The 2012 London Games were widely considered to be the first “Social Media Olympics.” A week after they came to their acclaimed conclusion, who were the social winners?
Not surprisingly, the Games’ most dominant athletes were also its social media champs. Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt, both multiple gold-medal winners, were the Olympics’ most talked-about participants, with each athlete garnering more than one million tweets during the 16-day event. They also attracted the most new followers on Twitter, with Phelps adding one million and Bolt 725,000.
On Facebook, gymnast Gabby Douglas grew her fan base the most dramatically, leaping from about 15,000 to more than 590,000 — an increase of 3,944 percent — during the course of the Games.
The rise of social media has had obvious benefits for both athletes and fans: supporters get remarkable access to their favorites and a real-time look behind the scenes of the sporting world’s biggest event; in turn, athletes get tremendous support during the most pressure-filled days of their careers.
And then, of course, there’s the money.
Nick Thain, CEO of Sports New Media, a London-based company that helps sports stars manage their Facebook presence, broke it down for The Wall Street Journal: ”If you are a popular athlete and yet you only have 5,000 fans on Facebook, what does that mean for your brand potential. We had an athlete and his agent was trying to renegotiate his deal with his sponsors, and his sponsor at the end said ‘where is your Facebook and Twitter page’?”
British diver (and Sports New Media client) Tom Daley had no trouble in that arena, with 100,000 Facebook fans before the Games and more than a million afterward. But Daley also experienced the dark side of the social media spotlight: a 17-year-old Twitter troll was arrested because of abusive tweets he sent to the 18-year-old diver. Not exactly what a star athlete wants to deal with while preparing for an Olympic event.
There were other controversies, from Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou being kicked off her team because of a tweet to the popular #NBCfail hashtag catching fire online and offline. But overall, the London Games should be viewed as a social media success.
Especially, as it turns out, if you’re a fan of ‘90s pop music. One of the biggest winners coming out of London appears to be the Spice Girls, whose appearance during the Closing Ceremony was by far the most-tweeted event of the Olympics.
While Twitter reported 80,000 tweets per minute during Bolt’s 200-meter race — the most for a single athletic event — the reunion of the kitchsy pop quintet triggered more than 116,000 tweets per minute.
That’s some serious girl power.