Six Olympic lessons in communication
Long before it began London 2012 was hailed as the social media Olympics. The reality has been somewhat different. Each day has brought with it new issues and lessons for corporate communicators.
It started before the games began as contrary to its guidelines, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) faced the reality that it wasn’t going to be possible to police every photo shared by athletes or spectators.
The IOC social media policy (PDF) was breached the moment that the athletes moved into the Olympic village and started sharing images of their bedrooms.
Lesson 1 – You can ask people to follow reasonable guidelines but you can’t police Twitter.
During the cycle race through the Surrey countryside on the first day of the gameswidespread Twitter usage was blamed for a surge in mobile phone traffic that overwhelmed networks and prevented real time data from cyclists reaching television commentators via the Olympic Broadcasting Service.
Lesson 2 – If you’re running an event ensure that the network infrastructure is fit for purpose.
Then NBC was slammed in an article by Independent journalist Guy Adams for delaying the broadcast of the opening ceremony to peak times.
Twitter kicked Adams off the network after he shared the work email address of Gary Zenkel, President NBC Olympics and invited frustrated NBC viewers to complain direct.
We’ve since learnt that Twitter solicited a compliant from its broadcast partner NBC. In a huge twist of irony the social network failed to engage initially, but faced with a storm of criticism on its own network it was subsequently forced to back down accepting that its behaviour was not acceptable.
Lesson 3 – Be authentic, communicate and listen to your users.
And then there are the trolls.
A man who can’t be named for legal reasons has been arrested for a malicious tweet directed at Team GB diver Tom Daley. Daly and diving partner Pete Waterfield narrowly missed out on a medal on Monday after finishing fourth in the men’s synchronised diving.
Lesson 4 – Trolls are an unfortunate fact of life on the internet. All networks have in built mechanisms taking action.
But Twitter has also enjoyed moments of sheer joy. It has enabled users to be part of the action and allowed athletes to communicate directly with their fans. I challenge anyone to be anything but charmed by the raw excitement of Rebecca Adlington’s (@BeckAdlington)Twitter feed.
Lesson 5 – The audience can share directly in the excitement of an event by communicating directly with the participants, and vice versa.
Film director Danny Boyle and director of the open ceremony did a remarkable job in keeping details of the opening ceremony under wraps simply by asking people at the rehearsals to keep quiet. Inevitably Twitter exploded on the opening night with almost 10 million tweets shared.
Lesson 6 – People are reasonable and respond well to requests that are communicated well.
That aside you simply can’t control how people use social media. You can issue guidelines, you can appeal to their better judgement as Boyle did, but the control and manipulation of messages and storytelling, traditionally the stock trade of corporate communications, simply isn’t possible.
It’s the story of Brand Anarchy and its an issue that the IOC and Twitter itself has had to face this week.