For all budding athletes out there dreaming about the Olympics taking place in Rio in four years time: forget about strength, hard work, determination and hours of training; you should be thinking about social media training as your top priority.
This is the challenge that all the Olympians have faced at this year’s games in London. With many describing the London 2012 Olympics as the first Socialympics, we have already seen a catalogue of errors and misjudgements after some athletes have shared a 140 character tweet with their followers which cost them their dream, tarnished their brand and reputation, and ruined their relationship with fans and sponsors.
Here’s what has happened so far:
- A Greek triple jumper was kicked off the Olympic team for making a racist remark
- A Swiss soccer player was expelled from the team for his inappropriate comments
- A US goalkeeper went on a twitter rant against a former player about her performance
- An arrest was made after inappropriate tweets against a GB member of the diving team, after he failed to win a medal
- Athletes started their own campaigns on twitter #wedemand change and #rule 40 against the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regulation that prevents athletes from advertising for non-Olympic sponsors just before and during the Games
- Guy Adams from the Independent had his twitter account temporarily suspended after he included NBC exec Gary Zenkel’s email address in a tweet
- NBC is being heavily criticised for its coverage of the Olympics on twitter, with the #nbcfail hashtag created
And that’s just in the first week of the games, phew! There is no doubt that social media raises the profile of the most successful athletes and even the underdogs too. Tom Daley has become the fastest growing Twitter user in the world, despite only achieving fourth in the overall diving finals. Prior to the games, he had between 150-200k followers. Now he has over one million.
Social media allows fans to interact with their champions and heroes of any sport and it is no surprise that most athletes have seen a massive increase in followers and fans. Don’t you want to know what Usain Bolt does the morning of the 100 metres final?
But when these athletes have dedicated four years of their lives to train, making unbelievable sacrifices, would you trust them to say and do the right thing in this highly charged and emotional atmosphere of the Olympic games? No, neither would I. The athletes are representing themselves, their country, their sponsors and their team and yet we give them the tools to shoot themselves in the foot.
You wouldn’t let your CEO face the world’s press without briefing her first – so why would you let these young inexperienced athletes say whatever they want to in a public environment? We are expecting the athletes to be PR, legal and brand experts, when all they signed up for was to be the best at their sport.
There are calls for the IOC to change Rule 40 to be more flexible on the publication of content that includes brands outside of the official Olympic brands, as a number of athletes rely on their own personal sponsorships to get them to the games.
But in addition I would call for the IOC to provide better training, tools and procedures to help athletes cope with their social media presences, the high level of mentions, interactions and comments they receive and how they should respond to praise, criticism, trolls, hackers. What will Tom Daley do now he has one million followers? I can’t see him replying to comments, putting in place an editorial calendar or analysing comments.
Here’s some suggestions for managing their social media presences:
- Put their tweets through a control filter tool so that all tweets must be approved first. The athletes will still be speaking with their own voices – but there’s a mute button for anything overhasty or ill-judged.
- Perform a social media audit so that all public profiles are as good-looking as possible; passwords are secure; and if there are any skeletons in the social media closet, at least forewarned is forearmed.
- Take the athletes through the intricacies of Facebook privacy systems. This may take until Rio …
- Implement an escalation process to manage and deal with any negative or threatening comments
- Write an editorial calendar to build and develop their content and outreach strategy
While it is laudable that this year’s Olympics will see many fans turn to their idols on social networks, how soon could they be turned away if there isn’t the regular content to be them enthralled? Training for the Olympics now isn’t not just building one’s muscles, but also having the strength and stamina to manage your social media presence.