exercise care online.

Sir Clive Woodward

"Team GB is over a thousand people. It's not only athletes, you've got coaches and support staff. The chances of somebody saying something that's a bit out of line is probably pretty high." said Sir Clive Woodward, director of sport for Team GB.

"But we're trying our best to educate. That's all you can do - you can either shut the door and pretend it's not there and keep your fingers crossed, or you can really go down the education route."

In an effort to educate their athletes, Team GB has produced an instructional video - fronted by Dame Kelly Holmes - warning about the risks "loose" tweeting could have on their reputations.

"One of my favourite sayings when speaking to athletes is how do you want to be remembered?” Sir Clive added. "They're role models 24-7, and they're role models when they're on Twitter."

Do you think it's fair for fans and athletes alike to be subjected to these guidelines or should freedom of speech be exercised?  Let us know on Facebook or comment below.

Paul Shepherd

I've worked in digital communications for around 15 years, and specialised in social media for the past three. Passionate about new technologies, media, and the impact it has on businesses bottom line, I try to bring that passion to every campaign for every brand we work with.