London 2012’s ambition is to create a Games for everyone, where everyone is invited to take part, join in and enjoy the most exciting event in the world.
- London 2012 > About Us > Our Brand
The above brand positioning quote reads like the perfect mandate for a social media Olympics where anyone, anywhere in the world with access to an internet-enabled device could freely take part, join in and enjoy the most exciting event in the world – meaning they would be able to view any event live as it happened online, on television if they prefered and/or as a series of pre-recorded on-demand online archives provided by all broadcast partners. As part of the social media experience, anyone could learn about every nuance of any event (from detailed statistics updated in real-time to deep-dive background stories on the struggles, achievements and dreams of each athlete, regardless of popularity) thanks to professionally produced content provided by the various official networks (or submitted and moderated by the fans, families and coaches themselves) and engage in the curation and sharing of the content within their social networks – benefiting sponsors and advertisers whose messaging would undoubtedly appear alongside, before or after the various forms of content spread using the most advanced form of media in the history of mankind: social media.
Trumpeted as the first social media Olympics, the official (and cluttered) London 2012 web presence has failed to take a leadership role in the use of social media to influence and drive conversation, viewership, engagement and brand awareness for event sponsors. Despite cries of support to the contrary, the Olympics Committee has led its partners (and ultimately, its brand) into a wave of social media criticism. Fundamental to this failure is the Olympic Committee’s inability to see the power, potential and role of social media as a robust complement to traditional media. Instead, the Olympics Committee and its partners suffer social media criticism due to an archaic mindset stuck in the industrial age media model of placing trolls (official broadcasters) under few bridges (streams of coverage).
While it is true that NBC, BBC, CBC and the other official broadcasters of the London 2012 Olympics are as culpable as the Olympics Committee for their lack of vision and courage to innovate in the social media space, the Olympics Committee is ultimately responsible for establishing the terms under which broadcasters may obtain and execute their official licenses to broadcast the games. The ultimate leadership role lies with the Olympics Committee, and their failure resides in their lack of understanding with respect to the role of social media. Unfortunately, social media is often misunderstood as the underlying technology or channels through which people communicate.
Most discussions of social media make mention of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or the like. The constantly changing technologies that enable social media do not define social media, and herein lies the challenge for anyone or any organization wishing to engage social media in a meaningful way. It is critical to understand what social media means fundamentally so as not to get stuck into thinking about it in terms of technologies or channels.
Fundamentally speaking, social media is a new form of media that expands upon the traditional media landscape as we know it. Understanding this new development as an evolution of the media landscape is critical to understanding how to realize its true potential – beyond technologies or channels (which come and go regardless of the fundamental nature of social media). The practice of broadcasting using traditional media channels and methodologies works (and will continue to work) for traditional media, but social media demands new approaches and methodologies that respect the role of social media in the overall media mix. Social media represents a rich array of organically distributed communications – from text to spoken word and video – shared and discussed among people who are interconnected through a social fabric. Acknowledging the unique broadcast model of social media and creating systems, methodologies and content that caters to the needs of its audience is of critical importance.
Whereas traditional media is the establishment’s media, social media is literally the people’s media. Put in traditional media terms, social media is about eyeballs that do much more than just blink. This is why attempts at imposing traditional media models onto the social media landscape result in user dissatisfaction. To ignore or brush off such expressions of dissatisfaction is to remain blind and ignorant to the true nature of social media and – more importantly – to its sustainable long-term profit potential (if carried out correctly) along with the unprecedented insight into consumer behavior that it affords.
The alternative to the outdated trolls under few bridges model of broadcasting given the rise of social media is a guides over many bridges model. Rather than limiting broadcast rights to a few networks, the Olympics Committee needs to offer a tiered, freemium pricing model inspired by the internet (for example: free / pro / broadcast network) wherein the official Olympics website itself would stream live, sponsor-supported content freely accessible to anyone while a professional publisher (say, a restaurant chain) could license their own stream to broadcast to their customers and traditional media broadcasters could package the programming in new and innovative ways. Under this model, NBC can, for instance, license a broadcast network stream, apply its branding to the stream and offer its own commentary and package it in ways that would add even more value to the viewing experience which could be broadcast online and on television sets. Under this model, viewers choose which guides to follow and share (rather than which troll to submit to) as part of their social media Olympics experience. Multiple streams of the same content with unique commentary (and innovative approaches to storytelling given the competitive media environment) means many more hours of additional content to view, share and comment on while being exposed to sponsor marketing messages, some of which may fall outside the traditional interruptive advertising media broadcast model.
Social media is not a fad. Social media is not an activity relegated to the basements of the grumbling unemployed. Social media is not a nuisance to be ignored or downplayed. Social media is not free or unprofitable. Social media is not about following old models and hoping they are happily received in a new paradigm. According to comScore, 1.9 billion display ad impressions were delivered on Sports sites in the UK during June 2012, an increase of 69% over the past year. These numbers represent a drop in the bucket given that most eyeballs are glued to television sets serving untrackable (on a per-viewer basis), uninteractive and uninnovative marketing messages to captive audiences, a majority of whom grew up captive to these traditional media practices.
Vision and leadership at the Olympics Committee (as well as the major networks) are needed to recognize the true potential of social media: a completely new form of broadcast media that – when combined with traditional media in a meaningful way – can revolutionize media broadcasting, consumption and sponsorship far beyond the 2012 London Olympics.
Update: Since the writing of this article, “The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., the sole winner of the [Canadian] broadcast rights for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics, revealed on Tuesday that it intends to strike deals with a long list of private partners to deliver those Games on cable, broadcast, online and mobile channels." Despite the fact that this small step does not originate from the Olympics Committee itself, it nevertheless represents a positive shift in the right direction.