The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi may be the most social media happy games yet. Even President Obama got into the act, tweeting congratulations to Olympians after the US Hockey team’s exciting win over Russia. Gold may indeed be found in social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter by Olympic athletes and sponsors in Sochi.
The Hockey match between the U.S. and Russia generated almost 1 million tweets by itself. Soon after the exciting United States win, team member and NHL player T.J. Oshie reported having 45,000 new followers on his Twitter site. According to Long Island Newsday, the team has generated a total of 18.4 million tweets since the games began.
In light of the attention via Facebook and other social media sites, it’s no surprise that Olympic sponsors and athletes have made strong use of it for marketing and publicity. To vacuum up followers during the Sochi games via social media is a good move for Olympians. Athletes who are able to squeeze the social media orange for all its worth, could return home from Sochi with a strong leverage to negotiate new contracts with.
Yuki Saegusa, who handles sponsor relations for US Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold, finds that sports are now in a very new age where a lot of promotion is done via social media. Facebook and Twitter are apparently here to stay, as is the broader concept of viral marketing. Viral marketing where a service or good’s benefits are relayed electronically from one individual to another; a sort of word-of-mouth advertising for the super-information age.
In the latest use of social media for marketing purposes, Olympic athletes are giving control of their Facebook and Twitter accounts to their sponsors. The agreements stipulate that the athlete meet a quota for postings and include a blurb written by a sponsor’s marketing department. The sponsor tries to make sure that the Olympian tweets their own message, but sometimes the sponsor does it for them.
David Braden, agent for Gold’s teammate Ashley Wagner, said many athletes’ sponsorships specify the number how many Twitter posts (tweets), Facebook mentions, and even “Instagram” photo an athlete must post. Still the athlete has some control over the social media posts. According to Braden, Wagner reviews and approves all of the posts that the sponsor writes for her. Still, the sponsor informs an athlete’s agent when to post a tweet or Facebook post, to which his staff and the athlete must comply. Braden hints that the current system acts a little like a personal assistant to the athlete, considering the already time-consuming training of an Olympian. Yet, the original post has to come from the athlete themselves. Re-posting by others is not adequate according to the sponsor.
Braden went on to state that social media activity is part of an Olympian’s contract for the first time. Even as recently as the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, well after social media had established itself in the marketing arena, such contract stipulations didn’t exist.
United States Olympic Committee Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Baird states that if an Olympian’s social media following explodes like Gold’s or Oshie’s it definitely makes the athlete a more valuable spokesperson for a brand.
Social media has been found to be a golden source of inexpensive marketing for several years. In time, one may expect to see this form of sponsorship and sports marketing used more and more, possibly expanding beyond Facebook and Twitter. How well current Olympians are able to leverage the tool may be interesting.
By Ian Erickson