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Is social media a Games changer?

Roger Mosey | 09:26 UK time, Friday, 2 March 2012

The best event I've been to in the past couple of weeks - leaving aside Arsenal v Spurs last Sunday - was a debate staged as part of Social Media Week.

We were talking about how Facebook and Twitter and the rest will change these Olympic Games; and the headline is - we believe they will have a significant influence on what will be, inevitably, the most digital Olympics to date.

You can watch the whole event here and I've included a short account in a Spectator diary piece you can read here.

Our panel included gold medallists Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, along with Gail Emms - who combines her sport background with reporting these days - and James Pearce who's firmly on the journalism side. They're all Tweeters, as am I, @rogermosey. But social media sceptics may wonder why the ability to send short messages to a few thousand friends represents a change in the way we report Olympic Games, or why it is that pumped-up athletes bother to post on Facebook ahead of the most important moments of their sporting lives.

Chris Hoy's Twitter feed

Twitter gives athletes like Sir Chris Hoy a direct line to the public.

The most obvious point is that these new media networks provide stories for the traditional broadcasting outlets. Reporters can tune in immediately to everyone from Joey Barton and Rio Ferdinand in football to star Olympians like Chris Hoy as well as Zac and Mark. The control formerly operated by press officers or teams is much weaker, whatever the guidelines that are put in place to remind them that this is a public not private activity.

It also allows the athletes to talk direct to their fan base - thus sometimes bypassing the 'old media'. If you can reach 1.3m people via Twitter, as Joey Barton does, then you have less need to be filtered through the Daily Bugle or Radio Borsetshire with what some sports stars see as a negative spin from journalists. (It would be wrong, though, to conclude that proper reporting isn't still needed to sort the wheat from the buckets of chaff.)

And crucially, it gives the public greater access. They can not only get the insights from the people they're following but they can talk back too - which is mostly a bit of fun and mutually beneficial, though we can see a darker side when that crosses a line into nasty, anonymous criticism.

All of this points to what will be the most "connected" Games to date - one in which everyone with a mobile or a laptop can get involved in ways that were simply unknown in Athens and only starting to become popular in Beijing.

That said, there are limits we should recognise. I've always said these Games will also be the first mass HD Olympics, in that HD is now mainstream in a way that wasn't true four years ago; and the single most important thing we'll be doing is putting the sport onto a TV screen somewhere near you. Television is still the biggest beast in the jungle by some distance.

And there was an intriguing moment in the social media debate when I asked for a straw poll of the audience on whether they wanted Tweets and similar content to feature in our peak-time output on BBC One. Bearing in mind this was a crowd of people with a strong interest in social media, the result was surprising: an overwhelming "no" by a margin of maybe five or six to one.

But it reflects, I think, the reality that enjoying the main event comes first, second and third; and the digital add-ons are still enjoyed by people on a second screen - their mobile or tablet - rather than having them plastered over the main screen on BBC One.

So we will embrace the opportunities that new platforms give us - and, just as this blog has always welcomed interactivity, it's something a lot of people simply expect. But we'll also bear in mind it's not a game everyone wants to play; and some values, like editorial judgement and a sense of proportion, are pretty important too.


  • Comment number 1.

    With so much being made of the importance of digital media it's a crying shame that the BBC Sport website, once the leading sports website on the 'net, has become such an albatross.

    Many would agree that reporters still have a role to play, but it appears that the BBC has decided not to offer them a usable forum for their work. Since it's relaunch a month ago the BBC Sport website has attracted a stream of criticism for its look, feel and usability. The response from the BBC was silence apart from one blog by the man in charge of the relaunch promising a raft of fantasies including, most notably, regular communication about the website.

    In a year where the olympics are being held in Britain, isn't it a major concern that the host broadcaster doesn't have a working sport website?

  • Comment number 2.

    Very interesting article Roger and thanks for posting. The Social Media Week debate you attended was, from what I gather, fascinating and very fruitful.

    Platforms like Twitter have proved invaluable. As well as breaking news and direct communication with athletes such as Zac Purchase ( and Dai Green (, Twitter has proved invaluable for those searching for #olympictickets. In fact, it's been utterly remarkable, a joy and many friendships have been made.

    London2012? Bring it on! #2012Tweeps


  • Comment number 3.

    The important thing with all media (as mentioned at the end of the blog) is that people want to watch the event, uninterrupted, and then have lots of ways to discuss the event afterwards.

    This is why F1 worked really well on the BBC in the last couple of years. High quality broadcast of the event with no interruptions, then a wide variety of ways to discuss the event afterwards, starting with the live forum through to blogs in the following days with the ability to reply.

    The BBC needs to replicate that programme format for the Olympics.

    As for the comment on the website I couldn't agree more! Why the BBC would attempt a major overhaul in the year of a Euros and a home Olympics is beyond me. it HAS gone terribly wrong and produced a by far inferior product than what it replaced.


