Ah the winter games, a smaller event than the summer games, but no less thrilling. Now that social media has made this experience interactive, the games have come alive on all devices.
You can tweet out to your favourite athletes, see behind the scenes photos, and show support for your country online in real time. But which countries are taking advantage of social media to generate team spirit, showcase talents, and interact with their fans?
In this article, we’ll look at the two of the big contenders, based on the medal results from Vancouver 2010, to determine which team dominates the podium when it comes to social media; Team Canada or Team USA. We’ll also look at Team GB to see how they’ve built upon the social media momentum gained in London 2012.
Team Canada posts frequently (at least once a day), sharing photos, articles and updates on the athletes and volunteers of Sochi 2014. They could strike a better balance between sharing content from www.olympic.ca, and external content, but are excellent at replying to fans’ comments.
Team Canada tweets out on the regular. Not as often as Team USA, but the social media managers of Team Canada are probably a lot busier. You know, admiring all the gold medals Canada won in Vancouver 2010.*
As for the content of their tweets, it’s a good mix of their own content relating to the athletes and volunteers, as well as retweeting fan content, and content from other media sources. They make excellent use of photos, preferring to showcase the stories rather than cram them into 160 characters.
I have to dock them some points, though, because the majority of the time they simply retweet mentions from fans instead of responding directly.
But their powerplay? Team Canada knows how to work a hashtag.
For that extra degree of difficulty, Team Canada has pulled their best trick out of the bag. No, it’s not the goose lift, it’s the hashtag #WeAreWinter. Creating a consistent hashtag for your brand is tricky. You run the risk of repeating yourself too often, overusing a hashtag that simply isn’t that great, or looking a bit foolish when you use the hashtag but none of your followers do. The hashtag #WeAreWinter is not only a tribute to Canada’s arctic climate, but a powerful declaration of ownership over the games. Athletes love it, businesses love it, fans love it. I definitely love it, and I don’t even like winter (sorry, Canada).
Social media competitions
Using the #WeAreWinter hashtag, Team Canada ran a 4 week-long social media campaign. Participants were asked to submit a photo of themselves embracing winter for a chance to win several prizes. The contest was easy to enter (on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter) and the only condition was to submit entries with the #WeAreWinter hashtag. It gave Team Canada a wealth of user generated content and some serious engagement with fans.
All of team Canada’s content on Facebook and Youtube is available in either English or French.
Canada is missing an opportunity to take more candid photos (of which there are few), and to use Instagram video. While counting down to this year’s games with photos of last games’ winners seems like a great way to build momentum, in reality fans may have preferred more photos of the Sochi athletes leading up to the games.
Team Canada has one more trick up its sleeve, and that’s multilingual content. All of its content on Facebook and Youtube is available in either English or French, depending on your language preference settings. Admittedly, they are the two official languages of the country (unlike the USA where Spanish is not an official language, despite being widely spoken), but it increases the reach to Canadian fans by 23%**. #NousSommesL’hiver
Team USA are clearly old pros on Facebook. They post regular photos, videos and updates, with nice little touches like a Photo of the Day. Their only deduction comes from not replying to any of the comments posted on what they share, but since their fans are so willing to comment and interact with each other, the lack of Team USA’s replies doesn’t do much damage to their score.
Despite having a lower following (by percentage of population) than Team Canada, #TeamUSA’s got no competition when it comes to quantity of tweets. They consistently retweet fan content, athletes’ content, and of course tweet out their own updates. Their hashtag #GoTeamUSA is pretty bland compared to #WeAreWinter, so it’s more substance and less style, but it gets the job done.
Team USA get extra points for engaging candid shots of the athletes, as well as good use of Instagram video.
Why tell people you’re the best when you can show them? That’s exactly what Team USA does with its YouTube channel, cleverly kitted out with special micro channels like ‘Making Team USA’ and ‘Road to Sochi’ full of video footage. There’s no missing the call to action – as you land on the page, a pop up confirming you want to subscribe to the channel isn’t exactly subtle, but must be pretty efficient considering their 70k subscribers.
Let’s talk about Google+, shall we? Both Team Canada and Team USA make decent use of it, but Team USA’s got the edge. While Team Canada seems to just go through the motions, using it as an extension of their other social media, Team USA makes better use of it. In addition to posting more content, they also make it a space for more interaction, hosting live on-air chats on Hangout.
Team USA suffers a deduction for posting a lot of sponsor-related content across its channels. Hey, we get that your team has sponsors, but do people following you really want to know about Chobani Yogurt? What does yogurt have to do with your athletes?
So who brings home the gold?
When all’s said and done, both teams boast a strong performance on social media. And at the end of the day, it’s difficult to decide who brings home social media gold. It comes down to the very thing that separates the two nations in the real Winter Olympics; strength versus finesse. Team USA is incredibly strong with more stories, more resources, and more social media, but Team Canada inspires emotion and national pride, and helps their fans feel part of the experience.
What of team GB? Well, if there really were a Social Media Winter Games, they would definitely make the podium. The audience that Team GB built over the London 2012 Olympics has only grown since (it has more Facebook and Twitter followers, by percentage of population, than either the US or Canada). They get great interaction from fans, post a wealth of varied content, and produce a series of great videos on YouTube. It’s even more impressive considering that, unlike Canada and the USA, the UK is a bit of a dark horse in the winter games. But with Jenny Jones’ historic bronze in Snowboard Slopestyle, it looks like that’s changing, too.
*Disclaimer: The author is Canadian and therefore allowances must be made for a slight bias.
**Percentage of Francophone Canadians.