There’s no denying it: Twitter has changed our world.
The London 2012 Olympics are being called “The First Social Media Olympics,” or “Socialympics,” despite the fact that the social networking has been around for a good 10 years or so, now. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Twitter hadn’t yet tipped into the mainstream, and there was quite a bit of censorship around criticizing Chinese politics. Use of social media was quite rampant during our own Vancouver 2010 Olympics, but those games took place just before the iPad was introduced to the world.
Twitter’s role in the Olympics is powerful for a bunch of reasons:
It makes our world smaller. During the opening ceremonies, millions of fans watching from all over the world were able to debate, communicate and share their thoughts on what was happening in London. No longer are we watching these events unfold in our living rooms with a few family members or friends. We are now sharing the experience with literally millions of people all over the world. It’s pretty amazing.
It gives us access to the athletes in a way we have never yet experienced. Tech-savvy athletes, armed with smartphones, are able to keep us abreast of their moment-by-moment experience of the games. From thanking the fans when they win a medal, to tweeting photos of their current view of the Olympics (like from the floor of the opening ceremonies), we have a sense of intimacy with these people that has previously been non-existent.
It helps the athletes advance their personal brand. Being an Olympic athlete seems like it’s all glory all the time, but it’s actually a pretty thankless job. There isn’t a lot of money to be made in it, the training is grueling, and there is the constant threat of defeat and having your career ended by an injury. Social networking sites like Twitter, Blogs and Facebook allow athletes to attract sponsorship and create a personal brand for themselves which will hopefully continue on long after they have hung up their runners/speedos/javelin.
But here’s the thing: the Olympics are a very closely-guarded operation. It is very, very important to the IOC that their brand remains strong and undiluted. For good reason. Sponsors (and there has been a huge bru-ha-ha over the fact that some of the main Olympic sponsors include corporations like Coke and McDonald’s) pay $50 Million to have their brand connected with the Olympics. As such, the Olympic brand is heavily policed. Remember during our Olympics when a local mom-and-pop pizza joint got sued by the IOC?
As an athlete, you have to be extremely careful. For example, if Adidas is sponsoring you, and you tweet about Puma, you could be facing an extremely expensive lawsuit.
And let’s face it: we all use Twitter to complain a bit. Come on. Admit it. You do it, too. But when that complaining gets out of hand, or turns racist, or is threatening, bad things happen. Witness #FreeGuyAdams.
The problem here, is that Twitter is still so new. And there are no real “rules” for how to use it. Common sense, sure. But common sense means different things to different people. Twitter is a very powerful tool, and it can easily cause damage in the wrong hands.
IOC organizers and the muckety-mucks in London have no rules to go by. When does a Tweet cross the line? When is an athlete in contradiction of Olympic communication policies?? We’re just making this up as we go along… An institution that is nearly 3,000 years old meets a 6-year-old technology. Some chaos is bound to ensue.