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Socialympics – social media at the Olympics

Alpha Digital

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Now the Olympics have drawn to a close, I am sure many enjoyed watching all of the events and highlights. While Australia had a slow start with the gold medals, we had some successes in the end and all of our athletes should be congratulated on their achievements after many years of hard work preparing for the games.

The social media Olympics

So, how have the Games named as the social media Olympics fared? Has all the hype surrounding the buildup to the Games, billing them as the first time social media will take centre stage at the Olympics, come true?

Well in the first instance there are many more social media users today than there were in previous Olympic Games. Let’s take a look at the stats. At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Facebook was still just an infant expanding out of the realm of Harvard University with just under a million members. In 2008 at the Beijing Olympics Facebook had grown to around 90 million members and today, by the time of the London 2012 Olympics Facebook has nearly 1 billion members.

Twitter likewise has had huge growth in that time. In 2004 Twitter didn’t exist (it was started in 2006) and by the Beijing games had around 3 million active users and today they have over 500 million active users generating more than 340 million tweets daily.


At let’s not forget Google + which didn’t exist at any previous Olympic Games and now claims over 250 million members. So all on all, if there was ever going to be a social media Olympics, London 2012 should have been it.

Social media can be very positive for athletes, allowing them to connect with fans and increase the value of their brand (leading to increased endorsement deals). Some of the big names have large number of followers, such as Michael Phelps (550,000 Twitter followers). But even that pales in insignificance with U.S. basketball star Lebron James whose combined Twitter, Instagram and Facebook followers are over 16 million people. But how have athletes fared on social media at these Games?

The Bad

Even before the Olympics started we had examples of athletes who received criticism of some of their posts on social media sites. Firstly swimmers Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk got into trouble with the Australian Olympic Committee for posting pictures of themselves with guns. Even now they are still criticsed for their social media use. Then there was Stephanie Rice’s Twitter post of her in a bikini a few days out from the Olympics.

Yet another Australian swimmer, Emily Seebohm faced media speculation that staying up late on Twitter and Facebook had cost her a Gold medal. She said: “I don’t know, I just felt like I didn’t really get off social media and get into my own head,”.  Even Lord Coe chipped in with his two cents worth with advice to athletes to cut back on social media if they wanted to win medals. Other countries even saw some of their athletes sent home for racist comments on social media sites.

The Good

There were also some great examples of social media usage at the Olympics. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of social media is that you see athletes as regular people. Not the glossy appearance they have in the magazines or TV adverts. Three of our favorite social media moments:

  1. The USA basketball team (full of multimillionaires) looking like regular folk when they caught the train to their game.
  2. The Rwandan Olympic team waiting for the bus
  3. Rio Ferdinand’s (not so) private message to Usain Bolt

There was also a lot of buzz generated by the Games.  Usain Bolt generated close to 1 million mentions on Twitter, closely followed by Michael Phelps with over 800,000. Finally, it was interesting to see Instagram’s popularity grow during these Olympics.


So all in all, these Olympic Games have shown the power of social media for good and bad. Athletes can see both the benefits of connecting with fans and increasing their endorsement power and value and they also can see the downsides of poor use of social media.

One thing is for sure, the role of social media is only increasing and by the time the next Olympics comes around in 4 years, we will see even greater changes in the social media space.


Alpha Digital is a social media Brisbane based company who can assist with social media marketing, online reputation management and online marketing.