Sunday, February 14, 2010

Social Media and the Winter Olympics

Before the internet became common and we were all sharing our YouTube videos with strangers on every continent, the Olympics were one of the few ways the entire world came together outside of war or response to humanitarian crisis. But now that we can all find an actual French person and satisfy our burning curiosity about whether they eat French fries, is the Olympics as important for world unity? And, social media-wise, are they stepping up? (Er… skiing up?)

Winter Olympics Official

The Winter Olympics’ official website is essentially what you would expect from the site of any major sporting event. It keeps track of medal counts, holds information on all the events, and links to photos and videos of great moments. The web designers did appear to have put quite a bit of thought into the site, as the information that people will probably look for the most – medal counts, a schedule of events, and the latest news – appear at the top where they are easy to find without scrolling.

But where’s the social media? Scroll down. Scroll way down. Blink and you’ll miss it, but there are links to two Facebook fan pages and two Twitter accounts near the very bottom of the page. There is also a tiny, barely noticeable call to action to “Share This Page on Facebook.” Here’s a short analysis of each account:

Vancouver 2010 Fan Page on Facebook – With over 600,000 fans, it is clear that Facebookers are interested in the Olympics and they are showing their allegiance on social media. The Facebook site includes wall postings that receive hundreds of comments, an active discussion board, photos, a gift giving application (where fans can give one another public virtual gifts on Facebook, though only one gift is current available), and an RSS feed to keep up with the latest Olympic news. The site is bilingual in English and French, and fans from around the world are participating.

Cultural Olympiad Fan Page on Facebook – This fan page is designed to appeal to people actually attending the Olympics, and provides information on cultural events being held in Vancouver during the Games. It has basically made use of the “Events” function on Facebook to let people know about art shows, theater performances, and other cultural events going on simultaneously with the Olympics. At just over 3,000 fans, it has only a fraction of the Facebook following that the official Olympic Games enjoy, but that can be explained by the fact that most people are watching the winter games from the comfort of their own, centrally heated homes.

@2010Tweets – This Twitter account was set up long before the Games began and has already broadcast nearly 2,000 Tweets. It consists mainly of retweets (RTs) of athlete’s own Twitter musings, and is sprinkled with news and pictures of the games so far. With 11,006 followers as of today, this Twitter account is popular, but not nearly as popular as the Olympics on Facebook.

Of the other two Twitter accounts, one followed the Olympic Torch relay and the other follows the Cultural Olympiad. None of the Olympics’ Twitter accounts come anywhere close to its Facebook pages in number of followers.

NBC’s Olympics

When it comes to social media, NBC’s Olympics website performs much better than the official 2010 Winter Olympics site. They offer an “Olympic Zone” feature where you can enter your zip code and then follow your hometown heroes through their Olympic journeys. Interestingly, NBC’s Twitter page has over 50,000 followers – many more than the official 2010 Olympics’ Twitter page, but their Facebook only has about 70,000 fans, meaning the official Olympic Facebook Fan Page is wildly more popular.

But unlike the official 2010 Olympic site, offers a whole host of social media goodies. They offer widgets, which allow you to embed information about the games on your own blog or website. A sports blogger could grab one of two of these widgets and keep her readers constantly updated with the latest Olympic news.

The network even offers a mobile application for 3G devices that allows viewers to keep up with Olympic news, schedules, and events.

Other Winter Olympics Social Media Offerings

Other sites, like Yahoo and Foursquare, though neither have a vested interest in the Olympics like NBC, are cashing in on Olympic fever by offering social media applications designed to help Olympics fans remember when their favorite events are on, as well as allow them to look up information such as athlete profiles and medal counts. Foursquare, the popular application that allows users to “check in” whenever they go out and about town, is offering special badges, coupons and discounts for Olympic Games attendees.


Essentially, the official organizers of the 2010 Olympic Games are missing the boat when it comes to social media. They have done an excellent job with their Facebook pages, but the one element they are missing is human interaction. Right now, all the official Olympic Games social media platforms provide essentially a one-way dialogue. Sure, people can post on the Facebook discussion board, but where are the calls for people to send in their own pictures of Olympic events? Or the chance to blog about their Olympic experiences? For an event that relies so much on worldwide participation, I found its social media offerings uninspired and decidedly one-way.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the official website is a little light on social media, and the thought occurred to me while I was reading your post that this paucity could be a cultural issue.

    No, really. We know that Americans are crazy for various social media such as Facebook and Twitter, but does this enthusiasm spread across national borders to other countries? I don't know if Canadians, or Italians, or Russians have the same social media fever that we do.

    It looks like there are about 60,000,000 Facebook users in the United States. Which means we have twice as many Facebook users as Canada has people. Maybe it's just not as big an issue with them.