So what’s the big difference between Beijing 2008 and London 2012?
Well, since 2008, YouTube now has 147.4 million unique viewers, a huge chunk of the world’s population has a Facebook profile, and Olympians have decided taking to Twitter to convey the behemoth emotional weight the games puts on them is an appropriate outlet.
When it comes down to who’s involved with the Olympics, there’s no doubt that there’s an added fixture that comes in the form of social media platforms, but how heavily has it impacted London 2012? To go back to the Opening Ceremony, a sizeable portion of the performance was dedicated to one “boy meets girl” scenario. Instead of the regular “boy meets girl, boy talks to girl” plotline, this scene came in the form of “boy texts girl, boy tweets girl”. Alas, their future relationship is in jeopardy when girl has lost her mobile device. The audience waits in anticipation. What is she to do without her cellphone? Will they ever meet again? At the very end, boy returns girl’s lost cell phone and they are reunited once again all thanks due to their network of cyber friends. While you can take this as an ode to technology-induced devolving communication skills, the purpose of this could also be centered on how digital media “brings people together”. Whatever you got from that scene, the importance of social media was a focal point at one of the biggest television events of the year.
Digital media has taken up such a large part of the London 2012 games, it has even been dubbed the “the social media Olympics” by the IOC (International Olympics Committee). Yet, no one really predicted that platforms like Twitter would be getting athletes and journalists into some serious trouble. One Swiss soccer player, Michael Morganella, was banned for mentioning on Twitter that he wanted to “beat up” the South Korean team and then continued by calling the opposing players a “bunch of Mongoloids” in a Tweet. Another athlete, Voula Papachristou, was ousted from her national team for mentioning on Twitter, “With so many Africans in Greece, at least the West Nile mosquitoes will eat home made food!” The IOC is taking social media seriously this time around and are apparently not afraid to make an example out of loose-tongued athletes. In addition to a few Olympians, one British reporter was banned from Twitter for mentioning the email address of NBC Olympics president Gary Zenkel. The ever-growing importance of each individual’s digital presence should, apparently, not be taken lightly. Social media is allowing for an uncensored and truly candid picture of what happens at the games, both in and out of the competitions.
Of course, not all online profiles belonging to athletes result in doom and expulsion. Personal profiles belonging to Olympians offer real-time coverage of London 2012. Never have we seen the games through the eyes of an athlete, unless through awkward interviews post-race, which don’t always truly reflect what the Olympian is thinking or feeling. Consumers, for the first time, can understand the emotional impact of the Olympics in real time through the athlete’s social media accounts. How are the athletes really feeling, not just performing? We feel the heartbeat and true human emotion behind these “brands” that have been cultivated and packaged into endorsement deals and saleable entities. For the first time, we see the true human behind the packaged horsepower and it makes for a whole different viewing experience.
While Twitter is proving to be quite deadly or an exposé for some athletes, social media is still immensely useful for many major brands. Recently, Coca-Cola launched an online campaign for Vitamin Water featuring their new mantra “Skip the Dip” to coincide with the 2012 games. On a grander scale, Coca-Cola’s “Move to the Beat” campaign, which can be seen on their YouTube channel, convinced audiences the brand was far more aligned with the London 2012 games than competitor PepsiCo. On a more on-site level, fast-food giant McDonalds now features QR codes on the packaging at their Olympic Park location to supply customers up-to-date nutritional information. From major sponsors, to smaller brands trying to ride the wave of the games, social media has provided an immersion point for brands of all sizes to engage consumers in a relevant and timely manner.
Both audiences and athletes feel the palpable shift in engagement from the 2008 games to the 2012 Olympic games, and there is no doubt that social media has had a considerable impact on this year’s Olympics thus far. Whether it’s through real-time Tweets from emotional athletes or with packaging innovation, London 2012 mirrors the major changes in the world’s digital landscape and we can’t wait to see what 2016 brings!