Social media had its biggest role in the Olympics, ever. When the Beijing Games took place in 2008, the number of Facebook users was just 100 million compared to the 900 million users the service has now. And Twitter has over 140 million users after its creation in 2008. Fans from all across the world were cheering for their favorite athletes as well as athletes sharing their experiences of the games.
With all this social media came some problems. There have been some issues even before the games began with a Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou, who was kicked off of the team Wednesday after tweeting on July 22nd, “With so many Africans in Greece at least West Nile mosquitoes will eat homemade food.”
NBC has had more than it’s fill of public outcry with complaints about their poor coverage, and people did not take kindly to being asked to limit their social media use during the games due to bandwidth issues.
A couple of Aussie swimmers Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk were banned from using social media in London by the Australian Olympic Committee after posting pictures of themselves with guns on Facebook when they were training in the United States. They have been ordered to return directly home after completion of their events in London.
Two years ago, Jaguar pulled an endorsement deal from Stephanie Rice after a possible homophobic tweet.
The IOC has given guidelines to the athletes for the games. They stated athletes may write “first-person, diary-type” entries of their experiences but shouldn’t act like a reporter. Their social media activity must respect the Olympic Charter which condemns discrimination. Obscene words or images are against the rules, as well as posting for advertising purposes or financial gain. The IOC stated the accreditations of “any organization or person…may be withdrawn without notice” if they break the rules and most athletes are aware of the rules.
Dr. William Ward, Syracuse University social media professor, commented on the huge potential to attract people (some not in athletics) for the opening ceremonies.“That has the potential to create a lot of engagement among fans, and non-fans who are just curious,” he said in an interview. His predictions became reality.
The great part of social media use of athletes is that it gives us a firsthand view of their training, success, and failures.
One of the most popular Twitter users is Lolo Jones, an Olympic hurdler, who has over 175,307 followers. She has a huge following and provides witty commentary on her days leading up to the games as well as plenty of fan interaction. This provides a positive spokesperson for the USA and helps boost the popularity of women’s track & field.
Not all Olympic hopefuls have it made with sponsors while training to get on the team. Andia Winslow, who is a promising athlete, hopes to make the U.S. skeleton team in the 2014 Winter Games. She used a YouTube video of her first day, going from the top to the to the end of the bobsled track which attracted both awareness and critical financial support for her training. “The mobility and ease of instantaneous crowdsourcing and crowdfunding is especially exciting as many athletes and smaller federations remain nationally unfunded,” Winslow wrote in an email interview. “During the season, athletes train full-time and for those of us living in the Olympic Training Centers, it is often difficult to secure flexible employment. Without [that] support, I would not be able to train as I do!”
The Olympics may have seen the failure in businesses banning or ignoring social media, so they seem to be jumping head first into this pool with their addition of an Olympian portal where you can follow your favorite athletes on social networks. Which will allow for some mistakes, but the benefits will far outweigh the issues by connecting with fans across the world and promoting the spirit of the games.