It’s been said often enough that this is the first Twitter Olympics.
That is, of course, if you are not actually attending Games events. Then, you are kindly asked to refrain from tweeting as it gobbles up all the bandwidth, leaving TV stations struggling to send event broadcasts around the world. And for athletes themselves, it’s a pretty sterilised experience of social media, with the IOC setting strict rules for social media content sharing.
But behind all that, huge numbers of people are watching the events on TV and then sharing their experience with the world online. It’s a real two screen phenomenon; armchair enthusiasts watching and responding to the spectacle before them as part of a global social community. From the Opening Ceremony to the first two days of competition, Twitter has been the key location for sharing collective pride, commentary and debate over performance.
SOURCE: Sysomos data, 29 July 2012
Since the Opening Ceremony on Friday UK time, there have been 6.5 million mentions of the Olympics on twitter, representing 97% of all social comments. Of these tweets, the most re-tweeted content has referred to the Opening Ceremony, mingled with messages of pride and the odd joke.
For the most part, conversations have been remarkably positive. Leaving aside the negative tweets on empty seats at event venues and LOCOG brand rules (I’ll come back to this in a minute), the sentiment has generally been a testament to the spirit of the event as a bringing together of souls in sportsmanship, patriotism and fun.
And I have to say my own experience of the Opening Ceremony was highly enjoyable. Some of the funniest moments on screen were enhanced by the hilarious commentary online.
But the value of experiencing the Games with twitter is probably best summarised by this tweet:
The Games are implicitly a live, shared experience – via events, gatherings, broadcasts. Twitter is uniquely positioned to capitalise on this, bringing together friends and networks whose commentary adds perspective, enhances wonder and promotes imagination. This is active appreciation; the forging of communities via a collective vision, rather than the passive reception of highly structured content.
Yet amidst all this positive sharing are the IOC and LOCOG brand police. Not only were all videos that captured moments of the Opening Ceremony promptly banned, but in an Opening Ceremony which celebrated social media as common modern form of communication, you could not even share a screenshot of the event on Twitter without breaching Olympics brand rules.
The rationale for the authoritarian LOCOG response to shared content on social media is, of course, to protect the interests of its sponsors. Now I’m not going to get in to the extremes of how the LOCOG brand police have treated businesses and even surfaces in London; that’s been widely discussed, and we’re all rolling our eyes as to the extent of the response. But real time banning of social content and suspension of Twitter accounts that are deemed to breach the LOCOG rules are not protecting anything. They’re merely limiting the conversations. If anything it’s dissuading active engagement, and by implication, it’s diminishing the audience.
Now I know this is a product of exclusivity negotiations between brands and the IOC over many years. Brand police are just carrying out their contracted activities to ensure that the IOC can invoice sponsors and broadcast rights holders for remaining monies owed after the event. But there are lessons that can and should be learned from this titanic clash of social sharing versus brand rules.
1. Shared experiences extend the focus of the Olympics, and on brands associated with the event.
2. Value in broadcasts is vested in LIVE footage of events. Recordings and excerpts should be treated as tributes, not criminal reproductions. If you want to embed attribution, then use a watermark in the broadcast.
3. Maintaining exclusivity over words, images and celebrations of the Olympics in social channels is self-defeating. This isn’t de facto advertising, it’s conversation.
- The use of social channels to critically assess people, brands or other aspects of the event isn’t sedition. It’s frequently satire, often qualitatively indifferent, and even occasionally it’s fair comment. But most importantly, if comments are posted in social channels, they facilitate replies and alternative perspectives. On Twitter, such statements give rise to community responses. Shutting such comments down is pointless because they get re-shared elsewhere. It’s also missing the point of social as a forum for debate.
These lessons all arise from one serious problem with Olympics brand management: red light regulation. It’s all about what you can’t say, and what you can’t see, and what you can’t share. It would be more useful to have developed rules which allowed people and brands to in fact spread the Olympics message further and faster.
The two screen experience has been growing for some time. Shared live broadcasts enable users to extend their lounge room to their friends as well as to strangers who wish simply to join in on conversations about about the ideas, stories and events that bring them together. The Olympics and brands associated with it would do well to renegotiate their contracts to allow further spreading of the Olympics message.
Not just because social channels improve shared experiences, but because in the social age, we should be thinking about enabling rather than disabling access.