Will the bird take flight? Can the IOC limit Social Media usage at London 2012?

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Prior to the Olympics getting under way last week The Globe and Mail reported some interesting findings on how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) plans to manage athletes use of social media at the games in London this year.

Thinking back to Vancouver 2010 I don’t remember the same type of concern by the IOC or VANOC as to how the impact of social media or the use of it by athletes who were involved in the Games could potentially have had any negative effect on the games. Social media, and let’s stick to Twitter and Facebook here, if anything it offers free advertising for the Games and for athletes as they tweet and tag their way through the games at high profile events and other places associated with the game including medal ceremonies.

The use of social media has increased so much since the last Summer Games in Beijing that it’s almost hard to fathom the numbers. The Globe reports that usage of Twitter has jumped from “6 to 140 million in the last four years and Facebook accounts now top over 900 million.” Facebook and Twitter are the two most popular social media applications and there are a host of others including Reddit, Digg and the ever popular Pinterest.

This begs the question of whether the IOC can really stop information from getting out at the events and as part of the Games as a whole. While they certainly have to limit the bad press that can spring up from tweets and posts I’m wondering if it’s a case of if you can’t beat them join them and benefit from doing so.

Now truth be told as the Globe article notes the IOC has been extremely protective of the games and its sponsors. Sponsors such as Coca Cola and McDonald’s will contribute 3 billion in funds to the games itself. Negative publicity for such sponsors via social media could have hugely damaging effects.

However, something like Twitter could also give these sponsors and the IOC tonne of free publicity should they choose to harness the power of social media. Nothing would work better than street teams of Coca Cola employees at the events tweeting and handing out samples of Coca Cola products all the while talking up the role that Coca Cola is playing in London. A quick visit to the Coca Cola Twitter account and you can see some activity on the account but nothing earth shattering about the Olympics or the events beyond the standard good luck to all the athletes.

The McDonald’s USA Twitter feed shows quite a bit more activity for the USA account and it looks as though McDonald’s is attempting to engage followers with regular tweets and information about the Olympics. There appears to be some intention of engagement is there.

The benefits of using social media at events and in conjunction with other parts of the Games can only further and grow the Olympic spirit itself and all the while enhance the positive aspects of the events. While IOC Guidelines for Social Media regarding social media usage have been set I wonder how far the IOC can go to actually enforce this.

As the Globe Article notes the IOC has no plans to monitor Twitter or Facebook accounts and the hope is to “work on education and through our national Olympic committees to share the guideline.” Breaches will be dealt with by national Olympic committees “based on common sense.”

So far one athlete has been expelled by Greece for offensive Twitter comments.

It would be interesting to do a post Games analysis of how many violations actually occurred by athletes and whether the IOC and Olympic Committee’s like the Canadian Olympic Committee have been able to mitigate any social media violations by social media policies. Only time will tell.


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