Why should I care about "the first social Olympics"? Here are 79 million reasons

By now, unless you've turned off all of your electronic devices and news feeds, you're probably sick of hearing that the Games of the XXX Olympiad are the first "Social Olympics."

Susan Bean, EVP of Marina Maher Communications' Creative Catalyst Group, is on assignment in London for the Olympic Games. 

By now, unless you have turned off all of your electronic devices and news feeds, you're probably sick of hearing that this year's Olympic Games are the first “Social Olympics.” 

Still, there's no denying the exponential growth of social media since the 2008 Games.  Facebook surged from 100 million to 900 million users. And the increase in Twitter users is even more staggering: from 6 million users in 2008 to 140 million today. So many people are following the Games from their smartphones and tablets that TIME magazine is now calling it the “Smart Olympics.”

The “always on” nature of this year's Olympics is great for consumers who want their news in real time and appreciate being part of a global community focused on one event.

But what does it mean for brands? Access to a huge segment of the population such as the 79 million Millennials, who are not sitting at home watching the Games on TV (if they even have one).

Many Olympic sponsors like Coca-Cola, Visa, General Electric, and Procter & Gamble have turned to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and iPhones to reach this sometimes-elusive target and turn them into brand messengers

And while, as you might expect, there have been a few social media kerfuffles since the Games began on Friday night, many brands seem to be effectively engaging this target. There is an overarching theme that runs through the campaigns that – at least so far – appears to be successful in targeting Millennials and that is the importance of creating an organic connection between your brand and the event.

It's sound advice for future events – large and small – that can be applied long after the closing ceremonies are over and the athletes have packed up and gone home.

Most social media users post news about themselves, their friends, and their interests online, not product, or brand activity. To bring your brand into the conversation, your campaign must tie in naturally, without a lot of explanation. A number of brands seem to be doing this well. 

Coca-Cola's promotion, for example, is based on the brand's connection to enhancing well-being (a point that might be argued by Mayor Bloomberg, but that's another story). Its campaign is based around a video of a song created for the Olympics that incorporates the sounds of athletes in action.


Consumers can download free software that lets them put their own creative spin on the music and incorporate their Facebook photos – exactly the kind of personalized content that Millennials love to share. The video, which was launched in February, has been viewed by more than 1.5 million people.


General Electric is focusing social media efforts on fitness, based on data showing more than 80% of young adults share health information on their social media channels. Through a Facebook app called “HealthyShare,” consumers can listen to health and fitness advice from Olympians like Michael Johnson and Summer Sanders and share their goals with friends. So far, 30,000 people have downloaded the app.

Procter & Gamble, the company I am working for during the Olympics and the creator of the “Thank You Mom” Olympic campaign, connected to the person these athletes perhaps owe the most thanks: their moms, who also happen to be key purchasers of P&G products.

One of many social media campaigns the company has created is a “Thank You Mom" app that allows people to thank their moms by uploading personalized content and encouraging friends and family to do the same.

While Olympic sponsors are highly optimistic about their return on investment for their amped up social efforts, we won't know who the real winners and losers are, or whether they've captured the attention of Millennials, for at least a few weeks. 

But if I were betting on who will do best, I'd put my money on the campaigns that tie most naturally to the Games, provide sharable content that doesn't feel promotional, and foster interaction on their digital and social properties.

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