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Social media bringing down the walled garden of the Olympic Games
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Social media lets people eavesdrop on the conversations between celebrities or be eyewitnesses to revolutions around the world. It’s also bringing down the walls around another secret garden: the Olympics.
Technologies that allow regular citizens to connect to the Games are slowly being adopted by international and local Olympic organizers.
It’s a major step forward for the movement, which has often been criticized for a top-down approach to communication – the IOC once spoke and expected people to listen.
But the explosion of blogs, Facebook and message boards is beginning to force them to listen a little more themselves.
“Clearly if you want to talk to people you have to use the channels that are available,” said Mark Adams, the director of communications for the IOC.
“We can’t ignore them. They are there and people are going to talk with you or about you, you might as well talk with them.”
When the IOC gathers in Copenhagen in October for a conference on the future of the Games, they’ll hear from the public as well via a series of videos submitted online through YouTube.
They committee used the online video site for the Beijing Games so countries that didn’t have broadcasters with digital rights to the Games could get access to footage.
The Internet has also been a major boon for Games broadcasters, allowing them to show thousands more hours of coverage than they would have otherwise.
But social media allows them to go a step further, said Alon Marcovici, the vice-president of digital media and research for the CTV/Rogers consortium that owns the broadcast rights to the 2010 Winter Games in Canada.
“The reality is, outside of video, on these new social platforms, there is no rights-holding broadcaster, so to speak,” he said.
“If we didn’t do it, someone else would fill the gap and we want to make sure we are the ones leading the charge of the content on those platforms.”
The consortium has Twitter feeds and Facebook groups and are hoping to post user-generated content beginning with the torch relay on their website.
Marcovici said one of the strengths of social media is it could allow Olympic communities to exist after the Games, instead of just bubbling up in the days around the events only to recede.
“The IOC can play a role in connecting them and making the Olympics a little bit more than just, maybe not 24/7, but certainly for a big chunk of the year rather than just 17 days.”
On Twitter, there are already dozens of users tweeting about the Games, including athletes, fans and recently, the IOC itself.
One is Garnet Nelson, who was the marketing manager for Vancouver’s bid for the Games.
Tweeting under the handle of OlympicGuy, he uses his feed to broadcast Olympic-related news as a fan but also in his current capacity as the managing partner of Altius Sport Marketing in Vancouver, which advises companies on sports sponsorships.
“Social media will absolutely change the face of events and the way happenings are reported and recorded en masse,” he said.
“It will also change the way that events try to define and protect their own territory and their own messages.”
While Vancouver Olympic organizers were quick to register traditional Internet domain names for the Games, they weren’t as fast on Twitter. There are users who aren’t officially affiliated with the committee using the names of the mascots or titles like 2010Olympics.
The committee says it is watching the users but doesn’t intend to go after them for violating copyright.
The explosion of social media also paves the way for the IOC to potentially branch into another category of sponsorship – technology.
Companies like Microsoft or Google, the owners of YouTube, could be brought onside to become the exclusive “social media” technology providers for future Games.
Vancouver organizers are looking to use social media applications during the torch relay.
People will be able to follow the torch via GPS, click on geo-tagged photos to see a live map of where the flame is or sign up for Facebook groups that organizers are encouraging communities to set up to allow people to connect with the torch.
“It’s absolutely new territory for all of us,” said Suzanne Reeves, the committee’s director of communications for the torch relay.”
“Our expectation is the relay and people following the relay will be very active in the social media, on the web and it is an opportunity just to have a broader reach.”
Organizers are also allowing bloggers to be accredited as official media along the torch relay route.
Just prior to the 2008 Summer Olympics, the IOC issued its first set of guidelines for whether and how athletes and other officials could blog at the Games.
The concern around athlete blogs is that the IOC forbids anyone but accredited journalists to act as journalists.
The committee then decided that blogs weren’t journalism, more like personal diaries, so athletes were given a green light.
Even as sports leagues like the NFL forbid players from using Twitter during games, the IOC has no formal policy.
When it comes to whether bloggers can get accredited as official media for an Olympics, the decision rests with the national Olympic committees who parcel out the coveted all-access passes for reporters.
For the 2010 Games, the Canadian Olympic Committee has given accreditation to a handful of web-based outlets, mostly to ones who follow the Olympics on a full-time basis.
There will also be a citizen journalism space for the Games, being set up by a group of social media advocates in Vancouver.
B.C.’s unaccredited media centre for the Games has also opened up space for bloggers and received seven applications for its 30 available spaces.
Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.
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