The popular online course “The Olympics and the Media” from Coursera is providing a case example of the many choices sports clubs and federations need to explore when developing a social media strategy. They have many options to increase fan engagement, facilitate posting of comments and photos and promote fan loyalty. At the same time, teams need to maintain their image and brands and manage the expectations of paying sponsors that their competitors will not be able to easily engage in “ambush marketing” and get visibility with fans that they are not paying for.
The International Olympic Committee social media program has become recognized as a tested approach to encouraging interaction with sports fans while maintaining a high degree of influence over the content that most viewers ultimately see. Simple guidelines that all athletes can remember and follow are essential for the Olympics to be open to all participants and promote fair competition among the world’s best athletes. The IOC has published these in a 2013 set of guidelines that have proven easy to follow.
It is important to bear in mind that diversity in the Olympic athlete population goes far beyond nationality and race. Some Olympic athletes are only fifteen years old, and twelve year old athletes can compete in the Youth Olympics. In most cases, parents are responsible for the publications of these athletes, a complication Olympic organizations cannot manage without more complications. Many other Olympic athletes are government employees or military officers who need to defer to the official spokespersons of their employers. So the spirit of fair competition does not allow some Olympic athletes use social media without limits when so many Olympic athletes face the reality that they have many limits.
In addition, the volume of information and images about the Olympic Games is already so large that effective communications requires a high degree of advance planning and significant investments. These investments go far beyond the infrastructure to communicate with a large audience. While social media such as YouTube have made similar infrastructure available to many individuals including athletes at a low cost, the infrastructure does not include quality control aspects such as fact checking, editing and translation services. For this reason as well, the social media guidelines of the International Olympic Committee direct athletes to focus on their personal expertise. The guidelines also prevent athletes from overextending their communications to reports that only properly trained and accredited Olympic journalists are qualified to produce.