An Olympics First? Social Media Transforms Upcoming Games in London

June 1, 2012
by Chen-Lee Tsui-Shek, Manager European Marketing, Business Wire London

At the beginning of May, around 100 PR and communications professionals attended the Business Wire London media breakfast on how the Olympics affect the media landscape. On the panel were Andy Rice – Managing Director of PA Sport Commercial; Matt Ball – Editor-in-Chief of MSN UK; Duncan Hooper – UK News and Sport Managing Director at MSN; and Darren Waters – head of Devices and Social Media, MSN-UK / ex-BBC journalist. The panel was led by Phil Szomszor – Director of Citigate Dewe Rogerson. A short video can be viewed below.

This is what I have taken away from this event:

Social media is an integral part of everyday consumer life and media organisations up and down the country; it is here to stay. However, social media is the polar opposite of what the Olympics games try to be. Whereas the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has clear rules and guidance on the use of social media by people such as athletes, news consumed via social media is chaotic and typically it has many sources (friends, family, news sources etc.). How many times have we heard of a celebrity’s passing which turned out to be untrue? Social media as it appears can lead to misinformation. This development has become a challenge and an opportunity for media organisations, like the PA and MSN, to take up this baton (excuse the pun) of responsibility to validate and curate their content to its readers.

So, what has changed?

London 2012 is often heralded as the first truly social Olympics since Beijing four years ago. It’s how consumers will engage with the Olympics and its content that will distinguish these games. Media organisations across the world have been facing the same challenge of how to satisfy consumers’ insatiable appetite for real-time content. Research by Ofcom (The independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries) reports that 40% of consumers increasingly turn to social media for breaking news, but at the same time 1 in 4 doesn’t trust this information. This presents an opportunity for mainstream organisations such as PA and MSN to move away from the traditional model of just publishing news to developing tools and methods which will visualise, broadcast, filter, aggregate and validate the content for their audiences.

So, how did this all come about? Sheer growth of social media and smartphones have largely contributed to this change of how news is consumed. To put into perspective: Four years ago, Facebook became the largest social media network with 135 million users. Today, this number has exploded to a whopping 900 million.

Twitter, similarly, enjoyed a stupendous growth. Six million active users four years ago, which is a drop in the ocean, compared to today’s 200+ million users worldwide.

Smartphones have also taken off big time, with people increasingly accessing social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter via their mobiles. The UK has one of the highest rankings in mobile data penetration in the world. More than fifty percent of UK mobile phones are now smartphones, consuming on average 266Mb of data each month – that is equivalent to refreshing your Twitter app 2,000 times a day before you run out of data.

The Press Association and the games

The PA, celebrating 140 years, is the extension of the UK’s media newsrooms across print, broadcast, digital and mobile, and is best known for breaking stories such as the death of Diana and the sinking of the Titanic. So far it has enjoyed a reputation of fast, fair and accurate reporting. Now it has a challenge to take this legacy and heritage and move it into a new landscape that embraces digital and social media –  the Olympics is helping with that. For the PA the Olympics has been an event seven years in the making, from working with the bidding team to help secure the London 2012 bid, to lobbying the IOC to be appointed as the host news agency. A team of 90 journalists and photographers has been recruited to cover every single game, athlete and sport. Over the last two years it has build an unprecedented resource of Olympics and sports content that the PA will filter and interpret for its customers (media organisations) as the games happen.

MSN UK and the games

More than a year ago MSN UK had a refocus of its portal. Today, with 28 million users per month (equivalent to two thirds of the UK population), it is more than just a portal – it has its own editorial team producing its own content in addition to a newsfeed it receives from the PA. It is regularly nominated for top industry awards. We (the audience) enjoyed an exclusive preview of the new MSN Olympics home page, which subsequently has gone live across all 40+ MSN countries.

Key areas and top tips from MSN for PR and Communications professionals:

- Exclusivity and creativity is key

- Timeliness

- Engagement – allowing their readers to be involved through comments, expert opinions, etc.

- A different angle to a story

- Visuals, pictures and multimedia are important

- Stories need to have an editorial value

- Stories can be short and visually led

Stay on top of all the latest news releases on these Olympics by visiting Business Wire’s London Summer Games news archive, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

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