Monthly Archives: August 2012

Twitter: a positive social media tool for Olympic athletes and fans

Whether they ran, swam or pole vaulted their way through the Olympics, there was one event that every athlete could take part in: tweeting. Forget the journeys thousands of fans made to the games each day – in the end, it was Twitter that brought in the most traffic.

The ‘social media olympics’, as it is now widely known, allowed viewers to access Olympic coverage from the bathroom to the office at the click of a button. A fantastic feat by the BBC, no doubt, as head of coverage Roger Mosey wasn’t shy to point out via his personal Twitter account.

The athletes succeeded in getting on our televisions but with the rise of social media we were equally successful in getting inside their heads and (moreover) whenever either party felt like it. No longer did we have to wait for the breathless post interview by the reporter. Now, we could cut out the middle microphone and instantly access these thoughts ourselves.

Twitter’s unique selling point is its ability for users to connect directly, in ways previously not thought possible. Michael Phelps exchanged tweets with President Barack Obama for example, who tweeted, “Congrats to Michael Phelps for breaking the all-time Olympic medal record. You’ve made your country proud. – bo” Phelps replied, “Thank you Mr. President!! It’s an honor representing the USA.” The ability for fans and athletes to connect in this way gave the games a human, personal touch that encouraged a sincere devotion and will to those competing and a true appreciation for their spectators. Social media became universally social.

And with statistics comes truth: When the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team won a gold medal, there was a spike of 29,000 tweets per minute, Twitter said. And when U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps achieved a record number of Olympic medals, it prompted some 37,000 tweets per minute. Usain Bolt’s successful defense of his 200m title, his second gold following his 100m victory at the London Olympics, led to so much discussion on Twitter that it set a new record during the Games, with a heady 80,000 tweets per minute flurry during his win. In total, over 15 million fans followed the Olympics on Twitter; with tweet volume 100 times more than that of the Beijing Olympics back in 2008.

Another positive by-product from the ‘Twitter Olympics’ is its generation of thousands of tweets and countless conversations about sport. The NBC Olympics Twitter Tracker counted 383,174 tweets about swimming and 335,881 tweets about gymnastics during the first week of the games, for example.

Athletes have also used Twitter to encourage followers to practise sports and promote their own training regimes. And as the government takes notice and makes a pledge to introduce compulsory competitive sport to the National Curriculum, one must argue the online and offline conversation generated from the Olympics has contributed to this move forward.

The negative side to the Twitter Olympics is well-documented; UK diver Tom Daley received malicious tweets telling him he’d let his late father down, which led to the tweeter’s arrest. Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was banned from the Olympic team after tweeting racist comments about African immigrants in Greece. And Australian swimmer Emily Seebohm blamed social media for her failure to take gold in the 100m backstroke.

Twitter has proven just as important for the Olympics as the coverage itself. With the Paralympic Games under way, related online conversation is eagerly anticipated and is sure to expand in diverse and interesting ways. But while there are the obvious pitfalls, we cannot ignore the positives: for athletes and fans, social media and most importantly, sport itself.

By Emma Rink

Posted on: 30 Aug 2012
Posted by: Web Editor
BBC triumphs in multiplatform coverage of ‘social media’ Olympics

We’ve come a long way since the Ancient Olympics – athletes competed naked, prizes included vats of olive oil and results were inscribed on ancient Papyrus for a handful to read.

Shocking to the modern native – yes (though the olive oil may come in handy at dinner parties) – but even more shocking to the digital native, who now has Olympic access at their fingertips. With the BBC delivering up to 24 simultaneous live streams of coverage across PC, mobile, tablet and connected TV, it’s no wonder the Sport website amassed the biggest audience in its history – the Sunday after the opening ceremony generated 6.1 million unique browsers in the UK and 8.3 million worldwide.

