Social-Media Strategy for Olympic Athletes: Better Safe Than Sorry

IOC's Guidelines an Attempt to Evolve but Protect Marketing Partners

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Mind your manners and be careful what you tweet. Athletes competing in the London Olympic Games have been given a laundry list of rules to guide their online behavior.

The International Olympic Committee has released comprehensive "social-media blogging and internet guidelines" for this year's games, replacing the simple "blogging guidelines" created for the Vancouver Olympic Games. Four years ago no such guidelines existed for the Beijing Olympic Games.

It's a comment on how fast social media has grown. But it also highlights how the IOC is grappling with a fast-evolving media landscape and attempting to protect its marketing partners' investments.

The guidelines cover the use of still photos, video and audio, as well as domain names and URLs. A site,, has also been created for the purpose of ensuring that "the integrity of rights-holding broadcasters and sponsor rights as well as the Olympic Charter is maintained."

Maya Grinberg, social-media manager for Wildfire Interactive, a social-media marketing software firm, notes that two years ago, the guidelines focused on blogging, banner ads and web pop-ups without any mention of social media. Now, the guidelines introduce "tweet" as a proper verb.

"Comparing the two documents is an entertaining way to see the evolution of the social-media landscape," Ms. Grinberg said. "Mostly, the updated guidelines are written with a 'better safe than sorry' perspective in mind, casting a wide net in outlining exactly what athletes and other participants can and can't [do]."

Already, two Australian swimmers have been served a social-media ban by the Australian Olympic Committee for tweeting photos deemed inappropriate. (The pair posed with guns during a U.S. training trip.) The ban is in place for one month, beginning July 16.

Social-media experts say these bans likely won't be an isolated incident, given the inherent difficulties in policing thousands of athletes, many of them amateur, from 204 countries over the course of 17 days.

David Schwab, VP at Octagon, a sports-marketing firm, said social-media bans -- sometimes self-imposed -- aren't unusual in college football, for example. "Certainly limiting the ability for people to use social media is the opposite of what social conversation is ," he said. "But it's not like the Super Bowl or any other sporting event where you only have two teams and the event is one day. ... If it's smooth [in London, the guidelines] open up in two years; if it's a problem, it tightens up."

An IOC spokesman declined an interview request, but said social media is an "important connector" between fans and athletes. He said London will be the first "conversational" Olympic Games, noting the recent creation of the Olympic Athletes' Hub, a directory of Olympians on social media.

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