With the completion of the 30th Olympic Games (“Games”), it’s likely that you have tweeted, liked, shared or followed something Olympic related. In fact, the several official sponsors of the Games counted on it. With an estimated 4 billion tuning in for the opening ceremony, the International Olympic Committee (“IOC”) and Olympic sponsors turned to social media to help leverage their advertising dollar and generate increased contact points with audiences worldwide.
The London Games mark the first time Olympic athletes and volunteers were given clearance to use social media during competitions. The IOC distributed informational pamphlets to athletes which not only encouraged them to use Facebook, Twitter, and blogs to document their experiences, but also set up various restrictions and guidelines such as the ban on the promotion of any brand, product or service within their posts, blogs, or tweets.
In contrast to the limitations placed on Olympic athletes, the IOC created a robust and integrated social and digital media strategy for the official London 2012 brand. The strategy includes:
- Creation of an IOC mobile app
- Olympic Athlete’s Hub – helped fans find and follow along with over 2,000 Olympians’ Facebook and Twitter accounts
- “Live From The Village” – pulled aside athletes between events for Q&A sessions with fans
- Various Social Media Accounts – included Instagram, Twitter, an integrated Facebook account, four Tumblr pages, Foursquare, and Google+
The IOC attempted to walk a fine line. It needed the athletes’ participation in social media platforms for its strategy to be a success. However, there were also inherent risks. Athletes may leak information that otherwise would be provided by the Games’ broadcast partners and other media outlets. And the threat of ambush marketing is always present. (For those who are unfamiliar, “ambush marketing” is the process of avoiding paying the IOC’s huge advertising fees by implying, through imagery, terminology, or other means, that a particular company is associated with certain athletes, teams, or the Games themselves). The official Olympic sponsors shell out big money for worldwide marketing rights (11 multinational companies, including Coca-Cola, General Electric, and McDonald’s, paid a combined $1 billion for these rights), and expect their investment to be strongly protected. The IOC developed several strategies to help protect their sponsors’ investments and combat ambush marketing:
- Olympic Deliverance Committee (a.k.a. “Brand Enforcers”)
- Comprised of 280 government-authorized lawyers and enforcement officers who monitored and checked for violations of the Games’ brand protection regulations, including the use of two of any of the following words in the same sentence – “games”, “2012”, “twenty twelve”, “gold”, “bronze”, or “medal”
- Supplemented by a separate team of brand enforcers who are part of the London Organizing Committee
- Fines can reach upwards of $30,000
- A Four-Page Social Media Policy (mentioned briefly above)
- Comprehensive guidelines (found here) that replaced the relatively simple “blogging guidelines” put in place for the Vancouver Olympic Games, and aimed at stopping commercial companies from taking advantage of the Games. The Beijing Games had no guidelines whatsoever.
- Applied to athletes, volunteers, and others associated with the Games
- Highlights include:
- Actively “encourage[s] and support[s] the use of social media” so long as it is done in a “first-person, diary-type format”
- No reporting on competitions by athletes
- No video posts about events
- No use of the Games’ images or mascots
- No promotion of any company or brand
- No use of the word Olympic if associated with a product or service
- No posting of photos containing third persons unless given permission by these persons
- Creation of the website www.olympicgamesmonitoring.com
- Helped to ensure “the integrity of rights-holding broadcasters and sponsor rights”
- Work in concert with the various National Olympic Committees
- IOC stated it will not monitor Twitter or Facebook accounts, although the IOC does have a close relationship with both and will work closely with them in cases were unauthorized content hits their platforms
- The IOC has reassured fans that it will not actively pursue those of them in violation of its social media guidelines. In regards to the athletes, all breaches are handled by their respective National Olympic Committee. A few examples include:
- On July 25, 2012 just days before the Opening Ceremony, Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was banned from the Games by the Greek Olympic Committee for Twitter comments regarding African immigrants in Greece. It marked the first case of an Olympic athlete being ousted for social media use.
- Two Australian swimmers were hit with a social-media ban by the Australian Olympic Committee for tweeting inappropriate photos. The ban began July 16 and will last until August 16.
- On July 18, 2012 the U.S. Olympic Committee, in conjunction with the IOC, began a moratorium on athlete’s self-marketing or appearing in non-sponsor ads. The moratorium officially ended August 15th, three days after the Games concluded.