Anyone who watched BBC’s brilliant TwentyTwelve London 2012 spoof will know that ‘legacy and sustainability’ were two buzz words bandied around throughout the show. The London 2012 bid was successful largely, we are led to believe, because of Seb Coe’s promise to ‘inspire a generation‘ and leave a lasting legacy to Great Britain – instead of merely a thrilling and absorbing two week bubble. But what is the legacy and what is sustainable about the use of social media over the course of the Games?
We went into the London 2012 Olympics with dire predictions ringing in our ears about the restrictions being put on the use of social media around the Games. The IOC issued increasingly contradictory guidelines and there were weekly online scares: tweeting would be completely banned from the Games; photographs of the Park and venues couldn’t be posted on social networking platforms; use of the hashtag #Olympics would incur IOC wrath.
What the IOC discovered is that social media is a genie that has escaped from its bottle and simply can’t be pushed back in. After an initial flexing of muscles around taking down videos posted to YouTube of the Opening Ceremony it seems the IOC surrendered to the inevitable and accepted the fact that these have genuinely been ‘the first social Games’ (a title Beijing 2008 tried to claim) and let the social media wave flow over them. And how much richer the Games have been as a result.
So what’s the ‘legacy’ of all this, what is the impact on social media going forward? How will this heightened interest in our national team, for example, be sustained in the period between now and Rio 2016 – and beyond?
Legacy is only possible to see in retrospect and some of the questions around what happens next will only be answerable with the benefit of hindsight.
But for me there have been three standout successes in social media and the Games and pointers into what might happen next:
- Where was Facebook?
- The second screen can’t be controlled.
- Connecting with the athletes.
Where was Facebook?
These Games were all about Twitter, with Instagram a secondary platform winner. Facebook was notable by its absence, rarely referred to by broadcasters and athletes in TV coverage and not in any sense where any of the social media ‘action’ happened. Twitter was the perfect platform to respond to and engage with the Games and it was notable that the athletes themselves assiduously updated their Twitter streams whilst hardly touching Facebook.
The tone of updates on those that did both gave the strong impression that athletes Facebook pages are largely managed by their PR people and management whereas their Twitter feeds are very personally controlled – and of course the public wanted to connect with the ‘real person’ so Facebook suffered as a result.
The legacy? Expect Twitter’s rise to continue and its eventual dominance over Facebook to result. These Games will be seen as the turning point in the power struggle between these two platforms when we look back. And expect brands and organisations to radically re-think how their content on Facebook is managed if they want to compete.
The second screen
There was some chat before the Games from the BBC about how the second screen would be incorporated into their broadcasting but, apart from tweets appearing on screen in Gabby Logan’s late night programme (several hours after they first appeared) and tweets referred to by Clare Balding in some of her coverage, social media wasn’t directed or controlled by the TV coverage at all and took on its own life.
Much like the IOC the BBC appeared to bow to the inevitable and accept that reflecting on what was going on ‘off screen’ was the best they could do rather than attempting to lead or direct it. Even the attempt to use the hashtag #BBC2012 on tweets about Beeb coverage was more or less abandoned part-way through the Games.
What’s interesting in this is that the TV coverage received plaudits and praise all over social platforms and the viewing figures rocketed, exceeding all expectations. TV, as well as social media, was a real ‘winner’ of the Games, despite social media being the main talking point pre-Games.
The legacy? Social media hasn’t ‘killed’ TV and the two will continue to thrive and feed off each other side by side. Expect to see broadcasters more relaxed about referring to social activity and less concerned with imposing hashtags of their own creation in an attempt to ‘control the conversation’.
Connecting with the athletes
The personal contact with athletes tweeting their joy and disappointment was one of the highlights of the Games for many. From the lows to the highs we felt their pain and pleasure like never before:
Insight into life inside the Village, tweets and pictures posted by them from the very heart of the Closing Ceremony,
All of these have helped us connect with the athletes representing us on a very personal level and made the Games a truly ‘intimate’ experience.
The legacy? My own hope is that this personal connection between athletes and their fans is a one that, once established, cannot now be broken and will sustain a heightened level of interest in these heroic men and women that will mean minority sports will flourish and funding will continue to be invested at local level. Who knows, maybe the ‘anti-football culture’ thread that sprung up on Twitter mid-Games…
…might have a lasting legacy too and we might now see the beginning of the end of the often unpleasant, overpaid culture around football that has been highlighted by our glimpse into the ‘hard work and grafting’ of our national athletes. I do hope so.Tweet