Social media goes for Gold in the Olympics

Much like the forthcoming US Presidential election, these Olympic Games are an unavoidable presence on social media. The number of monthly active users on Twitter has increased by 60% in the last four years to 320 million, meaning that this summer could easily overtake the 150 million tweets posted last time by the time the Games have finished.

Also, GlobalWebIndex forecasts indicated that around 85% of those who have been watching will be using a second screen (e.g. smartphone or tablet) – the biggest social media platforms have not missed out on the opportunity to make these viewers content creators.

Twitter capitalised on this and released 207 ‘hashflags’ (hashtag-activated emojis showing each country’s flag) at the start of the tournament – these are automatically included when users type their country’s allocated hashtag. Not only are there emojis for each country, but there are also more than 50 others, for each individual sport – even golf and #WrestlingGrecoRoman – and commonly-used words associated with the event. The platform also released a list of the official accounts and hashtags to follow and use, so that users have been able to easily get involved in the conversations since the start.

Twitter then went even further to encourage social media engagement with the Games; it created a new lightning bolt section in its Moments tab, focusing entirely on real-time updates from all events. This means users can flick onto the tab and catch up on the latest news on how their country is doing as well as watch video highlights; they can also ‘follow’ events so they are shown relevant tweets in their timeline about the events they are most interested in.

It’s not only Twitter that is getting involved: Periscope and Vine both have dedicated sections with Olympics-related content, providing followers with inside access, highlights and commentary throughout the 16 days. The former has a featured channel and the latter includes related content in its ‘Explore’ section. Snapchat has a ‘Rio Olympics Discover’ channel that is separate to its live stories, and which shows footage of events as well as behind the scenes clips.

Twitter has, for a while now, made it clear that it wants to be seen as a news resource rather than solely a social platform, and its moves throughout the past few weeks have cemented this. Snapchat has followed in its footsteps, including filters of medal tables and medal counts, as have Periscope and Vine. Users are now able to have a totally holistic and immersive experience without even looking up from their smartphones. It is the ability for athletes to communicate directly with spectators that has deepened this connection further – examples of this include Laura Trott’s tweet reading “4x OLYMPIC CHAMPION!!!!! I cannot believe it!!” as well as Adam Peaty’s post including a photo of himself after winning Team GB’s first Gold medal, accompanied by the caption “OLYMPIC CHAMPION”. It’s comments such as these that draw users in and encourage them to engage with the athletes directly: something that wasn’t possible just a few years ago.

While London 2012 was the ‘social media Games’, it could be said that this year is ‘social media users’ Games’. It’s clear that these platforms have stepped it up a notch in terms of encouraging user-generated content; it’s no longer the users themselves initiating engagement, but the platforms are actively prompting them to do so. So far it has definitely worked to encourage conversations: Michael Phelps has had over 900,000 social media mentions, Simone Biles more than 560,000 and Usain Bolt just over 470,000[1].

It’s not only social media platforms that are bringing spectators more into the Games; this is the first tournament ever where viewers will be able to watch on Virtual Reality (VR). NBC Olympics is allowing people to watch high-definition VR coverage on compatible smartphones, experiencing many of the events and both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, with a 360-degree view – and “experiencing” is by far the most appropriate word to use in this context. Every year, technological advancements are such that spectators are no longer separated from the events they are watching, but rather they are part of an experience, and a conversation, that includes the athletes and teams themselves.

It will be interesting to see, given the growth in user numbers, new platforms and additional features, just how big the conversation can get, as well as how much more inclusive it will grow to become in the years to come.

Written by Rebecca Ingram, Senior Digital Account Executive (@_beccaingram)

[1] https://mention.com/en/social-media-olympics/

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