Breaking Down #London2012


With #London2012 behind us, I thought it would be a good time to talk about social media and the Olympic Games.

Twitter Wins Gold

First off, for all the talk of “social media”, the only platform that anybody was talking about or using was Twitter. There are, of course, Facebook Pages (London 2012 and the Official Olympics Facebook Page) with millions of followers, and apparently decent levels of engagement. But it was Twitter that made “the news” – there are a couple of reasons for this as I see it.

  • Facebook engagement is structured on “Post and Comment/Like”, where the brand initiates most of the dialogue. Twitter is far more democratic in its structure and “initiation” is not as important as inclusion via hashtags.
  • Twitter is much better at mobile than Facebook. Facebook’s mobile app is weak making it less useful to consume and also share content as it happens. Twitter is excellent for handling real-time events and information. And to be clear – when I say “mobile” I don’t mean that people are out on the go (though many are) or attending the Games in person, but that users are watching the events on TV, and then tweeting about it in real-time. Mobile is really a handheld, portable device, like a smart phone or tablet.
  • Athletes themselves took to Twitter, tweeting about their experience

This should be a clear warning sign for Facebook. The world largest collective event just took place in the Olympics, and the world’s largest social network did not make the podium.


The topic of mobile and real-time also came to a head on the issue of “tape delay” of broadcasting the events on NBC. Since Twitter is completely plugged into real-time, many fans in the USA were dismayed to see the results of events long before they were broadcast on TV. This resulted in a huge uproar on Twitter encompassed in the hashtag, #NBCFail.

There are some interesting points of convergence here. First off, there was an Olympic Partnership with NBC and Twitter going into the Games. A British reporter, Guy Adams, who was frustrated with the NBC tape delay of the Games, tweeted the email address of the head of NBC Olympics, Gary Zenkel. Strangely enough, when NBC was notified by Twitter about the tweet – which allegedly violated its guidelines and best practices – Twitter employees recommended to NBC to report this violation against their own company. A hot mess, to be sure.

Huge volumes of tweets emerged from #NBCFail, with users complaining about not being able to see the Games in real-time and being beset by spoilers across Twitter before getting the chance to see the events on TV. NBC countered by stating that the Games coverage was receiving extremely strong ratings; that it didn’t matter. I see two take aways from this:

  1. The Games reaches an audience far beyond Twitter, and the typical sports fan in the USA. Viewers watch not only to see their athletes compete, but it’s also the story lines and national pride that draws them. The ratings proved this.
  2. Tape delay just doesn’t work anymore. It’s an older model that doesn’t fit with the current reality. The world is completely plugged in now. Real time coverage, with prime time recaps/highlights is the only way to go.

More Followers = Better Endorsements

Gabby Douglas was not a household name going into the Games ,but she held a very respectable Twitter following of 37,000+. Not long after her Gold medal performances, she reached 600,000+ followers. Usain Bolt, already an international superstar, entered the Games with 600,000+ followers and left with over 1 million.

It goes without saying that stronger follower counts will only improve endorsement opportunities. But I’m going to tie this back to Twitter as the preferred platform of engagement. Why are athletes taking to Twitter and not Facebook?

  1. Ease of use/interface with a mobile or handheld device.
  2. Capping tweets at 140 characters keeps it short and sweet
  3. Facebook imposes a 5000 friend limit (well there are subscribers, but that’s a different story), and Twitter has no such cap

London 2012 was billed as the first “truly social” Olympics. I think that’s a bit much, but it is true that social media is well-integrated into the day-to-day of many, many people today and that will only increase.

For me, the real story behind the headlines was Twitter’s place as a platform, beyond boarders and broadcast – and beyond Facebook as well.


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