August 09, 2012 / by DannyS

Before I start, I just want to clarify this is from a social standpoint. I am not suggesting that the London 2012 Olympics were an utter failure, but in terms of being social which ViralHeat has an interest in, the Olympics came up short.

Event marketing can be a tough gig. Especially today. Official hashtags, building an experience, implementing new technologies to stay ahead of the curve and making sure that the event is being chatted about, being social. Whatever that means. As an interactive marketing coordinator, I hear a few things from clients:

     – Can I make this social?

     – How do I make this social?

                      – Is it social enough?

I just want to respond…
“Oh you mean, will people talk about it? Because that’s what social is. Probably not. You don’t deliver an experience worth talking about. But back to this social part, what the hell do you mean is it social enough? Digitally?”
I, of course, know exactly what they mean. I just get bothered by this whole forced social identity, rather than natural. It’s not their fault that there is so much industry weight on the concept of being “social.” However, does this pressure to be social become counter-productive?
Humans have always been social. The idea that we need to be social now suggests that humans haven’t been social until iPhones, Droids, Twitter and Facebook arrived. All they did was expedite the process of communication, socializing with our friends. That’s why this is such an important tool – I can literally let the entire country of Egypt know that I had lentils for dinner last night, that is, if the entire country was on Twitter.
Today, we place so much emphasis on going viral and being social. I believe these are portals of a full strategy, just segments.

Why so much emphasis on being social?

Because we know that if we charge the user base and get conversations rolling, this has more validity than say, interruptive advertising. “I trust my friends before I trust marketing.” However, with so much emphasis placed on being social, many events can drop the ball. Meaning, many event marketers can kindly #facepalm themselves and made a mad dash for the nearest exit, unfortunately for the social team at the Olympics, it’s probably the fire exit and alarms attracting unwanted views. If you church up your event, be prepared. As the Olympics are learning, they set the bar so high, they were seemingly destined to be doomed.

Olympics. What a soup sandwich!

The most social (see: talked about) event in the history of sports. Good for you – you managed to show the world just how loud their voice can be by being social. Of course, I know this isn’t what they meant. The Olympics and NBC have done everything to ruin the experience for the average American internet user, which at this point seems to be 100% of our beloved nation (not fact, only a thought). It has become a job to not see the final results to each competition until you get home at night and turn on what NBC has delegated as the most important part of the Olympics for that day. Well that, and they need to be able to highly produce it, you know… for the drama of course (nevermind that this is sports and the drama is practically handed to you on a silver platter).

The cost of the London 2012 Olympic games was an astonishing, $19 Billion. It seems someone would want to protect that investment. Oh, that’s right, they protected it by subjecting Olympians to ridiculous terms outlining what they are or are not allowed to do with social media. Essentially saying, “We don’t mind that you are social, of course we prefer it, but you need to broadcast OUR message – Please don’t think for yourself, that’s not why you are here.” Of course, I’m not defending the Olympians who clearly need an advisor by their side, because as they have learned, “Loose Tweets, Sink Fleets.”

As a user, what I do want to read on Twitter is the unique experience that my favorite athlete is having. I want to get their perspective, the grueling chaos that is the gymnastics events. The psychology behind Usain Bolt before he runs his fastest giving the cheetah a run for it’s money. What I don’t want is the Olympic guardians diluting the experience of a truly social experience. In fact, Gabby Douglas now has over 600,000 followers on Twitter – because Gabby has a story to tell, if I follow her, it’s to get her story, not the the Olympics version of the story to sell more ads.

The Olympics and NBC ruining the events for us Americans (I hear BBC is absolutely fabulous with their own coverage). This is why #NBCFail is trending and why @NBCDelayed is just one of several satirical profiles on Twitter mocking the attempt by NBC and the Olympics to be the “most social event” ever.

The preparation was mediocre at best. Twitter was broadcasting results, while NBC was pretending they didn’t exist.

They raised the bar too high – they weren’t prepared for the beast of events. At least, in terms of being “social,” whatever that means.

NASA Knows Science

Then, on the other side of the spectrum is the Curiosity Rover landing on Mars, 8.5 months away. A fraction of the cost of the Olympics at $2.6 Billion, an incredible scientific advancement, a human first, new technology that had never been used and NASA team that was prepared socially. The kicker? This event NEVER touted itself to be socially prepared, or the most social even in the world. I heard nothing, all I ever heard was about the landing was coming up. I never heard NASA talk about how awesome the landing would be because of how social it was. It was more natural.

NASA streamed their landing through UStream (An awesome streaming platform built to supply video through the web, which also facilitates social conversation through chat rooms.) available to ALL, not just those with a paid cable contract. Curiosity tweeted it’s landing, the world watched. Ustream told Mashable:

 “(Our) live-stream reached a peak viewership of 500,000, besting CNN, MSNBC, and HLN. A total of 3.2 million people tuned in to the live stream at one point or another.”

I am not suggesting that the Mars landing is returning a higher profit, I am saying that in terms of being socially prepared, NASA was far more prepared. But the most important part to note is that they didn’t build up all this fluff about how socially savvy they were, they stuck to what they knew, landing awesome stuff on a planet 8.5 months away. I couldn’t land something on Earth, let another planet, with a large portion of the world watching. This brings me back to my original point, if you focus too much on one part of the strategy, you are causing a huge disservice to your overall marketing strategy. But also, when you start touting yourself as this or that, be sure to back it up. Because in terms of social ROI, NASA clearly won, all by doing what they do best, having awesome old hippies and guys with mohawks landing the largest rover on Mars, ever. Not trying to preserve corporate sponsor dollars ultimately, ruining the experience of the engaged viewers and socializers. What would the IOC think if one of the Olympians tweeted the work, “F*ck”? I’m sure they’d make an example of them and force them off their respective team due to “unbecoming characteristics that fail to align with Olympic standards.” Once again, forced and controlled rather than natural.


The Mohawk guy, Bobak Ferdowsi, is most certainly the Gabby Davis of NASA. Springing from 200 followers to over 44,000. In fact, I foresee a lot of branding/publicity experiences with this guy, he’s become the much needed sex symbol for NASA.

Force Goes Against Natural

Unfortunately, everything the Olympics attempted felt forced, they said they were going to meet this insane demand and fell on their faces. They forced an artificial conversation surrounding their event and it didn’t turn out well. However, NASA went with the natural conversation approach and delivered the tools to allow you to chat, engage and interact and it helped them dominate the internet waves.

As event marketers, you want to create a great experience. I know this, I am a license holder for a local TEDx event. Create the experience and everything else will follow in terms of social, including natural conversation. Don’t put social up on an Olympic platform full of regulation and legal mumbo jumbo which actually goes against the fundamentals of social media.


Danny Schotthoefer is the digital strategist/community manager at an advertising agency in Bozeman, Montana. He is also a TEDx event organizer and an avid Oregon Ducks and Portland Trailblazers fan. You can also find him running via Nike+ and cycling via Strava – he is highly social. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn



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