Gold Medal Hashtag: How Twitter Will Win the Olympics
By the time London’s Olympic competition begins this weekend, I almost expect Usain Bolt to walk up to the starting line with a smartphone, send out a #gotgold? tweet to his followers, and toss his phone off the track before the gun goes off. Twitter’s current popularity explosion is about to change the way we watch, analyze, and think about the Olympics. Facebook got the movie, but Twitter is poised to win the 2012 social media race.
Beijing feels like such a long time ago. In 2008, Twitter began to hit its stride, growing 752 percent in one year and gaining an additional one million unique visitors per month by the end of the year, but Facebook and MySpace still dominated the Internet. Four years later, Twitter has developed into a breaking news platform while maintaining its reputation for quality celebrity voyeurism. If the ’08 Summer Olympics was about friends, then London 2012 is all about followers.
How can Twitter overpower the social networking competition in London? An all out media campaign makes it the favorite at this year’s Olympic Games. As reported by Mashable, linguistic analysts plan to interpret all Olympic-related tweets and light up the London Eye a specific color depending on the mood of the Twitterverse. Yellow will represent positive, green for neutral, purple for negative. EDF Energy, a British energy supply company and Olympic sponsor, created a portal that “[shows] you everything from trending athletes to the most positive places in the country.”
Aside from the light show, Twitter’s greatest publicity coup may be its partnership with NBC that will lead to a comprehensive destination page that compiles the top tweeted content from journalists, athletes, and fans. Twitter will also provide video coverage of the events that users can stream for free.
Twitter’s supremacy has gotten to the point where it can make or break an athlete’s ability to even compete in the games, let alone become a marketing megastar. On July 25, the Hellenic Olympic Committee banned Greek triple-jump champion Voula Papachristou from competing at the games after she tweeted a racist joke about Africans and the West Nile virus. We can debate whether or not such a banishment violates an athlete’s right to free speech, but this story is a perfect example of Twitter’s current impact.
For the athletes intelligent enough to keep controversial content off of the Internet, Twitter can be the best branding tool available. The way Olympic athletes vault to fame in a seventeen-day period suits the viral nature of Twitter. Greatist recently published a list of the “30 Must-Follow Olympic Athletes on Twitter,” many of whom are not household names. For those not named Lebron James or Michael Phelps, the publicity of the Summer Games will allow athletes opportunities to significantly expand their fan bases. Twitter’s ability to foster communication between athletes and fans gives it a crucial advertising edge over Facebook.
Once the dollars and cents have been settled, the ultimate goal for the bright blue bird will be global outreach. Twitter already has a massive community in America. Earlier this year, Infographic Labs revealed that there were more than 107 million users in the U.S.; Brazil was in second place with 33.3 million users. What better event exists for a company to expand internationally than at the Olympics? Athletes from 204 different nations and territories will compete at this year’s games, which means that unless you live in Vatican City, you can support your country’s athletes and teams 140 characters at a time. Though, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Pope compete in the track sprints, but the Papal crown would probably slow him down.
As the Summer Games kick off, records will be broken in the pool, on the court, and online. Three weeks ago, the UEFA Champions League final became the most popular sporting event on Twitter with 15,358 tweets sent per second. Don’t be surprised if that mark is surpassed before the Olympics are over, because no matter how many medals Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps collect, the real winner in London won’t even have to break a sweat.
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