With only 100 days left before the Olympic Games begin in London; the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has launched an online athlete’s social media platform to act as a digital headquarters between Olympians and fans. The platform named ‘Olympics Athletes’ Hub’ combines the verified social media accounts of more than 1,000 current and former Olympians. The hub will take posts directly from the athletes Twitter and Facebook pages.
By using incentives, fans are encouraged to interact with the site and connect their own personal social media pages. Users will be able to access special tips from athletes including videos and real-world prizes. “Fans can unlock secret training tips from Olympic legends, including Nadia Comaneci, Edwin Moses, Mark Spitz, Yelena Isinbayeva and Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean,” IOC head of social media, Alex Huot, told the Telegraph. Huot explained that the incentive process with work with points, much like ‘likes’ on Facebook. “The more athletes users ‘like’ on Facebook or follow on Twitter through the site, the more points they receive, accumulating prizes such as virtual gold, silver and bronze medals from past Olympic Games in the process,” he said.
When the Games actually being in July and August, real-time social media updates from the competitors will stream onto the site. Exclusive chat sessions will also be hosted with the current Olympians.
The IOC is branding the London Summer Olympics as the world’s first “social Olympics”. Huot says the IOC wants to “amplify the voices of athletes” and “solidify deep and meaningful relationships” between athletes and fans that continue beyond the closing ceremony. “These relationships could, in fact, last for lifetimes,” he said. “I feel that Olympians inspire and their engagement in social media at London 2012 will result in the biggest online conversation in Olympic history.”
However critics have expressed surprise at some regulations that restrict social media use. For example, athletes will not be allowed to Tweet photos of themselves with products that aren’t official Olympics sponsors or share photos or videos from inside the athlete’s village. Restrictions on fans will be similar.
The Hub wasn’t created out of a mess of restrictions, it was born out of the desire to connect Olympic athletes with their fans more intimately than ever before, Huot said in a statement. It is also the IOC’s way of responding to the sweeping changes social media has seen since the 2010 Winter Olympics. “With the launch of the Hub, we are creating a paradigm shift in the communication around the Olympic Games,” Huot said.
A paradigm shift is not an exaggeration. Social media is huge and will continue to be huge. Douglas Alden Warshaw, co-founder of First-Person Communications and a digital strategist with an expertise in social media, told Wired, the Hub will show how coverage of the Games will change.
“Clearly we are past the point where people are drawn to Olympics because of patriotism alone,” he said. “The ability of athletes to connect with fans and vice versa is critical. Now more than ever you have fans connecting to athletes that aren’t their country’s stars. Like everything else the web does, borders become less important and the Olympics are not immune.”
The whole idea of social media is to build a community. With more than 1,000 Olympians already linked into the Hub, the number is expected to grow.
“The $64,000 question is, will the athletes be authentic or will they let their handlers take care of this,” Warshaw said.