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Social Media Rules the 2012 London Olympics

Olympics Rings filled with Social Media Logos

The superstar-studded opening ceremony. Michael Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian ever. Gabby Douglas and the rest of the “Fierce Five” bringing home the gold. The list of highlights from the 2012 London Olympics goes on and on. But, for those of us in the communications field, we may remember the London Games most for demonstrating the enormous power of social media. Many are calling this year’s Olympics the first social media Olympics or “Socialympics.”

Sure, social media has been prevalent for some time now. However, the growth of sites like Facebook and Twitter in the four years since the 2008 Beijing Olympics has been astronomical. The numbers are impressive. Facebook has jumped from about 100 million users to approximately 900 million. Twitter is up from around six million to 150 million account holders. It’s also important to note the rise in smartphone usage. Today, the majority of U.S. cell phone users are operating smartphones, making it easier than ever to stay connected to friends, family and their social media networks to discuss hot topics such as the Olympic Games. With all of these elements at work, it’s no wonder social media played such a large role in the 2012 Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee even launched the Olympic Athletes’ Hub, a website that enables fans to find and follow their favorite Olympic athletes’ Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Additionally, the IOC maintained its own separate Twitter and Facebook accounts. Olympic sponsors also got in on the action with endless social media promotions before and during the games.

The frenzy of social media activity was striking. Twitter reported that there were more than 150 million tweets about the Olympics. The Spice Girls stirred up an unbelievable 116,000 tweets per minute during their closing ceremony performance. Usain Bolt was the most tweeted about athlete, inspiring an average of 80,000 tweets per minute during his competitive events. Many popular Olympic athletes’ Facebook pages saw a huge spike in fans. For example, Gabby Douglas’ fan page jumped up by well over half a million fans in a two-week span.

NBC, the network on which the 2012 Games were broadcast, averaged 31.3 million for its primetime Olympics coverage. With more than 40 million viewers, the 2012 opening ceremony squashed all previous records for a Summer Olympics. The closing ceremony delivered 26.9 million viewers, up 12 percent from the 2008 Beijing Games. Undeniably, social media played a role in driving up Olympic viewership. Even more significantly, social media effectively kept us connected more than ever before to the action, making us all feel more invested and excited.

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