Social Media: The Interactive Olympics

Following the Games, we are bathed in the warm glow of success – of the athletes, the volunteers and the armed services; and of LOCOG, whose organisation ensured that the event passed with remarkably few hitches.

Empowerment

One element that was out of LOCOG’s control, and a new feature for the Olympics, was the use of social media to empower spectators from around the world; interacting with official news sources and the athletes themselves, sharing information and giving a real sense of participation. Even those who claimed to have little interest in the Games found themselves caught up in the excitement and following the action; many by using Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

The good news

Before the competition even started, there was keen interest in the details of the opening ceremony, which two dress rehearsals could have leaked. However, as I described in a previous article, the plea from artistic director Danny Boyle to ‘Save the Surprise’ was respected, underlined with a trending hashtag.

Considering these events were attended by tens of thousands of people, many of whom would have been equipped with smartphones, this was a remarkable instance of online co-operation and goodwill.

When the events were underway, the excited and happy crowds watching in the stadia or on outdoor screens were keen to share their experiences with live Twitter comments and information which were used by official news sources such as the BBC and print media.

Those not able to be present or to watch the live TV coverage could follow Team GB on Twitter; or via the BBC text service showing Twitter and Facebook updates from the public. Nearly two million people downloaded the BBC’s Olympics smartphone app on Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

The figures are mind-boggling. The Olympics inspired more than 150 million tweets, with Usain Bolt alone triggering more than 80,000 tweets per minute in the 200 metres; and the Spice Girls’ closing ceremony appearance prompting a peak of more than 116,000 tweets per minute.

Think before you tweet

Of course, it was not all good news. The Twitter abuse of Tom Daley was an example of the malicious comments that have in the past tainted the service. However, the angry reaction of the public; and the action of the police to arrest the perpetrator and suspend the account, sent a clear message that the spiteful can no longer expect anonymity on social networks.

And those who made rash comments, such as Tory minister Aiden Burley who criticised the opening ceremony and attracted the ire of the Prime Minister, may have regretted their haste when their comments instantly hit the headlines.

The sheer power of the social networks has been clearly demonstrated. Social networking is hugely influential and involves vast numbers of people. What goes online is instantly broadcast and shared; especially if those comments are controversial or involve people or organisations in the public eye.

Comments and opinions, regardless of their veracity, can spread virally before action can be taken to counter them. Never before have so many been exposed to such public scrutiny and comment – we should all exercise caution and work to protect our own and our organisations’ reputations, whether we are tweeting or being tweeted about.

And remember, if you’re missing the fizz of the Games and feeling a bit flat, the Paralympics start on 29th August!

Hannah Tufts has been a Communications Assistant with The Security Company (TSC) for one year. She is responsible for internal communications within TSC in addition to managing client communications campaigns and providing marketing support. Hannah graduated in July 2011 from the University of Reading with a 2:1 in English and American Literature. Whilst studying Hannah was a regular contributor to the Travel, Comment and Debate sections of the university newspaper. Hannah has gained experience in the Communications field through her time spent with a variety of organisations including WEXAS Traveller Magazine, Penguin Group and CSC, where she developed her writing skills and in-depth understanding of different target-audiences.