A view from John Scurfield

Who won gold at the Twitter Olympics?

Delve into the data behind fan engagement in Rio 2016

In what has been a record-breaking Olympics for Team GB – becoming the first nation to exceed their medal tally from the previous games they hosted – Twitter fans have backed them all the way despite a four hour time difference, meaning key events occurred in the small hours.

As part of its Rio 2016 activity, MediaCom tracked UK fan engagement on Twitter. While viewers had mixed reactions to the BBC’s Olympics coverage, they flocked to the social platform with one in five saying they'd been using Twitter more than usual since the Olympics started and one in three having interacted with tweets about the Olympics. Also, 38% said they saw Olympics content on Twitter that they had not seen elsewhere.

Support for athletes

The London 2012 legacy continues to burn with fans staying up until the early hours to support the athletes. The night that Adam Peaty won gold, tweet volume peaked at 3am, while the Opening Ceremony peaked at 12.11am and with a further peak at 1.44am when Team GB arrived.

Once the action got underway, Team GB dominated the top ten most mentioned athletes in the UK. Andy Murray took the number one spot with 32,000 mentions. Laura Trott had 28,000 mentions while Olympic star Usain Bolt had 22,300 by comparison.

Partners tweeting loud and proud

Despite IOC and Team GB partners utilising TV, OOH and print, social media was, understandably, where the real battle between partners and athletes took place.

Those brands who coupled original and timely content with a credible role to play succeeded. Creating a reason to follow their story was critical, particularly due to the significant increase in Twitter usage since London 2012 - there were 6.5 million global mentions of #London2012, but more than 23 million for #Rio2016.  

In the battle for social media supremacy, the National Lottery ran away with gold, capitalising to great effect their relationship and funding of Team GB athletes and their governing bodies through their #IAmTeamGB campaign. According to data from Brandwatch, the Lottery received over 20,000 mentions, more than three times as many as the number two brand, Nissan, with just under 6,000.

The Lottery kept it simple through a TV spot showcasing their association at scale with higher engagement coming from thankful Team GB athletes, coaches and fans engaging and producing content without official ambassadorial deals being agreed.  

Sofa ahead of the competition

However, the greatest activation programme from a Team GB partner was DFS, which selected three medallists – Peaty, Trott and Max Whitlock - as its ambassadors. Its content series from Team GB House in Rio has been the standout campaign, generating exclusive behind the scenes content from the house DFS helped design and furnish.

There’s also been lots of traction on Twitter with the #Flipit game, the leader board of which was topped by Whitlock. DFS was able to blend the right activation by utilising their official partnership assets with storytelling from its ambassadors, coupled with highly targeted media partnerships and realtime placements throughout the games.

Team Great Brand

A special mention must go to Team GB, which had already had successfully grown their commercial revenue on the back of a fantastic London 2012, capitalising on a growing brand in terms of overall awareness and affinity. Their values, which include performance, responsibility, unity, pride and respect, are all values that brands wish to align themselves with.

They’ve certainly done no harm in attracting brands post-Rio. Not only were Team GB the first nation to ever increase their medal haul following the Games they hosted, but they have also seen their brand value grow significantly.

Team GB’s interaction with their partners and fans pre and during the games has translated into significant growth across Twitter. @TeamGB had 372k followers at the end of London 2012; it now has 808k. In the few days before this year’s games the account gained 6.1k followers, and during the last two weeks it added more than 100,000.

Team GB’s social channels have become the destination ahead of the BBC for fans to engage with unique and informative content from athletes and personalities alike.

A look ahead to PyeongChang 2018 and Tokyo 2020

As every Olympics goes by, fans expect bigger and better ways to engage with their heroes. Legacy is an overused word; longevity is actually the most critical factor for the Olympic bodies, brands and athletes wishing to prolong the goodwill and exposure away from the Olympic spotlight. The IOC launching the Olympics channel is a move designed to provide fans and partners year-round Olympic content.

Looking to PyeongChang and Tokyo, UK fans dealing with an even more unsociable time difference will be turning to the digital platforms the IOC have yet to fully embrace. Twitter will remain a vital content and information-gathering companion and it’s not crazy to think – IOC restrictions aside – we could be sat at home, watching Laura Trott in the velodrome winning gold, wearing VR headsets.

There is a clear challenge for the IOC to adopt emerging technologies and manage changes driven by fans’ and athletes’ demands. Come Tokyo, brands wishing to capitalise on the relaxation of Rule 40 will be ready, and will use Under Armour and Virgin Media as great examples of how to do so without spending the required rights fees.

But it’s not a simple task. Will we see truly global athletes like Phelps and Bolt at Tokyo for brands to utilise? Will the likes of Team GB continue to demonstrate the added value an official partnership brings? And will Team GB go one better and secure gold?

Top 10 athletes by UK mentions

Name Mentions
1 @andy_murray  32,733
2 @LauraTrott31 28,695
3 @maxwhitlock1 27,621
4 @JasonKenny107 24,394
5 @adam_peaty 22,540
6 @usainbolt 22,337
7 @TomDaley1994 19,809
8 @JustinRose99 19,411
9 @JackLaugher 19,036
10 @ChrisMears93 16,687

Top 10 brands by UK mentions

Brand Mentions
1 National Lottery 18,494
2 Nissan 5,941
3 Adidas 5,690
4 Samsung 2,948
5 Aldi 1,950
6 Panasonic 1,179
7 DFS 1,094
8 Coca Cola 691
9 Visa 546
10 Omega 353

John Scurfield is the head of sport and entertainment at MediaCom.