A lesson to be learnt from ‘the first social media Olympics’, says The Guardian’s Emily Bell, is the relationship between media operators and technology is at its best when it is actively trying to give people what they want. Once again, the proof is in the record figures:  1.7m requested for the Olympics opening ceremony on BBC iPlayer on the first weekend, with 925k on Saturday alone (an all-time high). There were also 1.15m downloads for the BBC Sport Olympics app, with 55% of browsers coming from non-desktop devices on the Saturday. And let’s not forget Twitter: the official Olympic site set up live cameras at events, which quickly gathered hundreds of thousands of followers.

These astounding figures show the importance of multi-platforms in reaching widespread audiences. Browsers across each of the online “four screens” have all seen uplift in daily unique browsers of +70% or more since the start of the Games, with 2.3m accessing BBC coverage via mobile browsers in one day. What’s more, the infamous ‘red button’ interactive guide was accessed by 20 million people in the first few days of the event, according to Roger Mosey, the head of Olympics coverage.

Mosey isn’t shy to boast the impressive viewing figures on his personal Twitter account: ‘The Brownlee brothers were watched by a peak audience of 5.6m winning gold and bronze. Surely best ever UK figure for triathlon. #BBC2012’ (8 August), ‘More Monday TV audiences. Athletics peak confirmed 12.0m; Cycling 7.3m; Gymnastics @bethtweddlenews 5.3m; Showjumping gold 2.2m. #BBC2012’ (7 August). He also regularly interacts with his followers and re-tweets messages of appreciation. It is this kind of interaction that makes audiences feel they have a say and can influence media output.

The flipside of all this, writes Emily Bell, is that the relationship between media operators and technology is at its worst when it prevents audiences from getting what they want. American TV network giant NBC had viewers up in arms, offering live streaming only online, to pay-TV customers. NBC has built its Olympic coverage around edited prime-time packages of events that often took place several hours earlier. The fact the network generates most of its revenue via advertising, as opposed to a licence fee, is justified but as Mosey says, ‘We respect what NBC is doing, but the BBC would have been absolutely killed if it had time-shifted the opening ceremonies” .

One person wrote on the TV & Showbiz site ‘Digital Spy’:

“I was in America for the start of the games – it was very bizarre seeing them pretending the opening ceremony wasn’t happening until 7.30pm EST. Not one mention that it was actually delayed coverage, not even a hint of it on TV or newspapers – and whilst the ceremony was actually happening they were showing the usual afternoon chat shows…”

NBC was under further controversy when it persuaded Twitter to suspend The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent Guy Adam’s account, after he criticised its coverage of the Olympics. Adam’s wrote: “The man responsible for NBC pretending the Olympics haven’t started yet is Gary Zenkel. Tell him what you think!” His tweet then contained the work email address of Mr Zenkel, the President of NBC Olympics.

After Twitter claimed it breached privacy guidelines (which he refuted), Adam’s responded, “Either way, [it's] quite worrying that NBC, whose parent company is an Olympic sponsor, is apparently trying (and, in this case, succeeding) in shutting down the Twitter accounts of journalists who are critical of their Olympic coverage.”

The fact Adam’s suspension generated thousands of angry messages on Twitter (including those from Jeremy Vine and Piers Morgan) shows you cannot take your audience for granted, or indeed attempt to fool them, in an age where social media is all-pervading. The BBC’s sterling ubiquitous Olympic’s coverage, combined with positive viewer response, is proof of this.

As a user states on Digital Spy (after it was suggested American’s are ambivalent about the games and can avoid knowing results when at work):

“Errrr hey? Must work in a very strange workplace if ‘most people’ don’t care about sport.

Especially a workplace where nobody looks at Facebook, Twitter, news websites, forums, listens to the radio, sees a TV screen, has friends who are interested and might text them results. Avoiding results of sports events is now harder than ever, NBCs strategy belongs in another age.”

By Emma Rink

Posted on: 09 Aug 2012
Posted by: Web Editor