Mon, September 23, 2013

Twitter like sex for Olympians

Athletes must be careful when venturing into social media

By THANE BURNETT, QMI Agency


Greek Olympian Paraskevi Papachristou jumped into social media and landed with a thud after a pre-Games tweet making fun of Africans proved so controversial she was kicked off Greece's team. She should prove a cautionary tale to other Twitter-loving Olympians. (AFP)

Olympians who tweet may want to treat social media like some athletes do sex.

Wait until the competition is done — then bang it out.

These are billed as the first social media Summer Games, and we’ve already seen athletes fall victim to loose fingers and awkward tweets that have gone viral.

But we’ve also been reminded how it’s all connected to business.

It would be ideal if social media was all about free speech and an uninhibited conversation, but with billions spent on advertising and promotion of the games, as well as reputations of entire countries on the line, 140 characters can be enough to pen your own obituary.

Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou found that out this week, after being sent packing back home after making a joke that went bad. Since then, Greek officials have banned their athletes from tweeting opinions.

A pair of Australian swimmers also faced recent social media sanctions after posting a picture while holding guns in a California shop.

Canadian officials have apparently given our athletes few restrictions about the use of social media, short of not being allowed to act as journalists. That would mean not posting a picture of the finish line or capturing a hobbling Michael Phelps from behind the scenes.

British social media expert Chris Hambly warns that while social media is personal and up to each person to decide what they write. “That said, many athletes are indeed tied into contractual arrangements, which of course has its place much like any employee of any company.”

It’s much like having a conversation in a pub where people might overhear, he adds. “It’s quite straight-forward yet so many behave with disregard.”

It’s also wrapped in big business.

Coke hopes to reach 1.5 billion people with its social strategy during these Games.

During the Vancouver Winter Games, sponsor Procter & Gamble estimated 10% of ad impressions left with the public came from social media. Today, it’s about half.

So no, says expert Hambly, while we may like to think of Vancouver as the real first Olympic social media proving ground, it didn’t hold a candle to the sponsorship strategies and number of athletes now trying to get their words out.

They’re handing out 150,000 condoms to the athletes here.

Olympians might want to cover their smart phones in them.