US Olympian Michael Phelps (photo credits: AP / Ng Han Guan)

The Olympics on social media

Rio 2016 is a big hit on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat

Rio 2016 is not the first Olympics on social media, but it is certainly the most talked about. One reason is perhaps the restrictions that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) imposed on the use of social media.

In addition to social and digital media guidelines for persons accredited to the Olympics, including athletes, the IOC charter bars Olympians from mentioning their sponsors before and during the games, unless they are official sponsors, including on social media. It’s known as Rule 40. Olympians fought back, as sponsorhips are their main source of income, and #Rule40 went viral.

But the IOC’s central control over digital platforms didn’t stop at sponsors, athletes, and accredited individuals. Even GIFs images and embed of videos have been strictly prohibited, as per the IOC’s broadcasting rules.

[…] the use of Olympic Material transformed into graphic animated formats such as animated GIFs (i.e. GIFV), GFY, WebM, or short video formats such as Vines and others, is expressly prohibited.

Disclosure: my own video posted on Instagram was reported by the IOC and deleted. Similarly, the embed of a IOC Youtube video included in one of my previous Medium posts was blocked with the following notice: “This video contains content from International Olympic Committee, who has blocked it from display on this website [Medium].” You can still watch it on Youtube but no embeds are allowed.

No matter the restrictions and copyright rules, during the opening ceremony, everybody was on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Snapchat.

The most popular social network among Olympic fans is Youtube with 89% of the total, according to statistics published by GlobalWebIndex . It is followed by Facebook (83%) and Twitter (53%).

According to the official Rio 2016 website, 52 million Facebook users generated 109 million interactions, with the greatest numbers in Brazil, alongside Argentina, Mexico, the United states, and Peru.

On the day of his last Olympic race, Michal Phelps’s nearly hour-long Facebook Live chat became one of the most viewed video by an Olympian and has generated so far more than 3.7 million views.

On Instagram, users generated 51 million posts, likes, and comments. It’s interesting that Instagram only had 80 million users at the time of the 2012 London Olympics, the first games to fully exploit social media, and now counts over 500 million users.

The opening ceremony also lit up Twitter around the world, and so far Olympic exposure has already resulted in 100,000 Twitter mentions.

So far, the most tweeted moment of the Olympics is Usain Bolt’s win in the 100m final, his third straight gold medal.

On Snapchat, so far almost 50 million people — almost a third of the 150 million daily active users of the app — have watched the games thanks to a series of partnerships signed with international broadcasters, including NBC and the BBC, to use the app to reach Millennials and younger audiences.

Despite lower television ratings worldwide compared to the 2012 Olympics, Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, which owns the American broadcasting rights through the 2020 games, described the Rio games overall as a “huge hit” both on television and online.

Between August 5 and 10, the Olympics on NBC generated 35 times more [social media] engagements than Taylor Swift, 16 times more than Pokemon Go, and the Team USA athletes generated a total of 34 million engagements, 43 percent more than all three Kardashian sisters combined. And that’s star power.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, “worldwide, the Rio Olympics likely will go down in history as the most mobile Games ever.”

Broadcasters around the world are reporting record engagement data on social media. For example Italy’s RAI has recorded so far more than 3.6 million global interactions across its Facebook and Twitter platforms, and Canada’s CBC has generated 5.5 million video views in the first three days of the games.

Social media data collected by audience data company Taykey shows that online conversation volume for the games surpassed this year’s Super Bowl by about 7% with soccer and swimming topping the charts. The most talked about countries have been the US, Brazil, India, Iran, and Nigeria.

But what at the countries that are talking the most about the Olympics on social media? According to Sprinklr, the buzz around the Rio games has generated the highest interactions in the US, Brazil, and the UK.

Among the teams trending on social media, a special mention goes to the first ever Olympic refugee team: five middle-distance runners from South Sudan, two Syrian swimmers, an Ethiopian marathon runner, and two judo players from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DCR).