The world’s foremost sporting event is embracing social media by creating its own social network.
With just 100 days until the start of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the International Olympic Committee unveiled today the Olympic Athletes’ Hub, a website where fans can connect with athletes and enjoy photos, videos and live chats from the Olympic Village.
The Hub is a social media aggregation site for Olympians past and present, a way for athletes to expand their presence, increase their fanbase and, of course, build their brands. More than that, though, it is the committee’s response to the sweeping changes social media has brought since the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. The rise of Twitter and the ubiquity of Facebook and other social media has fundamentally changed how we communicate with each other and the world around us.
“The Olympic Athletes’ Hub was born out of our desire to connect Olympic athletes and their fans more intimately than ever before,” Alex Huot, the head of social media for the IOC, said in a statement. “With the launch of the Hub, we are creating a paradigm shift in the communication around the Olympic Games.”
The committee keeps calling this “the first social media Olympics,” and Olympic organizers clearly understand that people want, and expect, to communicate directly with athletes. Huot says the IOC wants the Hub to “amplify the voices of athletes” and “solidify deep and meaningful relationships” between athletes and fans that continue beyond the closing ceremony.
“These relationships could, in fact, last for lifetimes,” he said. “I feel that Olympians inspire and their engagement in social media at London 2012 will result in the biggest online conversation in Olympic history.”
That isn’t hyperbole. Social media will be huge, and the Hub is a harbinger of how coverage of the Games will change, said Douglas Alden Warshaw, co-founder of First-Person Communications and a digital strategist with an expertise in social media.
“Clearly we are past the point where people are drawn to the Olympics because of patriotism alone,” he said. “The ability of athletes to connect with fans and vice versa is critical. Now more than ever you have fans connecting to athletes that aren’t their country’s stars. Like everything else the web does, borders become less important and the Olympics are not immune.”
Embracing social media also is an effort to attract younger viewers, the people for whom tweets and status updates are an integral part of their day. This will provide an interesting real-time look at what people are watching and reacting to — and how NBC and others cover the Games, Warshaw said.
“I think social media will not only be interesting for real time, but also as the younger demographic programming guide,” he said.
The Hub will compile social media updates of Olympians in a comprehensive, searchable directory. Every account is verified by the IOC, so you’ll know you’re following, say, the real pentathlete Margaux Isaksen, not a parody.
Fans will be able to interact with the athletes, get live updates, watch videos and get training tips from the likes of Nadia Comaneci, Edwin Moses, Mark Spitz and others. Cooler still, fans will be able to engage in text chats with athletes live from the Olympic Village during the games.
This being social media, the idea is, of course, to build a community. To encourage that, fans can follow athletes. The more athletes you follow, the more points you earn, collecting virtual prizes like medals and real-world prizes that will be awarded in the weeks and days before the Games begin.
More than 1,000 Olympians have joined the hub, and the number is expected to grow as the Games approach. “The $64,000 question is, will the athletes be authentic or will they let their handlers take care of this,” Warshaw said.