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Have the IOC changed their mind on social media for 2012?

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
27 July 2011

Recently I gave a talk at a Tamar client event on the subject of the 2012 Olympics, and specifically how it will affect advertisers and non-sponsors during the period of the Games.

One of the questions I was frequently asked at the time was what guidelines had been put in place to govern how the athletes and associated persons could utilise social media safely – and without breaking the numerous laws and guidelines that have been put in to place by LOCOG.

At the time, the only reference we had to point people towards was the “IOC Blogging Guidelines”, released for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Since the event though, the IOC have released an updated document – with a number of additions and refinements which clearly show they are becoming more switched-on to how social media will be used during the Games.

Here’s a quick run-down of the significant changes that have been made, and what they might mean:

  • The name. The document is no longer just the “IOC Blogging Guidelines”, now being titled (the slightly less snappy) “IOC Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines for participants and other accredited persons”… This change clearly signifies the broadening of the scope of the guidelines, as well as clarifying something that confused a lot of athletes at the last game: namely, that the guidelines apply to them as well as the press.
  • The basics. The document no longer feels the need to “define” what a blog is, as they did back in 2008 – presumably signifying a realisation that most people are aware of common terms like blog these days…
  • Tweet tweet. The new guide makes several references to “Posts, blogs and tweets” – making it clear that updates on social networks are clearly part of the remit now. They also make pains to point out that “a tweet is regarded [...] as a short blog and the same guidelines are in effect”. They also specify that ANY update being made on whatever platform has to be in the “first person” style, to avoid seeming journalistic in tone.
  • Photography. Unlike video, which is still very tightly controlled, the IOC seem to have lightened-up on the use of images – specifically personally-taken photos. Provided they aren’t selling these photos, athletes and “accredited persons” can post whatever photos they like – unlike in Beijing, when the use of images was essentially limited to photos OF the photographer in NON official spaces.
  • Olympic Marks. Despite the heavy restrictions on how brands can use official Olympic wording and imagery, these guidelines seem to have slightly relaxed the rules on how athletes can use them, particularly the use of Olympic wording – provided they are associated factually. Presumably these clarifications have been made to slightly demystify the confusing laws that some people have so far found difficult to interpret.
  • Advertising. Participants are told specifically that they can’t mention brands or products WITHIN an update (status, posting or tweet) – though anything outside of this medium (particularly on social platforms) is less-heavily governed. The previous set of rules took quite an old-school view of online advertising, stating that “[no advertising must be seen on screen] at the same time as Olympic content”. Presumably the onsite advertising platforms for Facebook and Twitter particularly have made this unenforceable for these Games.
  • Domains. The recommendations on domain names and linking have remained the same, though it’s hard to see how either is very enforceable in this day and age. See the recommendations for the specific recommendations on these points…
  • Monitoring. Unlike in 2008, this year’s guidelines specifically state that the IOC will be monitoring activity to ensure these rules are kept to – and they’ve even gone as far as to set up a community-style website where the public can report people that are infringing these guidelines – though bizarrely the site doesn’t actually work yet! www.olympicgamesmonitoring.com

So there we have it – the IOC have clearly moved on somewhat since 2008, though it’s clear that they’re still treading carefully on some of the issues they don’t fully understand or can predict.

Despite the release of these guidelines, people are already speculating about the effect that Twitter will have on the games – with some even going as far as to speculate that Twitter will be completely unmanageable for the Olympic committee. Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but the organisers still have a year to fine-tune these rules, so let’s hope they put some effort in to making sure the athletes (and bloggers) fully understand what is expected of them…

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