They were dubbed the first social media Olympics ever. And they are. When London 2012 is over, gazillions opinion pieces will be posted with titles such as “Ten Crucial Social Media Lessons from the Olympics 2012.”
In fact, it’s already happening now. I wanted to stay far away from them (whic doesn’t mean some will be probably good) but couldn’t resist after today… Social media has a few important characteristics. Two of them are the speed of real-time and the human dimension.
Yep, social is indeed a people’s thing. We often herald the virtues of what we call a real-time economy. So do I, in a sense. The real-time nature of social is a gift for those who are ready to listen.
However, it can be a drag if you fall in the trap of real-time response, and if you don’t think about what you say or what others say. If there’s a lesson to learn from the social media Olympics it’s this (I know, it’s boring): think before you act, act in a responsible way and think before you react to what someone thinks about your acts.
Yes, you need to be fast when things go bad, but you should do it in a professional way if you work for a business. Often, it’s better to say you will respond and give it some thought. Nobody will die if you don’t respond right away. The stock market won’t crash. It’s better to give a valuable and relevant response than say something stupid in the heat of the moment. Real-time is not a goal, it’s a means to an end, which doesn’t mean you should improve your processes to be able to react fast.
Stupidity goes real-time on social media as well
We often act in an impulsive way. We are human beings. The number of stories about athletes impulsively tweeting dumb statements, such as racist remarks, is increasing by the day. The strict social media ‘guidelines’ of the IOC (PDF opens) isn’t much of a help. On the contrary, it seems. It’s criticized by athletes who would love to tweet about their sponsors – of course. It’s criticized by the public despite the ‘go easy messages‘. What the IOC seems to have forgotten is that nor the public, nor the athletes work for the IOC (OK, in a way they sort of do in a sense).
The Olympics are big business, whether they are social media Olympics or not. The Olympic spirit is a dream. And we love it. I love it. However, we know it’s not real. We see it in the politics. We see it when athletes tweet stupid things (hormones?). We see it in the way NBC behaved regarding the opening ceremony (not that it hurt viewing numbers). We see it in the empty seats, bought by people and organizations that don’t seem to care about the sports. We see it everywhere.
The difference with these social media Olympics is that we don’t only see it but also share it. In real-time and with consequences. Actions and counteractions. Policies and protests. It’s a mess. Stupidity is real-time as well at the social media Olympics and in social media as such. Athletes get sent home. Journalists see their Twitter account disabled (yes, you can debate the reasons why and the details in this case).
Real-time as a weapon
The media have a responsibility also. Real-time is their weapon to gain traffic and revenues. The media are jumping on any occasion to benefit from the social dimension of these Olympics. Every little scandal gets thrown in the air immediately. Traffic boosts and social mentions skyrocket. The advertisers are happy, and the crowd is kept busy. It reminds me of the Romans’ “panem et circenses”. Is that the Olympic spirit?
Interaction and feedback are solicited. “Can athletes call out trolls?” Mashable wants to know in yet another piece on an incident that’s related to the Olympics and social media. Of course, they can but Mashable wants you to react for a reason. Let the comments come in. Pageviews guaranteed. Look at the numbers.
The Olympic spirit is like that box office hit science fiction movie. You know nothing is real but for a while, you want to believe it. However, in the end, it’s big business. I feel bad for sports and athletes. I love both. I love how social media provides this more open and real-time dimension, whether it’s to be informed, interact and, yes, ask NBC why they behaved this way, the IOC why those seats were empty or why they really prefer people not to share stuff when on the spot.
However, I feel bad about how media and organizations manipulate social media users (and viewers) with real-time as the eternal excuse and often are worse than tabloids, for the sake of sacred eyeballs. And I feel very bad for the human consequences of the real-time downsides. It is big business and the media, IOC and other power houses control it.
Real-time can be good. However, it can be very bad as well. Speed and real-time should be no excuse for stupidity.
Now, let me dream again. I love sports.