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Social media’s role in Olympics grows with surge in users

-The Economictimes
At the Olympic Games in London, set to begin this month, the official motto of "swifter, higher, stronger" will be supplemented by a new label. If some marketers, fans and athletes have anything to say, these Games will be the first Social Media Olympics - the "Socialympics," as some are calling them. Even the Olympic movement, which sometimes steps into the future with great caution, has warily accepted the idea.
As befits an event surrounded by superlative athletic, logistical and marketing feats, there is a bit of exaggeration in this description. The biggest social media platforms have been around for several previous Olympics, including the Beijing Summer Games of 2008 and the Vancouver Winter Games of 2010. Twitter was founded in 2006, YouTube in 2005 and Facebook in 2004. More broadly defined, social media goes back even further: blogging dates at least to the 1990s.

But every Olympics needs a story line, preferably a "first." Thus, the Athens Games of 2004 took the Olympic movement back to its ancient home. The Beijing Games carried the torch to a large, previously untapped market. In Britain, a midsize country that has been host to the Games before and where people's enthusiasm for the event appears to be lukewarm, there is a new narrative."Just as every new election is now called a social media election, every Olympics is now a social media Olympics," said Stanislas Magniant, a social media expert at the Paris offices of MSLGroup, a public relations agency. "But this is going to be vastly bigger in scale and magnitude."

There are several reasons for this. First, Summer Olympics are much more widely followed than their winter counterparts, so the Vancouver Games did not register in the same way in the social media stakes.And uncertainty about Chinese censorship of the Internet may have curbed social media activity before and during the Beijing Games. In the four years since the Beijing Games, use of social media platforms has surged. Facebook has gone from about 100 million active users to about 900 million, Twitter from 6 million to about 150 million.

Many more people now have smartphones, so they can react immediately to something they have seen in a stadium, arena, court, pool, ring or velodrome. Clearly the London Games will be tweeted, tagged, liked, blogged, mashed and rehashed like no previous Olympics. All of this has created opportunities for the Olympic organizers, sponsors, participants and spectators. At the Beijing Games, the Olympics organizers did not have a coordinated social media presence. This time around, there is an Olympic Athletes' Hub online that helps fans find and follow competitors' Twitter feeds and Facebook pages. The International Olympic Committee also has its own Twitter account and Facebook page.

"We are at a dawn of a new age of sharing and connecting, and London 2012 will ignite the first conversational Olympic Games, thanks to social media platforms and technology," Alex Huot, the IOC's head of social media, said in an email. Athletes have taken to Twitter and Facebook with considerable enthusiasm. Rare is the Olympic competitor who does not have a Twitter account that is monitored and updated often, either by the athlete or via an agent.Olympic sponsors are perhaps even more active. Take Procter & Gamble, the giant producer of a range of consumer products. P&G has unleashed a far-ranging social media initiative, as part of a broader marketing campaign called "Thank You, Mom," which highlights the behind-the-scenes roles that mothers play in the lives of Olympic athletes - and in the lives of lesser mortals.

Although the campaign began with a television advertisement, it quickly developed into a social media phenomenon. The video of the ad has been watched 25 million times on YouTube and other online video sites, the company says; separate "momumentaries," featuring individual Olympic mothers' stories, have been viewed 7 million times. A Facebook application lets people upload content and send thank-yous to their own mothers."For a brand that has spent shedloads of money to sponsor the Olympics, how they activate that is a critical question," said Anthony Burgess-Webb, a founder of Sociagility, an agency in London that analyzes the social media activities of brands.

The company has created a London 2012 Social Scoreboard that shows how the Olympic sponsors stack up based on a variety of marketing criteria, and P&G has been consistently on top. "Clearly any marketer would be dumb to miss the social media piece," Burgess-Webb said.All this sharing and connecting has also created some new challenges. There is grumbling, for instance, about the restrictions that the organizers of the Games have imposed on the media format.

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