London Games to be first social media Olympics

By Stephen Wilson

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, June 19 2012 1:18 p.m. MDT

FILE This Monday April 16, 2012 file photo provided by LOCOG shows an aerial view of the Olympic Park showing the London 2012 Olympic Stadium, foreground and the Aquatics Center, white building at left. London will be the social media Olympics. For all the history and tradition associated with London, a very modern-day phenomemon will play a prominent role at the upcoming Summer Games. Tweet this: These will be the first Olympics told in 140 characters or less. The London Games will be the most tweeted, micro-blogged, liked and tagged in history, with fans offered a never before seen insider's view of what many are calling the social media Olympics, or the "socialympics."

LOCOG, AP Photo/Anthony Charlton

Enlarge photo»

LONDON — Tweet this: The London Games will be the first Olympics told in 140 characters or less.

The London Games will be the most tweeted, liked and tagged in history, with fans offered a never before seen insider's view of what many are calling the social media Olympics, or the "socialympics."

Hash tags, (at) signs and "like" symbols will be as prevalent as national flags, Olympic pins and medal ceremonies. Some athletes may spend more time on Twitter and Facebook than the playing field.

Mobile phones have become smarter, laptops lighter and tablet devices a must-have for technology lovers — meaning social-savvy fans, whether watching on television or inside the Olympic stadium itself, will be almost constantly online.

Organizers expect more tweets, Facebook posts, videos and photos to be shared from London than any other sports event in history. The 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver offered just a small glimpse of what's to come.

"Vancouver was just the first snowflake," said Alex Hout, the International Olympic Committee's head of social media. "This is going to be a big snowball."

Twitter is already braced for a surge of traffic. Launched in 2006, it has become a key outlet for sports fans to trade messages during live events.

Users sent 13,684 tweets per second during a Champions League soccer match between Barcelona and Chelsea in April, a record volume of tweets for a sporting event — busier even than the 2012 Super Bowl. Chances are good that will be one of the records broken in London.

"It could be the 100-meter final or something unexpected," said Lewis Wiltshire, Twitter U.K.'s head of sport.

At the last Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, Twitter had about 6 million users and Facebook 100 million. Today, the figure is 140 million for Twitter and 900 million for Facebook.

"In Sydney (2000) there was hardly any fast Internet, in Athens (2004) there were hardly any smartphones, in Beijing hardly anyone had social networks," said Jackie-Brock Doyle, communications director of London organizing committee LOCOG. "That's all changed. Here, everyone has all that and will be consuming the games in a different way."

Later this month, at trials in Calgary for Canada's Olympic track and field team, athletes will even wear Twitter handles on their bibs — encouraging fans to send messages of support as they race.

Sponsors have also taken their Olympic campaigns online. Coca-Cola, Cadbury, Visa and BP are among those using Facebook to reach younger consumers. Samsung is even offering to paint the faces of Internet users with their national flag — virtually, of course.

"They key difference from four years ago is that now almost everyone has a smartphone, which means everyone can participate in real time," said Adam Vincenzini, an expert at Paratus Communications, a London-based PR and social media marketing agency. "You used to have to be sitting at your desk to access various social media platforms. Now you can have your phone or tablet on your lap while you watch, whether that's at the pub or the stadium."

The IOC, with 760,000 Twitter followers and 2.8 million on Facebook, will host live chats from inside the Olympic village with athletes, allowing the public to pose questions using social media accounts. It has already created an online portal, called the Athletes' Hub, which will collate posts from their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Under IOC rules, athletes and accredited personnel are free to post, blog and tweet "provided that it is not for commercial and/or advertising purposes" and does not ambush official Olympic sponsors and broadcasters. Social media posts should be written in a "first-person, diary-type format."

What about spectators using their phones and iPads to take photos and video?

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