Sorry, That’s Not Your Hashtag

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Co-written by Alex Percival and Natalie Webb

We’ve learned a lot from following media coverage of the Rio Olympics. Don’t open your mouth when swimming in bacteria-filled water. Beware of capybaras on the golf course. Get your story straight before telling the Rio police you’ve been robbed at gunpoint — all incredibly important life lessons. But let’s not ignore one of the most important learnings to come out of these games: Tightly controlled, top-down communication doesn’t make sense in a world where 6,000 tweets go live each second. That’s 144,000 tweets just since you started reading this blog post.

To recap for those who don’t watch The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or obsessively follow news about the intersection of branding and the Olympics (like the VOX digital team): The International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose to bar any brands who aren’t Olympic sponsors from tweeting about the games, including the usage of #Rio2016, #TeamUSA, Olympics, and Olympians.

Seems extreme, right?

In the eyes of the IOC, it’s an attempt to prevent companies who haven’t spent millions of dollars to become an official sponsor from joining in on the conversation and reaping any benefit from associating themselves with the games. This includes companies who have, in fact, spent a significant amount of money sponsoring individual athletes. You know, those often superhuman people who actually make the Olympics worth watching.

Media companies are exempt from this word ban; however, they aren’t allowed to release animated GIFs and videos highlighting key moments from the competitions. As one Mashable article notes, “Turns out, Twitter is a strange place to hang out when everyone is talking about a live event but no one knows what it actually looks like.” Publishers like The New York Times found an alternative by creating animated infographics like this one of Katie Ledecky in the 400-meter freestyle race. This is definitely mesmerizing, but audiences also want to see Simone Biles’ 3rd pass in her floor routine, Simone Manuel’s face when she realized she’d won the 100m freestyle, and tennis player Monica Puig winning the first gold medal for Puerto Rico.

OlympicVideo

We need social conversation and video to feel like we’re part of this global event, and the IOC (and NBC) should, in this day and age, realize that social content sharing isn’t intended as a replacement for actually watching the games, but as a complementary activity to help experience the games. And, we would argue, if the accounts that are sharing some of that content and using those hashtags happen to be brands that aren’t official sponsors, then so be it. If anything, more participants in a positive social conversation will help bring attention back to the athletes themselves and not the corruption of the IOC and failures of NBC’s coverage.

Twitter is a place where users — some of the most vocal on social media — go to share national (and international) experiences. Those moments are largely organic and must remain so. Once they are over, you can’t go back and recapture the engagement and interest of the moment. Twitter users who follow the Olympic hashtags aren’t doing it to follow an RSS feed from approved sponsors. Once Twitter becomes a place where audiences are only subjected to branded, approved media, it loses the basic organic randomness that draws the audience.

According to Twitter, “Over 187 Million Tweets were sent about the Games and in total, this led to 75 billion impressions (views on and off Twitter) of Tweets about the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.” Did trademarking the Olympic hashtags negatively affect reach and engagement of the event? You can look at those numbers and say that the Olympics came out all right despite the limitations. Users and brands found creative ways around the limitations imposed by the IOC, and that likely mitigated any overall damage in terms of general conversation. Can’t use GIFs of the actual events? Just make your own. Whether brands or individuals created hashtags like #BigEvent or the unfortunate #LochteGate, users and brands had their conversations without the input of the IOC and its sponsors.

Brands who invested in sponsoring the Olympics missed out on something, because they weren’t at the center of the organic conversations that cropped up, which is especially relevant given the low television viewership of the Rio Olympics. In its attempt to control the uncontrollable, the IOC limited exactly nothing other than the benefits sponsors could have reaped. What non-sponsor brands couldn’t put out there, individuals did, filming and GIFing the events with their cellphones and television sets, creating their own content, and leveraging the inspiring stories of the participating athletes.

 

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Digital Advocacy

Sorry, That’s Not Your Hashtag

Blog_Photo

Co-written by Alex Percival and Natalie Webb
We’ve learned a lot from following media coverage of the Rio Olympics. Don’t open your mouth when swimming in bacteria-filled water. Beware of capybaras on the golf course. Get your story straight before telling the Rio police you’ve been robbed at gunpoint — all incredibly important life lessons. But let’s not ignore one of the most important learnings to come out of these games: Tightly controlled, top-down communication doesn’t make sense in a world where 6,000 tweets go live each second. That’s 144,000 tweets just since you started reading this blog post.
To recap for those who don’t watch The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or obsessively follow news about the intersection of branding and the Olympics (like …

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