  • Comment number 4.

    yet again the BBC go on about the importance of the digital media.
    why then did it alienate so many people when it closed the online 606 last year?

    and as the BBC continues to cut actual sports coverage is that what will eventually be left - tweets from sportspeople about sports coverage shown on other channels?

  • Comment number 5.

    obviously copying and pasting tweets from twitter and putting them on tv is a bad idea. it doesn't surprise me that a tech savvy audience thought the same.

    however i think the bcc will really miss a trick if they dont reflect conversations which are taking place online. this could take any number of forms from engaging visualisations to reporter based comment.

    programmes like jools holland have also promoted hashtags onscreen for a long time

    rather than the first hd games the opportunity is for the first truly digital olympics ...

  • Comment number 6.

    For all the use of social media the BBC seems to provide fewer and fewer opportunities for the public to comment or have a dialogue.

    Yes I use Facebook and occasionally Twitter but the BBC used to be a real forum. The authors of key pages get little or no feedback from their audience now.

    Maybe once the Olympics is over the staff could be re-allocated to establishing a sports forum or maybe the whole thing will continue to be downsized and scope of sports covered in any depth will continue to shrink?

    Bottom line is we miss 606 a forum that would've thrived during the Olympics and kept Non-Olympic sport alive as well.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am not interested in the minutiae in the life of a sportsman (or woman) - I really don't care what films Chris Hoy (or anyone else) watches or who they watched them with. Nor do I want top sit and watch video reports of things. I want a good text based report that lets me skim for the information that I am interested in - rather than what a reporter thinks I should see or hear. Support that with clips of the sport and you will have a good sports news site.

  • Comment number 8.

    The BBC is obsessed with social media, personally I am sick of hearing about tweets and facebook, especially on radio 5 live. I won't be using it ever.

    The irony is, the BBC only want your opinion if it agrees with BBC's think. Just look at the HYS forum, as soon as popular opinion is suddenly not liberal enough, the forum is closed.

    BTW, the BBC have plenty of money, so there was no need to sell off F1 and close 606. The problem is they have far too many high paid staff, and are trying to do far too much.

    Alan Hansen £40,000 per MOTD episode is total insanity and an insult to the licence payer.

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks for the comments.

    I think the key linking most of them is that we need to be smart about our use of social media, and make sure it genuinely adds something. It also has to be distinctive: there are forums all over the Internet these days, so the BBC has to focus on where we can offer something distinctive.

  • Comment number 10.

    Now that reply to the comments is just staggering.

    'I think the key linking most of them is that we need to be smart about our use of social media, and make sure it genuinely adds something.'

    'Most' means at least 50%. Rereading the 8 comments I see 2 that touch on this theme, and 1 that refers to it obliquely. In fact most of the comments, 4 of 8, refer to the lack of opportunities that we, the paying customers, now have to access sports news and comment about it.

    'there are forums all over the Internet these days, so the BBC has to focus on where we can offer something distinctive.'

    Until recently the BBC used to have a superb sports website and a lively and diverse sports forum. Now the website has been butchered and the forum axed completely. With that in mind, just where do you feel that the BBC does offer something distinctive? Or should the BBC just provide the pictures and the audience can go and use external sites to chat about sport?

  • Comment number 11.

    Have to agree with the no vote on using tweets from stars within the coverage - you can be rounding up other events rather than going through the motions of reading peoples twitter accounts out on air. Hopefully in most cases your reporters will get to them before they get to their iPhones and Blackberrys anyway.

    And call me old fashioned but I'll be getting my Olympics through the TV as much as possible - and if I go online for info it'll be through news sites rather than Twitter. I'm not one of those folks who can do two screen viewing and chat on Twitter as I watch TV - I just end up missing the action.

  • Comment number 12.

    Social media is really a game changer, plays very important role in our life to get connect with the world, as recently Pinterest emerges as a fast social network.
    Tech Hungama- Auto, Gadgets Updates

  • Comment number 13.


    You can have as smart a strategy as the BBC likes chasing your preferred social media generations. But I guess the younger generation will by pass the BBC and go direct to their sportsmen & women for news.

    For a certain category of readers 606 would've been perfect for the games instead we lost a genuine centralised sports forum, there are now TOO many 'other' forums and I for one will not be looking for external Olympic forums.

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm of that generation preferring forums and messageboards to Twitter - where to my mind you only ever get to listen in to parts of conversations, rather than join the discussion as you could on 606.

    The BBC and any broadcaster - especially the commercial broadcasters actually - are short sighted IMO to point people in the direction of Twitter/Facebook rather than their own website. Yes, have a presence elsewhere but it should never be a substitute for an official website.

    And although I'm still getting used to the assault of yellow, I'm hoping the main Olympic news site will be in the style of the BBC Sport pages rather than the site.


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