The Olympics are about so much more than setting records, and yet there is a fascination with the goal of being “the first.” So it ought not to surprise anyone that the British media have been quick to convince themselves and to unabashedly proclaim that the London 2012 Summer Games, which start on Friday, are “the first social media Olympics.”
The only problem with the claim is that it is simply not true.
The Vancouver 2010 Winter Games were the first social media Olympics, and everyone on this side of the pond certainly knows it. I recently challenged BBC technology writer Dave Lee on this claim through a Twitter exchange, but he was not the first to ignore or dismiss the fact that it was Canada’s Games, the 2010 Olympics, that were the first to officially and strategically use social media in the execution of an Olympics.
There seems to be a sense among the British media that, because Vancouver 2010 was a Winter Games, it doesn’t count. Or, because there weren’t as many people engaged on social media as there are today, it doesn’t count.
To my thinking, that’s rather like saying that Americans were the first in space because, you know, Yuri Gagarin was a Russian and besides he was only in space for 108 minutes.
The Brits can be as dismissive of our Olympics as they wish, but Canadians can be proud that the Vancouver Olympics were the first to be live-tweeted, the first Olympic Organizing Committee to ever have an official mobile app (with more than one million downloads from more than 50 countries) and the first to have an official Facebook page (with over 1.1 million followers), to name a few firsts.
Anyone who bought the Official 2010 Commemorative Book has seen the tweets that athletes and fans from around the world shared with each other during every minute of those Games.
But what is perhaps far more interesting than who did it first is how management of the social media landscape has evolved in the last 28 months.
With the Vancouver Olympics, the International Olympic Committee was hands-off and let Vanoc take the lead with regard to social media activation and innovation. There were few to no IOC rules about social media use — by fans, or athletes, or anyone else.
Vanoc’s approach toward social media mirrored the approach toward hosting the sport events: The task was to provide a safe, secure, trustworthy, authentic place for athletes and fans to enjoy the events, and to make sure everyone had the important information they needed.
Since Vancouver 2010, however, the IOC has moved aggressively to take control and occupy the social media space.
The most noteworthy example is the IOC’s recently launched Olympic Athletes Hub website to connect fans with athletes through social media. A fine idea, but there is a hitch. Athletes must sign terms and conditions to register their Twitter handles in order to participate. Fans need to create an account as well, which allows the IOC to read their tweets and see who they follow.
The IOC has also moved to include Instagram images on its hub with a feature called Faces of Olympians. Of course, you have to create an account to be able to see the images. It also seems the images will be curated — not the raw, unfiltered content users might otherwise expect. Under the user terms and conditions, the athletes also surrender rights to their images to the IOC.
On Twitter, the IOC has captured a much larger audience than the local organizing committee (one million versus 600,000) and competes with the local organizers to capture and retain the audience. They recently posted behind-the-scenes images from the torch relay, for example, content that the local organizing committee and thousands of volunteers create, but which the IOC uses to capture and build its online audience.
The IOC has also elbowed local organizing committees out of the Facebook space, competing with the London organizers for audience share. The official IOC Facebook page has 2.5 million “likes,” while London’s is still below one million.
It’s hard not to conclude that the social media aspect of the Olympics has been significantly commercialized. Or, to paraphrase a recent tweet by Canadian Olympic skeleton racer, gold medallist Duff Gibson: 2010 was about using social media, while 2012 appears to be about controlling social media.
From my point of view, it seems the Vancouver Games were not only the first actual social media Olympics, but they were also the last unfettered social media Olympics — the last Olympics where athletes, fans and local organizers could connect with each other through social media and share their experiences in a relatively free and less commercialized way.
Graeme Menzies is the former director of online communications and social media for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and author of “Social Media for Communications Professionals.”
Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/2012-summer-games/Vancouver+home+first+social+media+Olympics+London/6978173/story.html#ixzz21riILJ9U