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Will Social Media Spoil the Olympics?

By Peter Suciu
Jul 27, 2012 10:58 AM PT

The Summer Olympics officially open Friday, but as the games are taking place in London, which is six hours ahead of the East Coast of the United States and nine hours ahead of the West Coast, it will be very much a "tape delayed" affair.

Will Social Media Spoil the Olympics?

This isn't unusual in the world of international sporting events, but it's relatively easy to escape news on the recently concluded European Cup or the Tour de France. Trying to avoid Olympic game outcomes, though, is turning into a challenge worthy of an Olympic event itself, thanks to social media.

Fans who know the results are likely to tweet, post and share the results -- is this just a sign of the times?

"All major sporting events face the same dynamics as the Olympics are dealing with when it comes to social media," said Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research. "Super fans want to participate in the excitement of the moment and share their emotions with others online."

About the only way to avoid it might be to disconnect entirely.

"You have to stay off the Internet," said Marcus Messner, professor of journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University. "You can't avoid knowing who won if you are on Facebook or Twitter. The only way to save it for prime time is to stay off social media."

Can't Beat It, Join it

NBC, which has paid big dollars for exclusive rights to broadcast the games, realizes that if you can't beat social media, the next best thing is to embrace it.

The broadcaster has arranged deals with Facebook to promote Olympic conversations on NBC's Facebook page, while NBC News and NBC O&O TV stations have partnered with Storify, the social media "story creator." It will cover the games in real-time by aggregating content from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites and will embed the content on various NBC websites.

This content won't likely compete with the daily and prime time coverage as much as complement it.

"This content will likely be branded as a way of providing the coverage, but it will be used to promote the prime time," Messner told TechNewsWorld. "They can brand it that if you really want to see everything, you need to tune in. You can get the results -- but the comprehensive coverage will on the TV broadcast."

NBC, as well as the other broadcast partners from around the world, could also be getting help from the attendees, in a way. While the International Olympic Committee will still try to control the posting of photos and videos, a lot of it will certainly get out. This in turn could help create more buzz, which could drive up viewership.

"I think we're going to see a lot of social media, including amateur video and commentary from citizen journalists," added Messner. "This really could enrich the coverage more than it takes away from it."

Social Olympics

The London Games could be the biggest event to date with people discussing and sharing opinions on a single issue. And this could prove whether people want to interact in sharing the moment or saving it for prime time viewing.

"Considering the duration of the Olympics, we have an opportunity to measure whether the marketplace is more interested in their social media streams or experiencing those Olympics moments for the first time on TV," said Crandall.

"Will people be able to restrain themselves from using these services so that the Olympic moments are not spoiled? The traffic metrics for Facebook, Twitter and the like will reveal who really wins in the face-off between our addiction to social media and the desire to experience those special Olympic moments on TV," he said.

And, of course, social media is just doing something that traditional media has done for years -- namely, report results as the information is released.

"People who don't want to know outcomes can avoid social media," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Intelligence. "But given the time difference, the risk of learning outcomes equally exists with TV, radio and newspapers as well. So I don't really see social media 'spoiling' the games."

Social media could allow for sharing rather than spoiling. It could make viewing the games less of a passive affair and more of an interactive affair.

"Twitter and, to a lesser degree, Facebook offer a way to have a real-time or quasi- real-time experience of the Olympics with others," Sterling added. "As a general matter, that is a largely positive development."

Athletes and Social Media

The other part of the equation in how social media might "spoil" the games has to do with whether those taking part know to think before they tweet.

Two Australian swimmers, Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk, were reprimanded and barred from using social media during the games after the pair posted photos of themselves on Facebook with firearms at a California gun shop while in the United States for a match this spring. The images went viral and the Australian Olympic Committee questioned their judgment.

This week, Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Parachristou found her Olympic Games over before even leaving for London. She reportedly tweeted a racist comment, and was soon barred by the Hellenic Olympic Committee.

"That wouldn't have happened in the past, because the comments would probably have been made privately to other individuals and not published to millions," Sterling told TechNewsWorld. "Social media does change the dynamics of coverage and the experience of the games. However, on the whole, I think it's probably for the better."

So what can athletes take away from this? Probably watch what you say in social media.

"If you wouldn't say these things in front of TV camera, then don't tweet them," added Messner. "The same rules apply to social media. It is not surprising that the officials reacted that way in Parachristou's case. But even with the Australians, it comes down to don't post photos you might regret later. There is a permanent record once you post them."

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