The people and social media challenges at the 2012 Olympic Games

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Reuters reports that Anthony Edgar, head of media operations for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), freely admits that he does not know what to expect at the London Olympic Games following the explosion of social media, with some 900 million people using Facebook in 2012 compared to the 100 million who used the site just four years ago at the time of the Beijing Games.

“Yes you can’t hold a camera when you’re running down the 100 meter straight and do an exclusive broadcast. That’s for the broadcasters,” he told Reuters in an interview. “But you can certainly talk about it. You can certainly take photos of it. And you can certainly write about it.

“We’re having to deal with things now that didn’t exist in Beijing, with a voice that wasn’t so loud in Beijing. Everyone is allowed to film who goes into a venue … but it’s for personal use only.”

[…] Fans inside a stadium will be allowed to use their smartphones to film Usain Bolt on the track or Michael Phelps in the pool, but they will not be allowed to upload it to Facebook in a ruling that may surprise many tech-savvy fans who now upload clips on a regular basis.

I can imagine a near-impossible task in policing that latter restriction. What will officials do at an Olympic venue when hundreds if not thousands of spectators are busy with their mobile devices uploading stuff? Manually try and prevent it? Not a chance. Turn off the networks? Hmm, good luck with that idea – someone tried something similar in the US last year, which didn’t really work.

As some are predicting data traffic of 60Gb a second at the Olympic Park primary venue in east London – equal to about 3,000 photos – here, concisely, is what I think we can expect:

  1. Anyone with a mobile device and a network connection will be using it, no matter what, to spontaneously share their text, audio and visual opinions of what they experience at an Olympics event.
  2. Athletes are people like anyone else, and want to share too.
  3. Everyone else, wherever they are – at home watching TV, in a pub, the office, on a bus or train or wherever – will want to do the same.
  4. If anyone can’t get online to share because of no network connection, they’ll do that whenever they can get online.

An IOC member reportedly told the BBC recently that “the Olympics is one of the oldest social networks that has ever been.”

In that case, I hope a pragmatic and common sense approach is adopted by the so-called ‘brand police’ with regard to such sharing – even after reading what the Olympic organizers have published about brand protection during London 2012.

Organizers, please do go after the ambush marketers and the thieves of intellectual property, but please let go of control and don’t smother free expression by everyone else, whose words and pictures will measurably add to and enrich the Olympics’ overall record.

And above all, notwithstanding the comedy of errors characterized by concerns about security and more during recent weeks, let’s just enjoy the amazing spectacle of these Olympic Games, wherever we are!

[Updated 22/7/12] ] The BBC reports IOC president Jacques Rogge as saying that “common sense will prevail” on enforcing protection of sponsors.

[…] Asked about the policing of sponsorship, the IOC president said Locog would take a “subtle approach” to sponsorship and individual cases would not be pursued with the police.

“But if there is really blatant intent of ambush marketing by another company or by a group of people with commercial views then of course we will intervene.

“If you have the T-shirt of a competitor of one of our sponsors we will not intervene,” he said. “So common sense will prevail and Locog will work with commonsense.”

Under IOC rules, tier one “worldwide partners” – such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola – get sole global marketing rights within their sector, including being able to sell their products and services exclusively within Olympic venues.

Locog on Friday said only large groups of spectators wearing “visibly branded” clothing were at risk of being banned from Olympic venues.

Also, see some specifics on what the IOC has planned for its own proactive use of social tools and channels: Olympics committee gets its social media game on with Tumblr, Instagram integration.

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