Written by • Published 11th August 2016

Where social leads, the mainstream media has followed in this year’s Olympics

The morning after the Olympic bid was secured by Great Britain in 2005, the morning newspaper ’s headlines were adorned with just one word: “London”.
This year, however, breaking news has mostly arrived packaged in the sub- 140 character format.
By the time London 2012 arrived seven years later, Twitter had amassed more than 100 million users posting 340 million tweets a day. But this is the first year we have seen traditional media outlets following the lead of social when it comes to top Olympics news stories.

Social lends itself perfectly to real-time updates and is ideal for those hungry for news broadcast from a live event with a four hour time difference.

It is easier to search Twitter to find out how Team GB fared overnight than wait to hear about it on the radio or TV news. And as for hard copy newspapers, forget it – they are more than 24 hours behind the cycle for iconic moments like swimmer Adam Peaty’s record-breaking gold medal.

Twitter’s relatively new ‘Moments’ feature is made for events like this. Moments is essentially ‘the best of what is happening on Twitter in an instant’. In the run-up to Rio, Twitter announced a change in how Moments will work for users who want to follow the action via its platform. Previously, followable Moments were limited to a certain period of time – a few days max. However, Olympics Moments is designed to last for weeks. This means you can follow the games with minimal work; without having to locate the right accounts to follow, or search via hashtags. Twitter UK have been using this storytelling feature to curate content in relation to #TeamGB at the Olympics; bringing you the latest updates there and then.

A whole host of other Olympic moments were simply shaped beautifully for social.

Unlikely Heroes
Twitter has been responsible for the emergence of Mavis Williams, better known to the nation as #OlympicNan. Grandmother to 100m breaststroke gold medal winner Peaty, Williams has become a celebrity in her own right, showing her pride in Adam’s achievements through her Twitter exploits. This has brought her thousands of followers and multiple media opportunities since Adam won gold.

‘Racy’ Commentary
Swimming commentator Helen Skelton became a trending topic on Twitter as the platform set ablaze with comments on her dress after she was labelled as sporting a ‘racy’ above the knee number.

Moving swiftly over the clearly sexist subtext here (for more on this see my recent blog post about the challenges women face on Twitter), the attention received by Skelton shifted from being a trending topic to an item on mainstream media pages. Her outfit was the major talking point from the BBC’s coverage at Rio’s Aquatics centre, made the front page of The Express and quickly became national news.

Skelton’s fellow commentators Mark Foster and Rebecca Adlington were accused by Twitter users of being inappropriately close whilst alongside her in the studio.

Their ‘antics’ far outweighed any conversations and column inches in regard to the actual strength of the BBC’s coverage of The Games. Conspiracy theories also exploded when the pool for divers turned green – and newspapers were quick to follow the story.

Even broadcast journalists find themselves relying on social media to get the latest news on a breaking story.

During the women’s cycling road race, Radio 5 Live commentator Ali Bruce-Ball was left scouring Twitter to find out the condition of Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten after she suffered a terrible crash.

Knowing that fans were concerned about her well-being, the Dutch team fed out news that she was conscious through social media first.

Rio is not the first major sporting event of the year to have been engulfed by social media activity.

Danny Willett won The US Masters in dramatic circumstances, overtaking hot favourite Jordan Speith on the final day’s play. His brother made a name for himself by live tweeting during the tournament. Just like Peaty’s Nan, he has enjoyed plenty of media attention and now has 22.4K followers on Twitter.

Similarly, Rebekah Vardy thrust herself into the WAG spotlight when she was tweeting about being caught up in the violence at Euro 2016 while watching husband Jamie Vardy. She not only made the news but was used as a credible source with coverage of the violence and brought media attention to her.

Finishing line
Whether you’re an athlete communicating with your followers, a relative making a name for yourself, a journalist trying to make sense of a fast-moving story or a fan trying to find out what happened in your sport, social media has been an Olympic gold medallist.