How Social Media has changed the Olympics

Olympics social media

The ancient Olympic Games were first held over 3,000 years ago, and were revitalized in 1896 with the first modern Olympics in Greece. Today, in the new age of Olympics, social media has changed the games even more. Athletes have become international superstars, as we get a glimpse into an athlete’s personal experiences, their training exercises, and even what they eat daily. We can live stream the games all day, get real-time results and share immediate reactions. We see memes and gifs replaying our favorite (or funny) moments.

But perhaps the strangest twist in social media’s impact on the Olympics comes from the International Olympic Committee’s modification to Rule 40 and the decision to trademark official Olympic hashtags. Non-sponsors are forbidden from tweeting about the games using these “trademarked” hashtags or even retweeting from the official Olympic account. The official blackout period runs from July 27 through August 24.

Here’s an excerpt from the official statement:

“Any use of USOC trademarks on a non-media company’s website or social media site is viewed as commercial in nature and consequently is prohibited… Do not create social media posts that are Olympic themed, that feature Olympic trademarks, that contain Games imagery or congratulate Olympic performance unless you are an official sponsor as specified in the Social Media Section.”

Specifically, some of the terms non-sponsors cannot use include: Olympic, Olympian, Team USA, Go for the gold, Let the games begin, Road to Rio, Rio 2016. In addition, they cannot post any Olympic logos, feature Olympic athletes or post any results.

To clarify, individuals and news media can tweet and post any of these, but a non-sponsor company may not. As a social media manager, I understand the drive to leverage trending topics and be part of the social conversation on timely events. In fact, Twitter even unveiled special emojis for #rio2016 and #olympics, but those are among the trademarked hashtags.

During the Olympics, people from all over the world come together to cheer for their country, their favorite sport, their local hero. Many company tweets surrounding the Olympics aren’t even about selling a product, but rather to show support. There’s a whole question on intellectual property, trademark laws and freedom of speech in the digital space, but can the USOC really claim ownership of the word “Olympic”? Trademarking a hashtag has been possible in the U.S. since 2013 and companies have used it, including Coca Cola and Pepsi to prevent other brands from ambushing their hashtags to sell their own products.

But the Olympics are using it for the wrong reason. And missing the whole point of social media. In fact, the best and worst thing about social media is the free flow of information. We can interact all over the world in real time. News stories go viral, spreading the word faster than ever before. For those of us who work in social media, we know the success of a hashtag depends on the level of adoption.

The Olympics should be about sportsmanship, team spirit, hard work, and patriotism — not exclusion, branding and making money. Given the issues Rio is dealing with regarding the poor living conditions, safety concerns, political instability and Zika, doesn’t the Olympic committee have more important things to worry about?
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To learn more about hashtags, check out my blog post:

Originally published at SCG Advertising & PR.