The D@ily Byte

A blog on digital culture and new media

Social Media at the Games: Twitter Takes First Place

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By Courtney Fowler   Student Columnist  

Almost a week on from the Olympics, I was pondering what really stuck out for me about this years games. There were amazing feats of strength, records broken, heartbreaking losses, controversial drug allegations and a lot of scrutiny surrounding our athletes performance.

There is nothing new here, these will always be the hot topics of conversation surrounding any Olympics. What was new about this year’s games was the pervasive use of social media to turn this into the very first ‘social games’. The IOC decided to get on the social media bandwagon and Twitter was set to make London Twenty Twelve the first ‘conversational games’ in Olympic History.

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From the wacky and weird ‘tweeps’, to the prestigious news institutions, the twittersphere has been made famous as the spontaneous unsanitised provider of breaking news. However, leading up to the games Twitter saw this year’s Olympics as a very strategic play to increase its presence around planned live events. Increased adverting was also predicted to help promote growth for the twittersphere. Shita Ovide from the Wall Street Journal reports:

And boy did Twitter take the games by storm with over 150 million tweets being posted about the Olympics during the 16 days. Usain Bolt ruled the twittersphere with a whopping 80, 000 tweets posted per minute after he won gold in the 200m final. This was followed with more than 74,000 messages posted every minute for his 100-metre triumph,  the second most-tweeted event of London 2012.

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Twitter disclosed that the opening ceremony sparked 9.66 million tweets,                                                                                                       more than the all of the tweets for 2008 Beijing Olympics combined. In fact, the sheer volume of tweets from sports fans attending the Olympics was to blame for overloading of data networks which affected television coverage throughout the games. The Age reported that sports fans attending were told  to avoid non-urgent text messages and tweets during events to avoid jamming GPS systems used by commentators to report on athlete’s progress.  In events such as the mens cycling road race, commentators were unable to tell television viewers the distance of the leader from the rest of the pack because data could not get through from the GPS systems travelling with the cyclists [The Age,2012].

This was only the first of many controversies caused by Twitter users at the games. After the IOC launched the Olympic Athletes Hub-a website displaying photos, videos and chats from the Olympic Village, there was severe backlash from athletes competing over Rule 40 of the Olympic Charter. This rule placed restrictions on athletes promoting personal sponsors, due to sponsorship deals with companies such as Adidas, Visa and Coca-Cola.

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Twitter became a social medium used by athletes to protest about these unfair restrictions. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that athletes claimed these restriction not only impinged upon their freedom of speech, but also  would limit their earnings from personal sponsors. This photo posted by Olympic Hurdler Dawn Harper was one of several which caused the IOC more than a bit of a headache surrounding this controversial rule.

Forbes reports: “The issue raises a concern on whether the IOC is setting a precedent for how social media will be monitored at upcoming sporting events, such as the Super Bowl and the World Cup. When it comes down to it, if an organization places restrictions that limits the way it engages with the public, such as the ones placed on the Olympic athletes, it will eventually have an adverse effect on the brand over time, gradually making it less relevant.  The expectation is that the IOC’s response, and subsequent repercussions, serve as a negative example and lesson to other organizations.” [Forbes, 2012]

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Athletes weren’t the only ones causing controversy on twitter, with many sports fans placing unnecessary negative pressure on athletes. Two athletes who were severely affected by comments made on Twitter were British Diver Tom Daley and Australia swimmer Emily Seebohm .

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The Sydney Morning herald reported that a 17-year-old was arrested over abusive tweets sent to Tom Daley, insinuating he had let down his father who had passed away from cancer last year. he diver retweeted to his 1.5 million followers with the note: “After giving it my all…you get idiot’s sending me this.” [The Sydney Morning Herald, 2012]

This begs the question how much do these negative tweets impact upon our athletes performance?

Emily Seebohm revealed that negative tweets from an Australian teenager may have played a role in her silver-medal performance in the 100m backstroke final, after she was hot favourite to take home gold.

The phenomenon known as trolling, has become a hot topic of conversation post olympics, with debate being generated around the severe punishment received by the British tweeter who was arrested on suspicion of malicious communications.

Sporting fans were not the only ones reprimanded over negative tweets, with a British Correspondent Guy Adams being temporarily removed from Twitter after he was overly critical of the US network NBC’s Olympic coverage in his #nbcfail tweet.

Twitter followers went into public outcry over the reporters removal from the site, leading to questions being raised about its neutrality when it comes to business partners such as the NBC.

Time Magazine asked the question “”If there’s even the suggestion that Twitter might choose to enforce its standards more assiduously for people who criticise its business partners, what happens when the growing company develops business interests in, say, a country whose government is under protest?” [Time Magazine, 2012]

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The guardian questioned whether users should start looking to a new platform after the controversial Guy Adams ban.

Despite these incidents, the social media experience at the Games was not all negative. To the contrary athletes and fans were able to connect in ways they had never been able to before. It revolutionised viewers ability to participate in the coverage of an international event which attracts approx 1 billion views to television networks globally.

Twitter was able to encapsulate the Olympic spirit in ways other mediums were unable to, with the Telegraph reporting that an honest twitter user  used the site to reunite an olympic fan with his lost £300 athletics ticket.

So have Twitter been successful in the Olympics campaign? What is the future of Twitter at large sporting events to come?  Only time will tell, however I think the micro-blogging site has great potential to revolutionise the way we view and report on global events in the future. It will be particularly interesting to see how Twitter users engage with the upcoming Paralympics coverage.

With Twitter users increasing to 140 million active users during this games, I think we can safely say that despite some negative press Twitter were the real winners out of this years Olympics.

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Articles cited in this Blog:

A New Social Media Strategy for the Olympics, Future Sporting Events [Forbes]  (Read this Article)

The ‘Social Olympics’: who were the winners and losers? [The Sydney Morning Herald] (Read this Article)

Usain Bolt rules Twitter during Games [Phys Org] (Read this Article)

Don’t tweet if you want TV, London fans told [The Age]  (Read this Article)

Olympics fan reunited with ticket after twitter user picks it up [The Telegraph]  (Read this Article)

American Olympians launch Twitter Protest [Eurosport.com]  (Read this Article)

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