There are many firsts in London 2012. The first city to have hosted 3 Olympic Games. The first Olympic Games to feature women’s boxing. The first Olympic Games to calculate its complete carbon footprint. There is another first which has had an even bigger impact – the first Olympic Games to be completely surrounded by social media.
This is significant on many levels and social media has underpinned a lot of the success.
Inspire a Generation – The official motto of London 2012 was designed to make sure the competition would lift the aspirations of youths across the world, create role models and stimulate dreams. In a modern media world teens are as likely to have a screen saver on their mobile featuring Jess Ennis as they are a bedroom poster. 245,000 people follow Sir Chris Hoy, ten times more than follow the Prime Minister. Usain Bolt’s victory had 2BN people tune into watch and 48hrs later another 10M had seen it on YouTube.
Social Media is taking the message of the Games to people and places that previously weren’t even prospected. How many posts were there on Facebook featuring Phelps’ achievements?
Elite to Ubiquitous – Social technologies are breaking down the barriers of elitism in sport. There is a waiting list at local clubs for archery and fencing, sports that previously would struggle to operate year round. Twitter and FB images from the athletes’ village show in detail what aspiring Olympians might expect; suddenly it seems possible and somehow quite ‘normal’. Suddenly the glittering excess and fantasy of Premiership footballers seems more and more vacuous. Now we really know the athletes and we are on the journey with them, sampling the joy and elation of victory or the unadulterated pain of defeat in real time.
The ticketing process initially was derided, but social media announcements around ticket availability and news bulletin alerts via 2012 digital channels insured touts couldn’t operate and fair distribution. Most people applaud the process, if not the result, since most people got something.
Network Integrity – We have all experienced the frustration of being at an event and eagerly wanting to share it only to see “Network Unavailable” as it collapses under the weight of activity. It doesn’t matter if it is Glastonbury, the FA Cup Final or the Queen’s Jubilee, we expect communications to seize up like a sprinter with a cramp at the critical moment. Not so at 2012. At the Olympic Park there were in excess of 250,000 people all sharing and connecting on mobile devices and the network kept functioning. Photo and video uploads, results downloads, accurate geolocation check-ins. The Olympic legacy has gifted us a blueprint on how it can work for replication by organisers at other global events.
Memes Upon Memes – As the social media universe is wont to do, with every batch of images, video and stuff of emotion came a waterfall of humorous memes. Whether it was from scrappy gymnasts or just general comments on the games themselves no one was spared, including the Queen.
The other triumph of social media was its ability to dispel the media scaremongering. While headlines announced a travel network likely to meltdown, the travellers responded ‘live’ refuting media myths by saying how efficient it worked. The doom merchants seeking viewers warned us security was compromised, yet attendees were delighted to meet our servicemen and used Instagram to take pictures with them. Some said it would be too wet and crowds would stay away, but weather apps allowed us to anticipate the showers and pull on ponchos ahead of time.
Pessimists/Traditionalists (0) – Social Media Users (3)
Feedback loved The Games – the performances, the stories and the technological triumphs. For some, the Games will be remembered for the charismatic opening ceremony; for others it will be the achievements of the great Michael Phelps or perhaps even the outstanding success of Team GB. Few will recognize the impact of social media, and that in itself is an achievement immeasurable, since social media was so integrated we barely took a moment to appreciate its presence or contribution.