February 14

Savvy Olympians ride wave of social media to bigger payoff

Athletes who share pictures, thoughts and stories from the games strengthen their hands to woo new sponsors or squeeze more money from existing ones.

By John Leicester
The Associated Press

SOCHI, Russia – When Jenny Jones won Olympic bronze at the Sochi Games, her following on Twitter exploded.

click image to enlarge

Members of the United States Olympic team – many of them holding up mobile phones to record the moment – enter Fisht Stadium in Sochi, Russia, for the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 7, 2014. Picking up new followers on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms is the smart play for Olympians at the Sochi Games. Athletes who share their experiences from their privileged backstage access at the games could come home from Russia with far stronger hands to woo and squeeze more money from sponsors.

The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Britain’s Jenny Jones takes a jump during the women’s snowboard slopestyle final at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, on Feb. 9, 2014. When Jones won the bronze medal in the event, her following on Twitter exploded.

The Associated Press

The audience for @jennyjonessnow has grown 10-fold, to 65,000 followers, in the three weeks since the British snowboarder tweeted: “Just found out I officially made the GB winter Olympic team. Whoop!”

Olympic success is also working wonders for @sagekotsenburg. The U.S. snowboarder’s account had 13,645 followers when he got the gold in slopestyle and tweeted: “WOW!! I just won the Olympics!!” That number grew to 14,196 in 30 minutes, 16,697 in an hour, 40,791 in 24 hours and to nearly 64,000 by Friday.

Vacuuming up followers on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms is the smart play for Olympians at the Sochi Games. Athletes who catch and ride the once-every-four-years wave of social media interest in all things Winter Olympics, sharing pictures, thoughts and stories from their privileged backstage access at the games, could come home from Russia with stronger hands to woo new sponsors or squeeze more money from existing ones.

“They only have one shot at getting in the zeitgeist,” says Walter Delph, CEO of Adly, which helps brands build buzz via social media movers and shakers. His advice to Olympians: “Grab the followers, grab the volume now because that is the best opportunity.”

It used to be that Olympians had only traditional media – newspapers, reporters and later radio and TV – to tell their stories and recount their feats. Although they are still required to brave thickets of microphones and gauntlets of reporters after competing, they also are increasingly cutting out the middle men and addressing global audiences directly in 140-characters or less.

Savvy Olympians, their sponsors and managers made sure they came to Sochi prepared not only to compete with each other on snow and ice but also in an arm-wrestle for social media attention and buzz. Being cool and engaging on Twitter and posting eye-catching photos on Instagram are becoming the 21st century equivalents of a 1,000-megawatt smile – practically a must-have. U.S. snowboarder Faye Gulini, for example, opened her Twitter account three weeks before flying to Sochi, prompted by the radio station she works with in Salt Lake City, her hometown.

“The more people that know who I am, the better off I am,” she says. “The more people that follow you on your social media, the more people know of you and then that opens up doors for sponsors and money and all that stuff.”

The three U.S. women ski jumpers who competed in Sochi were all “highly” encouraged in an 18-month lead-up to the games to develop their presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. “It’s absolutely a must. You have to have it,” says Whitney Childers, communications director for Women’s Ski Jumping USA. “Our team sponsors require that.”

“We knew that as we got closer to the Olympics, people wanted to know more about them, they wanted to get to know them, they wanted to understand their story and the best way to do that now is to be in control of it yourself and that’s through social media, “ she said. “And they all did it, some more reluctantly than others.”

To avoid distractions and pressures from outside to perform, some Olympians unplugged for the games. The defending champion in women’s aerials skiing, Lydia Lassila, tweeted Jan. 31: “Time to sign off until after #Sochi2014.”

But forgoing the chance now to build on @LydiaLassila’s 2,800 followers may pay off later, the Australian’s manager, Bruce Kaider, argues. They plan something “engaging and interesting” – Kaider wouldn’t be specific, to preserve the “surprise” – on her platforms post-games, when social media channels aren’t as saturated with Olympic content as they are now.

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at KJonline.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)