In the first week of the Sochi Games, Facebook reported that 24 million people were talking about the Winter Olympics; 6.5 million mentions of the Olympic games were made on Twitter during the same period of time. The International Olympics Committee reported that throughout the past month there have been 1.2 billion mentions on its Facebook and Twitter accounts and its Facebook account grew by 2 million in the first week of the Sochi Olympics. The 2014 Winter Olympics undoubtedly received more social media traction than any other international sporting event to date – but it’s not for good reason. Given the disappointing Olympic Village environment, the majority of social discussion has been about the subpar conditions spectators have encountered during their stay in Sochi.
It’s pretty obvious that the International Olympic Committee wouldn’t want Olympians exposing Sochi’s conditions to the masses. So for the first time, the IOC implemented strict, and somewhat ridiculous, guidelines for Olympic athletes, coaches, officials, and National Olympic Committee personal, setting very limited parameters on what was “acceptable” social media subject matter. For example, official participants are not allowed to post any video or audio of events, competitions or other activities taking place at any Sochi venues or Olympic Village and must get permission from the IOC before posting pictures. It gets stranger—Olympic participants are being asked to only post in “first person/diary format” so it’s not mistaken as editorial or reporting.
So much for commemorating and sharing experiences through social channels, right? Sadly, employing these rules was a futile attempt at maintaining a positive reputation for the Olympics and Russia.
While athletes have had to resist posting to their social platforms, attendees and reporters certainly have not. On February 4, three days before the opening ceremony, Washington Post published a story, “Journalists at Sochi are live-tweeting their hilarious and gross hotel experiences” where journalists shared of some unbelievable situations they encountered on arrival, including water that was not recommended for face washing and huge holes in the sidewalks. And this was just the beginning – multiple Sochi specific Twitters handles were created, most notably @SochiProblems, which now has over 338k followers, and focuses on the outrageous circumstances people are experiencing. The viral Sochi images being shared on Twitter are rather ironic given the Sochi Olympics are already over budget (to a record $51 billion) yet the Village resembles a construction site. To further intensify the social sharing, on February 6, NBC News reported that 26,000 Tweets used the hashtag #sochiproblems within 24 hours.
Social media has made the world flat and in the case of Sochi, has allowed global exposure of the IOC and Russia’s extreme unpreparedness for one of the world’s most renowned events.
Although the majority of the Sochi social media conversations have been surrounding the disappointing conditions of the Olympic Village, social media has also served as a positive vehicle to spread awareness of the stray dog crisis in Russia. In fact, Today reported that several American Olympians, most notably slopestyle skiing silver medalist Guy Kenworthy, are extending their stay to help upwards of 1,000 strays dogs collect the proper paperwork to be adopted. A trending hashtag, #SochiStrays, showcases the adorable pups and their respective new owners.
All the while, from the broadcast perspective you’d never know what was happening behind the scenes—the opening ceremony was beautiful and encompassed the traditional spirit and global excitement of the Olympics. The b-roll of the mountains, village and surrounding areas are breathtaking. From what was portrayed on TV, the Sochi Olympics were an absolute success.
Yet, who’s to say that there haven’t been previous Olympic games that were just as unprepared as Sochi? The difference today versus former Olympic games lies in the power of social media. What we see on TV versus what we’re seeing from bystanders live on the ground in Sochi is the real, uncensored experiences. With the click of a couple buttons, Olympic fans and reporters have the power to expose the good, bad and ugly and spread the message to millions of international social followers. Not even Russia has the power to revoke the perception of Sochi once a picture has been posted and shared via social channels. Social media has leveled the playing field, where the average consumer has the power to disseminate a message on a global scale, and unfortunately for this year’s Olympic games, it’s to the detriment of the International Olympic Committee and Sochi.
Now for your #SochiFail viewing pleasure: