Tweeting for gold

Zone strategist Matt Brown shares what can be learned from a selection of Olympic tweeters

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London 2012 has been widely proclaimed as the first ‘social media games’, or, if you can bear it, Tweety12. The prominent use of Twitter by many athletes suggested they were striving for social validation in the digital world as much as a chunky medallion in the physical one. Here are a few things the past fortnight has taught us about social media:

Olympic fever is as effective as paid promotion
Established sporting figures such as Andy Murray, who have steadily acquired Twitter followers over several years, could only look on as other Team GB members were fast-tracked to social media stardom. Golden girl Jessica Ennis gained more new followers on her medal-winning day than Murray did throughout the entire fortnight.

Bolt is fast, but Twitter is faster
The two-time double Olympic gold medalist ran at 27.3mph over 100m, but Twitter simultaneously gushed at 74,000tpm (tweets per minute). This means 11,877 people were able to let out an exclamatory tweet before Bolt traipsed over the line 9.63 seconds later.

Athletic achievement ≠ social standing
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt both acquired more Twitter followers on the day of their second gold medals, suggesting a nice correlation between the magnitude of their accomplishment and the scale of online adulation. But, without winning gold, Tom Daley shattered this hypothesis and became the only athlete to acquire more than one million new followers during the London games, raising the prospect that the Olympic bubble was not impervious to the Bieber factor.

Trolling may be a fully fledged Olympic discipline by 2016
Gold medals were not enough to satisfy the more odious sectors of the British public. Celebrity troll Piers Morgan castigating Bradley Wiggins for not singing during the national anthem served to demonstrate how social media can be used to scourge as well as support.

Even after they had competed, Twitter proved a powerful digital connection between the athletes and their fans. Double gold medalist Jason Kenny didn’t set up an account until three days after his final lap of victory, yet has racked up more than 30,000 followers to date. Now that’s dedication.