5 Lessons in Social Media Engagement From the Winter Olympics.

See the best practices at play in PyeongChang that every brand should be doing.
Chris Sugrue
Chris Sugrue
February 12, 2018 - 5 min. read

The Winter Olympics and social media have a checkered history.

The 2014 Sochi Olympics trended for all the wrong, albeit hilarious, reasons.

In fact, the @SochiProblems Twitter account attracted 100,000 more followers than the official @Sochi2014.

There were far sunnier times for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, where social engagement numbers soared beyond expectations: Twitter reported 187 million tweets featuring #Rio2016 that were viewed 75 billion times. Facebook logged 1.5 billion interactions.

This time around, it seems that the lessons have been learned and are clearly being applied. Whether curling is your thing or not, all brands should be taking note of what’s happening in PyeongChang.

social media winter olympics

The first medals have been handed out PyeongChang – but it’s in the digital sphere where new records could well be established. Image courtesy of Olympic.org

Here are five lessons being dished up by this Olympics’ organizers and broadcasters:

1. Be social-first

TV viewership has taken a hit in recent years with blame often placed squarely at the feet of a social-first generation. The Olympics have not been immune, with Rio Olympics TV viewership dropping 9% from the 2012 London Olympics. This time around, the Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS) is clearly tailoring a good chunk of its coverage for social media consumption.

As their chief technology officer, Sotiris Salamouris, recently said: at PyeongChang we’ll see “content designed to work well in social media such as more behind the scenes video, individual stories; athletes preparing—things that you don’t usually see in the traditional coverage.”

This will take the form of shorter, more snackable content. The OBS will be releasing a series of two to three minute long videos, complemented by more animations and analytics than previously seen, all geared to social media distribution.

This isn’t just about trying new tactics. Olympic organizers have an alarming trend to reverse…

2. Adapt to your (desired) target group

This Olympics’ emphasis on social content is clearly designed to engage millennial and Generation Z audiences. It seems a wise move when you consider that the median age of US viewers of the Sochi Olympics was 55.

The International Olympics Committee and broadcasters are going full tilt on turning this around. NBC, for example, is co-producing content with Buzzfeed precisely to win over younger viewers.

It’s a future-proof strategy, as millennials will make up 46% of the US workforce by 2020. It will be interesting to see if this is the Olympiad that brings back the “kids”.

And while the TV consumption of these coveted demographics continues to drop, there is still one sweet spot where millennials, marketing and good ol’ fashioned TV sports meet.

Twitter. Of course.

Twitter users rely on their feeds as a secondary screen during live sports and events. That’s why Twitter, more than other social platforms, experiences an average 4.1% increase in unique visitors during such events—which leaped to 19% during the 2017 Super Bowl.

social media winter olympics

According to Twitter, it is the only platform where engagement increases during live events.

This makes Twitter a potent addition to the marketing channel mix in PyeongChang, where brands can hitch their ads to popular event coverage. With Twitter TV targeting, you can reach people engaging with particular TV shows or networks.

3. Go live and tell stories

Both of the Olympiad’s primary broadcasters, Eurosport and NBC, have entered partnerships with Snapchat.

The platform has just introduced a live-streaming feature especially for the Olympics and exclusively for NBC (for the time being).

social media winter olympics

NBC and Snapchat have teamed up to provide live-streaming.

Meanwhile, the Eurosport-Snapchat partnership will see the app channel behind-the-scenes coverage and daily curated stories.

The effectiveness of live-streaming and stories has been recognized by sports bodies for some time now. The British Premier League is a noted early adopter. Sports fans cherish this sense of behind-the-scenes access to their favorite events and athletes.

But this is by no means a tactic just for sports brands. Airbnb and Toyota are just two of the diverse brands to employ live-streaming using Facebook Live, Instagram Stories, Twitter and Periscope.

3. Do influencer marketing, but choose wisely

Athletes and influencer marketing are now inextricably linked. PyeongChang will likely take this to the next level—especially if Visa’s ad spot featuring no less than 54 Olympians is any indication.

Celebrity endorsement is a powerful strategy for any brand, but it’s not as simple as attaching your brand name to a famous athlete. In a recent interview with us, Octagon EVP David Schwab stated that when pairing celebrities with brands, his team considers the why, what and how of the relationship before coming to the who.

Failure to do so only results in a muddled message that will fail to engage–or even stand out from all the other influencer marketing campaigns out there.

Don’t be discouraged if your company can’t afford a Lindsey Vonn, “micro-influencers” with between 10,000 and 1000,000 followers actually provide greater reach and engagement than those with 10 million plus. Also, keep in mind that with waning organic reach any influencer-based content will need to be supported by paid advertising.

social media winter olympics

US skier Lindsey Vonn has sponsorship deals with a range of brands including Red Bull and Bounty.

Lastly, US brands need to be aware of the FTC rules governing influencer marketing. Which brings us to the next point of social protocol.

4. Establish rules of engagement

As befitting the most social Olympiad yet, the International Olympics Committee has released an extensive list of social media rules governing the event. These cover, among other considerations, who can capture and distribute photos and video and in what circumstances.

These days every brand should have social media guidelines. The blowback from a careless tweet or even just a fragmented tone-of-voice can hit brands hard. That’s why a social media policy guide is a must for any company with a social presence.

5. Be sure to measure your performance

With so many new channels and tactics in play, Eurosport (owned by Discovery) is playing it smart with a cross-channel measurement platform built specifically for the event.

The bespoke platform is tracking a range of ‘Total Video’ metrics across all its platforms–from free-to-air and pay-TV to social media. This will include the number of videos consumed, total users and likes, shares and comments.

The insights gained will no doubt lay the groundwork for future Olympic coverage, as Eurosport will be able to gauge what worked this time and what didn’t.

As companies continue to expand their social media marketing, they would do well follow Eurosport’s example with social media analytics. Not only can you get a handle on vanity metrics such as likes and shares, you can benchmark your performance against competitors and your other campaigns.

It is also the best way for under-appreciated social media departments to prove ROI to the C-suite.

Let’s see what more PyeongChang 2018 has in store

The Winter Olympics aren’t for everyone. But this one looks set to be a showcase in the latest social media engagement best practices. We are seeing a kind of social media and broadcasting laboratory at work in PyeongChang, and it could provide lessons for us all.

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