No brand social media team will be able to avoid the Olympics over the coming weeks.

But if you’re in a last-minute panic, some tips I learned at the coalface in 2012 might be of help.

As creative lead for one of the world’s biggest brands during the London Olympics 2012, I jumped community management hurdles and endured epic, marathon content-creation sessions – and learnt a thing (or four) that can be applied to the global celebration of sport sprinting our way. 

Embrace technology to optimise engagement  

London 2012 was dubbed the first true ‘social Olympics’, with even our own Clive Woodward, the then director of sport for Team GB, having claimed he’d joined Twitter a few weeks before the Opening Ceremony.

With 800 million more people on Facebook than had been during the 2008 Beijing event, it was clearly an opportunity for a broader, missed-out-on-a-ticket audience to engage with the event.

Thinking about where and how audiences were interacting with the event was key to cut-through, and our work with Coca-Cola thus helped feed the need with a wealth of video, text and real-time content, delivered at scale. 

Cut to Rio 2016 – those millions of social followers have turned into billions (1.49bn active users on Facebook, to be exact), new players such as Snapchat have entered the race, and video, both short and long-form, has become the language of the net.

More importantly, audiences are interacting with all of this via their mobiles – 2016 will be the first true ‘mobile Olympics’, so your brand content and comms will need to invite the world to laugh, cry and celebrate via their mobiles.

From optimisation of your gifs, images and online experiences for a pocket-sized device, to the utilisation of contextual mobile data to drive personalised brand communications, the opportunity for brands this time around is to think small.

Ignore social issues at your peril

It was impossible to avoid the debate that surrounded various brands’ sponsorship of London 2012. Their products weren’t appropriate, so the argument went, nor in keeping with the active, healthy nature of the event.

The same was true of various brands’ sponsorships of the Sochi 2014 event – given the location and the debate that was then raging around LGBT rights.

As such, our social listening and community management needed to be on point, to ensure we were ahead of issues, reassuring and replying to customers in real-time before, during and after the Games, 24/7.

However, a simple glance at the news of the past few weeks shows how the worst can happen anywhere, any time, even at the heart of the happiest celebrations. We planned for a pause on media and responses and content, to be as helpful and useful as possible to fans.

As dramatic as it sounds, plan for every eventuality for the coming weeks.

olympic volleyball

The Olympics ‘moments’ happen in seconds, so should your content (within limitations) 

From the swimming to the beach volleyball (2012’s surprise crowd pleaser!) the Olympics keeps people on the edge of their seats, with every unexpected win or crushing loss. So, too, should your content.

If you’re planning a full-blown content activation or newsroom, you need to be geared up to cover it all in real-time.

There are ways to get ahead, with tweets or posts covering every event outcome on hand, ready to deploy as appropriate – as Adidas did during the recent World Cup.

This will ensure specific sponsor brands can also get that much-desired, often-feared, Olympics organising committee approval of your content ahead of time.

But ultimately, you need a ‘war room’ in place, with a team ready to react – involving not just your creative or agency staff but the brand approver and legal reps, as required.

jess ennis

Capture the emotion to deliver brand love by association

Every medal, every loss, every tear shed – when you’re planning a content calendar six months before, it’s hard to remember just how awe-inspiring the Games actually are, from the Olympic Torch Relay to the closing ceremony.

Coca-Cola’s most successful organic Facebook post was a shot of Jess Ennis with her medals – associate your brand with national pride and celebration and you’ll show your brand’s human side.

Tap into local moments, too – Brazil can seem very far away, but the faces of fans decked out in Union Jack paint, the outfits, the celebrations as Team GB takes to the podium again, can show you’re a brand that knows what matters to your audience.

It’s an incredible experience to be part of one of the world’s most exciting events – that said, I’m looking forward to cheering on other brand marketer’s efforts this year, in my living room instead of a war room, while eating a McDonald’s.

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