What You Can learn about Online Branding of U.S. Olympians by watching the 2014 Winter Olympics
It is nearly impossible for me, as a Social Media Strategist, not to observe how social media has played its part in widening the interest of individual U.S. Olympians at the SOCHI 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia. As an avid hockey player , snowboarder and lover of figure skating, I have been glued to NBC and Twitter , back and forth, almost minute by minute, since the torch light and Putin’s opening ceremony.
Some of what I have noticed in just this short time that the Olympics has started talks to how social media has taken indivudual olympians to a place where former olympians never thought possible. Here in the U.S. anyway, let’s review the more popular U.S. Olympians in years previous to the explosion of Social Media and global Mobile Smartphone adoption (previous to 200 4 Olympics):
Bruce Jenner – Broke the world record for the Olympic decathlon
Greg Louganis -Four-time Olympic Diving champion
Mary Lou Retton – 1st woman to win Gold in Olympics in Gymnastics
Scott Hamilton – Gold medal figure skating
and my personal favorite, of course, The U.S. Hockey Team of 1980 , now referred to as The Miracle on Ice team
All of the Olympians listed above now in some way market themselves or their teams online to drive sales of related merchandise and revenue from speaking engagements, TV engagements and sponsorships. Their online marketing programs have been developed over time by support of the sports agents. Let’s compare that to today’s U.S. Olympic athletes born in the era of social media marketing and global online audience development. We are now in the era of Online Branding of U.S. Olympians
The obvious person to start with would be Michael Phelps, who won 19 Gold medals in US Olympic swimming and retired before the age of 30. His popularity, beginning in the 2000 Olympics burst over time due to his fan base development on sites like Facebook, where he caters to over 7.7 Million Fans.
This year’s Winter Olympics in SOCHI is showing true use of Social Media by both sponsors and individual athletes alike to drive online branding. If we quickly look at one of the games top sponsors, McDonalds Restaurants, we will see timed integration of the athletes and progress of the games in a online ad campaigns and promotions on social sites like Youtube. McDonald’s has done an excellent job of bringing the fans of the Olympics into the excitement, showing the fans eating McDonald’s products while watching the Olympics, similar to how we in the U.S. engage in watching and social eating surrounding the Superbowl.
So with brands like McDonalds, BP, Citibank and others sponsoring individual US Olympic athletes and sharing these ad campaigns across social media with brand fans and evangelists, it is only natural that the atheletes themselves develop strong social popularity. But its no nearly just about their sponsors. It is also really about how well these atheletes engage in Social Media themselves to converse with their fans and tell their Olympic stories. If you take a look at this year’s 1st US Gold Medalist in Snowboarding, Sage Kotsenburg , you will notice that within days his popularity shot to over 50k Twitter followers and the tone of his messages is nothing but completely natural.
Ashley Wagner, a controversial US Women’s figure skating hopeful, sponsored by BP in this year’s SOCHI , has taken the many doubts about her winning because of a spill at a Nationals Competition and turned it around by utilizing strong content marketing campaigns and the build of a stronger social story. Her story, addressed through convincing video such as on BP’s Youtube Channel, gives her fans confidence and builds her as an US Olympic story that is sure to be unforgettable.
If the Olympians of the past had the use of social media to do a bit of this personal branding and outreach to fans online, their sponsorship dollars and popularity would have had them retired early; instead they are still marketing themselves. The Olympians in SOCHI today are armed not only with excellent training and conditioning, but the best in smartphone, tablet, video and photo technology. They understand social media. They know how to connect with their fans. Their path to global popularity is a short one and their stories make them real. They are real Online Brands.
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