In case you’ve been living under a rock, the 2012 Summer Olympics begin in London this week — on July 27th, to be exact.
News outlets are touting these Games as the first “social media Olympics.” Yes, social media was around during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. But consider this: in 2008, Facebook boasted about 100 million users, and Twitter around 6 million. Four years later, those numbers have reached a whopping 900 million and 140 million, respectively. Not to mention, social platforms such as Pinterest only became popular in recent years — Instagram didn’t even exist two years ago.
So what does all this mean? Basically, be prepared to experience the Games through more than just your television. According to BusinessWeek, “Organizers expect more tweets, Facebook posts, videos and photos to be shared from London than any other sport event in history.”
In fact, how the International Olympics Committee (IOC) is handling social media coverage of the Games has already made headlines. In an attempt to regulate athletes’, volunteers’, and ticket holders’ usage of Olympics-related social media, the IOC wrote official guidelines detailing what can and can’t be posted online. At first, the IOC disallowed ticket holders from sharing online any kind of photography or video taken at the Olympic Games; now, photographs are okay, but video is still against the rules.
Furthermore, athletes are instructed to only post in a “first-person, diary-type format” and must ask permission of their fellow athletes before uploading pictures or video of them. Two Australian swimmers have already gotten in trouble for their online actions — after posting photos of themselves holding guns, the swimmers were banned by the Australian Olympic Committee from using social media during the Games. They also must leave the Olympics early, returning home as soon as their events are over.
Pretty extreme consequences for a single photo. However, odds are you aren’t an athlete and likely won’t be attending the Games in London, so all these rules aren’t quite so important to you. In that spirit, fellow spectators, let’s start training those fingers and thumbs for the social media Olympics! Here are a few ways you can participate in the action:
Follow and interact with the athletes and fans.
The IOC has created the Olympic Athletes’ Hub, where you can find many of the athletes’ Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as those for specific sports and teams. Facebook also has its own hub, called Explore London 2012, which compiles the pages of athletes, teams, sports, and official presences such as The Olympic Games and London 2012. Other social media platforms, including Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, and Foursquare, will be or are already promoting their own Olympic-themed portals and activities.
Watch events online.
In years past, U.S. coverage of the Olympics (which air on various NBC networks) has been confined largely to TV highlights of the most popular sports. This year, however, “every frame of every competition” will be streaming live online to cable and satellite subscribers, amounting to more than 3,500 hours of Olympic coverage, according to AdWeek. The usual primetime lineup of the largest events will still be shown on television, but NBC hopes that people watching live coverage during the day will talk about it on social media, heightening anticipation and excitement for the subsequent primetime broadcast.
Use mobile apps to stay informed.
If Twitter and Facebook updates on your smartphone aren’t enough, various outlets have created special mobile apps for the Olympic Games as well. Over at London 2012’s official site, you can download apps for Olympic news and results, a guide to Olympic happenings taking place across the UK, and a mobile game. NBC is offering apps for news, event schedules and results, medal counts, photos, and live video footage. Apps are also available from the BBC and for several national teams, including Team USA.
Given all these interactive options on social media, will the IOC really be able to monitor and regulate millions of people’s tweets and Facebook posts for two weeks? Frankly, no, but it sounds like they’re going to try anyway. No matter the outcome, observing how social media changes the way we experience the Olympic Games — for better or for worse — promises to be an event in its own right.
Will you be watching the Summer Olympics in London? Do you plan to follow any athletes or news on social media, or is TV coverage enough? What Olympic sport are you most looking forward to?